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Conservation Nation: The Next Iteration of FONZ

October 7, 2021

Green 2.0 Team


Conservation Nation CEO Lynn Mento at a 5K event for the organization. Photo credit: Conservation Nation.

Conservation Nation: The Next Iteration of FONZ

By Lynn Mento

Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) was unable to make it through the pandemic closure and separated from the Smithsonian National Zoo in February 2021. Now rebranded and relaunched as Conservation Nation officially on September 30, Green 2.0 Communications Manager Raviya Ismail discusses the next iteration of FONZ with Conservation Nation CEO Lynn Mento.

Q: What is Conservation Nation? 

Conservation Nation is the reinvention of the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) after we separated from the National Zoo as a result of pandemic closures earlier this year. Although we have relaunched and rebranded, our mission has stayed the same to help save endangered animals through funding and education. We’re approaching it in a very different way that we’re quite excited about. Our official launch of Conservation Nation is September 30.

Q: Why did FONZ dissolve?

It was a tremendously difficult period last year with COVID-19 closures causing the National Zoo and the Smithsonian to face enormously difficult financial pressures. FONZ was another organization that unfortunately was unable to survive through the closures. However, we knew the need to continue was there and greater than ever. So we pivoted our focus to breaking down long-standing systemic barriers that are limiting the number of people who can succeed as wildlife conservationists. The planet needs them now more than ever.

Lynn Mento in Tanzania. Photo credit: Lynn Mento.

Q: Why does Conservation Nation have a new focus on outreach and support to conservationists from underrepresented groups?

What is going on with our planet, the extreme loss of habitat and wildlife, is terrifying. We need every smart voice at the table but what we have now is a ridiculous system in place that keeps certain people away from opportunities. You need privilege, money, connections, and access to make it as a conservationist. Through our grants to conservationists from these underrepresented groups, education and access to role models, and community collaborations, we hope to break through those barriers and give this fight to save the planet everything we as a country have to give.

Q: Can you share some other initiatives Conservation Nation is working on?

In addition to our grant program for conservationists, we are doing outreach at D.C.-area schools and community organizations to inspire children to see themselves as “wildlife champions,” and encourage them to pursue a STEM path into wildlife conservation work. Many students come from underrepresented communities without access to these pathways but the curiosity and passion for conservation is there. We will introduce them to conservationists who look like them and walked a path like them — every child deserves to see that — and we will provide them with training and support. We are currently working with a few D.C. schools and we’re setting up community organization partnerships as we speak.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about Conservation Nation?

I’m inspired by the many passionate, incredible emerging conservationists — and by conservation organizations and partners — who are working together to change a system that has excluded too many for too long.

For more information about Conservation Nation visit