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Zoo Atlanta partner named 2010 Disney Conservation Hero
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Former poacher wins coveted honor for work with Guatemalan beaded lizards

Zoo Atlanta partner Gilbert Salazar has been named a 2010 Disney Conservation Hero by the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Nominated for his efforts for Guatemalan beaded lizards, Salazar was one of only six individuals in the world selected for the honor, which recognizes significant tangible achievements in conservation and education at the local level. Awards were announced on September 15, 2010, during the annual conference of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  Mr. Salazar was jointly nominated for the award by Zoo Atlanta and its partner organization, Zootropic, a non-governmental organization based in Guatemala.

A native Guatemalan, Salazar once augmented his income by hunting and selling the critically endangered lizards to traders. The former poacher now devotes his considerable skill in tracking these elusive animals to a far more rewarding long-term effort: the preservation of their species in the wild. Employed by Zootropic, Salazar is today one of the Guatemalan beaded lizard’s most active champions. To date, his work for habitat restoration, research and local outreach have made a collective impact on more than 35,000 villagers in a culture that once feared and maligned the venomous reptiles almost to extinction.

Zoo Atlanta is one of only three facilities in the world housing Guatemalan beaded lizards and is a principal partner of Project Heloderma, the conservation program launched by Zootropic in 2002. The four-pronged initiative seeks to preserve a future for the species through applied research, habitat conservation, generation of protective governmental policies and environmental education in and around the lizards’ native Motagua Valley.

Zoo Atlanta Assistant Curator of Herpetology Brad Lock, DVM, who serves as a coordinator, consultant and primary health assessment facilitator on Project Heloderma, was responsible for nominating Salazar and was on hand for the presentation of the award in Guatemala City, Guatemala.