Organizations can expand their impact through strategic partnerships. We used social network analysis to compare two network theories in order to determine whether zoos’ conservation partnerships form networks that reflect collaborative social movements or business-style competition. Data from 234 zoos revealed a conservation network involving 1679 organizations with 3018 partnerships. The network had 40 subgroups: 1 large network, 6 small networks and 33 disconnected zoos. Social network analysis metrics revealed an incohesive and low-density network. Zoos are more likely to behave competitively like businesses with limited partnerships to protect resources, rather than behaving as collaborative social movement organizations partnering to further the cause of conservation across their communities. Content analyses of organizational activities revealed that 62% of zoos’ partners display different skills and roles in conservation projects, while 38% participated in the same activities as zoos. These novel findings about zoos behaving as competitive institutions inform opportunities for better collaboration in order to expand organizations’ conservation impact.