AAZK San Diego’s Mission Statement

  • To promote and establish good relationships among professional zoo keepers
  • To promote and establish a means to stimulate incentive and greater interest in the zoo keeping profession
  • To support deserving conservation projects to include educating the general public about the need for preserving our natural resources and animal life through these worthwhile efforts
  • To establish materials beneficial to zoo keeper education

As part of our effort to “stimulate incentive and greater interest in the zoo keeping profession,” AAZK San Diego is proud to be able to offer educational opportunities and  financial assistance to our members.



Beginning in 2014, AAZK San Diego will offer hands-on workshops and educational events.

Professional Membership level will entitle those members to access workshops that will be offered throughout the year.


We invite you to take advantage of our professional development grant.


American Association of Zoo Keepers San Diego

Shirley Busch Professional Development Grant


In October of 2011, AAZK San Diego lost a long time member and supporter of keepers, Shirley Busch.

Shirley was one of those people who cared deeply for the animals at the zoo and the people who took care of them. She could usually be seen visiting them when she wasn’t busy working as a volunteer in the zoo’s library. Shirley was also a generous person. She had supported the AAZK San Diego chapter and its conservation projects for many years while being a lifetime member.

Even in her death, Shirley demonstrated her commitment to AAZK San Diego and its members, while reinforcing her belief in animal care professionals. Thanks to her generosity, we are able to offer a grant to AAZK San Diego members for continuing education in animal husbandry and related fields.

The Shirley Busch Professional Development Grant is available to AAZK San Diego members that are interested in attending conferences, educational programs, and/or conservation projects.

The Shirley Busch Professional Development Grant gives applicants the ability to apply for up to $1,000 in reimbursements to participate in programs that will increase a keeper’s knowledge in this ever changing profession, a profession that is dedicated to conservation and the improvements of husbandry management, something Shirley was very aware of and embraced. This grant is possible because of the vision of one person. One person who believed in the people who cared for the animals she loved.

Since 2012, AAZK San Diego has had the esteemed pleasure of providiing financial support to animal care professionals attending conferences and participating in conservation projects around the world. The Shirley Busch Professional Development Grant is awarded annually amidst a field of very qualified and competitive applicants.


Shirley Busch Professional Development Grant Information

The Shirley Busch Professional Devlopment Grant will award up to $1,000 per year.

Monies may be awarded to one (1) individual or divided among two (2) or more AAZK San Diego members.

The grant may be used to attend any professional development conference or workshop that contributes to the advancement of animal care or to participate in a national or international conservation project.

The recipient MUST be both an AAZK San Diego AND an AAZK National member in good standing prior to submitting the application.

Funds will be awarded as a reimbursement once receipts are submitted following the conference or project completion.

The recipient will be required to submit an article for The Keeper newsletter and to give a presentation to AAZK San Diego members on the knowledge they gained from their professional development opportunity.

2019 APPLICATION INFORMATION: the grant will be available for any project that occurs between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019.

2019 APPLICATION DEADLINE: applications will be accepted from November 1, 2018 through November 30, 2018.


AAZK SD Professional Development Grant application. Click here to download. 


Applications must be emailed to Kristen Craig at aazksandiegomembers@gmail.com with the subject header “AAZK San Diego Shirley Busch Grant.”


If you need help in deciding where to go, speak with one of the AAZK San Diego board members and we’ll do our best to give you some ideas.



2019 events of interest:

AAZK: October in Indianapolis, IN. The AAZK conference will be hosted by the Indianapolis AAZK chapter. More info to come.




2018 events of interest:

AAZK: October 4 – 8 in Denver, CO. The AAZK conference will be hosted by the Rocky Mountain AAZK Chapter. For more information, click here.

ABMA (Animal Behavior Management Alliance): April 8 – 13 in San Antonio, TX. More information here.

AZCARM (AZA of Mexico): November 2018.

ICZ: 6th International Congress on Zoo Keeping. October 14 – 18 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. For more information regarding the conference and scholarship offered, click here.

As we know of more programs, we will be sure to update this site. If you know of any great conferences, please share!






Past Recipients of the AAZK San Diego Grant

2017 Shirley Busch Professional Development Grant Recipient

This year’s recipient of $1,000 was awarded to Lauren Ayers so that she could attend and participate at the AZA Conference in Indianapolis.

2016 Shirley Busch Professional Development Grant Recipient

This year’s $1,000 SBPD Grant was awarded to Amanda Chapin so that she can attend the AZA Crocodilian Biology and Captive Husbandry Course and the Aquarium Design, Husbandry and Leadership course.

Congratulations Amanda!


2015 Shirley Busch Professional Development Grant


Heidi Pankratz is a caretaker at the California Wolf Center and will be utilizing her grant funding to attend the 42nd Annual AAZK National Conference in St. Louis later this year. This will be Heidi’s first time attending this conference and she is looking forward to learning new husbandry skills and networking with other animal care professionals.

Grace Porecca is a Senior Aviculturist at Sea World San Diego and has filled the role of Conservation Partner on the AAZK San Diego board since 2013. Additionally, she volunteers at the California Wolf Center in her spare time and runs a website, conservationfinder.com, connecting people to conservation efforts around the world. Grace will be using her grant funding to travel to Leipzig, Germany to attend the 5th Conference of the International Congress of Zoo Keeping. This conference is a vital resource to maintaining communication throughout the international zoological community and provides support to keepers in regions of the world where zoo keeping associations may not exist.

Yvette Kemp is a Senior Hospital Keeper at the San Diego Zoo, as well as a “jack-of-all-AAZK San Diego” trades. I’m not sure there is a role that Yvette has not filled on the board during her 22 years of dedicated involvement. Additionally, Yvette has developed and implemented a program called Keepers Teaching Keepers, which promotes information sharing regarding husbandry, training and enrichment among keepers at zoological facilities. Yvette has attended the AZCARM conference in the past and this year AAZK SD is proud to be able to support her endeavors to network with Mexican zoo professionals and foster relationships dedicated to the improvement of animal care and husbandry.

Congratulations to this year’s award recipients. We look forward to hearing all about your professional development adventures in a future edition of The Keeper.