The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) blocked a group critical of animal-rights extremists from its annual conference this weekend despite such radicals targeting zoos and aquariums for extinction.
The rejection of Protect the Harvest’s sponsorship of the massive gathering in Indianapolis came on the heels of the AZA inviting Wayne Pacelle, the head of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) who boasts a long record of opposing keeping animals in captivity, to deliver the group’s keynote. Protect the Harvest questions why Pacelle, a man they characterize as an abolitionist when it comes to zoos, received the privileged speaking slot.
“I think we offered $20,000,” explains Protect the Harvest’s Dave Duquette, who tells Breitbart News that his group had already picked out its booth space. “It was a platinum sponsorship. They were pretty excited about it. We were going to pay for an extra booth space.”
But after that initial excitement in early July, an AZA representative informed Duquette mid-month that the group could not allow Protect the Harvest a booth at the event.
“Our exhibit space is fully sold,” insisted Dan Ashe, the AZA’s president and director of U.S. Fish & Wildlife during the Obama administration, in telling Breitbart News of rejecting Protect the Harvest, “and has been for several weeks.”
AZA’s website lists nearly 200 exhibitors. But in bold the website announced that “Exhibit Booths Are Still Available” weeks beyond the refusal to accept Protect the Harvest’s sponsorship and past the date of Ashe’s conversation with Breitbart News.
When confronted with the discrepancy between his words and the words on his website, Ashe chalked it up to a failure to update AZA’s online platform and pointed to other reasons for excluding Protect the Harvest, a group founded by oil executive Forrest Lucas, whose name graces one of the most prominent structures—Lucas Oil Stadium—in the city where the AZA holds its conference this weekend.
“They did ask for booth space,” Ashe concedes, “But they simply wouldn’t comply to the normal informational requirements asked of any one requesting a booth on our exhibit floor.”
“That’s an outright lie,” Duquette tells Breitbart News. “[AZA employee Gina Velosky] told me that we would have to build a relationship with them before they would allow us to sponsor or have a booth. She directly said that the reason we weren’t able to sponsor is because we said adverse things about HSUS on our website. He either doesn’t know that she said that—I could give him the benefit of the doubt—or he knew exactly that she said that and didn’t want us to be there.”
Correspondence between the two groups shared by Protect the Harvest mentions nothing about informational requirements or noncompliance with such rules—or booth space filled to capacity.
Ashe detailed other problems. Despite defending the invitation of Pacelle on the grounds that employees of zoos and aquariums were “better and stronger” for hearing the animal-rights activist’s contrarian views, Ashe adopted a less ecumenical stance with regard to exhibitors.
“As we looked at Protect the Harvest we saw a number of things where there was not clear alignment [with AZA] and maybe conflict,” Ashe explained. “That was one issue in terms of their request. The other is that sponsors need to be AZA members. They’ve never expressed an interest in being a member.”
The website said nothing about limiting space to groups affiliated with the AZA but explained, “Exhibit Hall booths are now for sale to the general public. Don’t miss your opportunity to promote your product, service, or organization to more than 2,800 zoo and aquarium leaders. Book your space today!”