Category — Education
What is your favorite place? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? I bet that when you answer those questions, you are not envisioning a dot on a giant world map. In fact, I bet that you are not picturing a map at all. What you are picturing is an experience, a sensation, a memory, or a vision of an ACTUAL place. Maybe what you picture is the vastness of the grassland savannahs where zebras roam and lions stalk. Perhaps you are recalling the smell of fall leaves crunching underfoot as you rode horseback along a wooded trail. Geography is so much more than a place on a map or a point on a globe. It is more than the names of countries, states, and capital cities. It is “the why of a where.”
I got a firsthand chance to learn the why of a where this year when I was selected to travel to the Canadian Maritimes and circumnavigate Newfoundland as a 2014 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship is a professional development opportunity for educators that is made possible by a partnership between National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. The purpose of this fellowship is to recognize educators who have demonstrated a commitment to increasing geographic literacy in their students. Educators apply and, if chosen as a fellow, are sent on expeditions aboard the National Geographic Explorer vessel to get hands on experiences with the natural and cultural diversity of a region and bring these experiences back to their classroom. As the Lead Program Developer at the Cincinnati Zoo, that means incorporating my experiences into the programs that I create and the outreach that will be part of my fellowship journey. By doing so, I am hoping to increase knowledge about different places on our planet, help others develop an appreciation for the people and wildlife that inhabit these regions, and cultivate understanding about the global impact, for better or worse, that our choices and actions can have. I know that this trip was transformative for me and helped me better appreciate these things.
By circumnavigating Newfoundland, we were able to really experience the geography, topography, and culture of the region. Cruising by jagged coastlines, standing on the easternmost tip of North America, and traversing fjords turned the coastlines on a map into real and tangible places that I can visualize. The cities and waters to and through which we traveled have become more than dots on a map as well. They are the places where I tasted wild blueberries, met Vikings, felt the rough, bristly needles of a black spruce, heard the snort of a startled caribou discovering it is being watched. It is where I heard the call of circling gulls while I watched the plume of mist produced by a fin whale surfacing to swim beside the ship. They are the places where I walked the streets of a fortress, watched the “disassembly” of a cod, dragged my plankton net, and saw Alexander Graham Bell’s dreams take flight.
I have heard the different accents that are acquired when the Scottish meet the English meet the Mi’kmaq, Inuit, and Innu Indians. I have heard the heartbreak in a man’s voice when he speaks about the loss of the cod fishing industry and, with it, the heritage upon which Newfoundland was founded. This, all of this, is Newfoundland. This is what geographic literacy and the why of a where means to me. It is with this understanding that I will use my experience to make geography meaningful in my programs. I will help them draw connections geographically, geologically, historically, anthropologically, and biologically between areas while weaving in the intangibles of a place that speak to its essence and its roots.
I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this experience and inspired by the duty and privilege I have of sharing it with my community. We are all so much more than the place where we live. We are part of something bigger and, for me, that has never been clearer. So go and explore the wildness of a local park, contemplate the rain that falls and its journey from far off oceans to get to you, and be mindful of this planet and our place in it as well as on it. In the words of Baba Dioum, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”
To learn more about the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, click here
To learn more about how the Cincinnati Zoo’s conservation projects and how you can help conserve wildlife and wild spaces, please click here.
October 24, 2014 No Comments
Numbering in the billions in 1800, the passenger pigeon was formerly one of the most abundant bird species on Earth. On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, passed away at the Cincinnati Zoo after tireless efforts over several years to find her a mate.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s passing in 2014, the Zoo renovated its Passenger Pigeon Memorial, transforming it from a single-species memorial to an educational exhibit with a positive and hopeful conservation message that segues from the story of the passenger pigeon to modern wildlife conservation efforts.
A small crowd of Zoo visitors and staff along with media representatives gathered at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2014, as Zoo Director Thane Maynard dedicated the Memorial and officially reopened its newly restored doors. Watch the dedication video here.
Visitors to the Memorial are greeted by a large reproduction of John Ruthven’s 2013 painting of Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon on the entry wall.
A display case on the back side of the entry wall contains a reprint of John J. Audubon’s Passenger Pigeon hand-colored engraving from The Birds of America, along with an actual net used to catch passenger pigeons, a platform stool to which blinded pigeons were tied as decoys, a cast model of a passenger pigeon and an Aldo Leopold quote.
Interpretively, the exhibition flows from left to right along the interior walls, circulating around an octagonal case in the center of the building containing passenger pigeon sculptures carved by Gary Denzler.
Signage was designed based on elements from Ruthven’s painting with pop-up panels featuring colorful images and text. The first wall tells the story of the passenger pigeon and its extinction, why it happened, and the scope of this loss.
Next, it describes how the passenger pigeon’s extinction was a wake-up call that spurred the conservation movement in America, highlighting the stories of native species that were nearly lost, such as white-tailed deer.
The last wall introduces conservation champions of the Zoo and presents examples of how we are working to save species today, including the Sumatran rhino and the American burying beetle, from going the way of the passenger pigeon.
The rehabilitation of this historic building and exhibit was made possible through the generosity of the H.B., E.W. and F.R. Luther Charitable Trust Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, and Narley L. Haley, Co-Trustees.
September 10, 2014 2 Comments
By Renee Carpenter, Rhino and Hoofed Stock Keeper
Seven years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to represent the Zoo at an International Rhino Keeper Conference hosted in Australia. During the week-long conference, I met a man named Henry Opio from the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC). Henry impressed me with his passion for conservation. He had a dream that black and white rhinos would someday return to the wild in Uganda where they had been eliminated through poaching in the 1980s. Wildlife and people alike had experienced tragic hardships and loss during that time of tremendous political and civil unrest. With the region now recovering, facilities like UWEC, with the full support of the current government, are working hard to save what was lost and foster a “pride of heritage” in the people for their wildlife.
As I spoke more with Henry, I fell in love with the idea of returning rhinos to Uganda, too. Henry presented on the possibility of reintroducing rhinos into Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda and how UWEC would reach out to each and every village surrounding the park before animals would be released (wow, what a huge task!). They would focus on the children and reach the parents and others in the community through them. I, along with a colleague, was there to present on a fundraising project called “Rhino Rembrandts” with proceeds going to field conservation…a possible aid to this Ugandan rhino project, I thought to myself.
After the excitement of the week, I was sitting in the plane for the twenty-plus hour flight home and I couldn’t help but wonder…how could I help Henry and Uganda’s lost rhinos with more than just what my little fundraiser would do? Coincidentally, when I returned to work I read an email about an internal grant opportunity with a fast approaching deadline. So, many emails and anxious waiting later… I have, just this past week, submitted the report for the seventh straight year of successful funding from the Zoo!
Back over in Uganda, my friend Henry and UWEC are working hard at conservation education on many fronts. However, the return of the rhino to a people re-learning the importance of safeguarding it is closest to my heart.
The human effect of any conservation initiative is what makes it successful. UWEC reaches out to the communities (person to person) through education about the importance of rhinos to their community as well as helps to improve daily life tasks such as farming and waste management practices and identification/use of medicinal plants. Through this process, the communities become invested in the idea of bringing rhinos back and the positive impact it will have on them if the rhinos are protected.
For me personally, last year’s successful grant application brought the whole process very close to home. At the conclusion of last year’s work, Henry contacted me about a 14-year-old girl named Vivian. She showed great interest and passion for rhino conservation. She also expressed to him concern about her father who was a poacher back in their village. She felt she could convince him to stop, even though that would mean ending the income that enabled her to attend school. Vivian’s father was convinced and, in an attempt to still fund her education, he carved two beautiful wooden rhino statues and presented them to Henry for help. As you can see, they now have a new home here in Cincinnati. Henry was also able to help Vivian’s father gain employment as a ranger protecting wildlife. It’s fascinating how a person’s actions can change when given a better option. This is what I love about this project – protecting wildlife while improving people’s lives – a recipe for success! This has only been made possible by the Zoo’s internal grant program and dedication to field conservation.
Although much more work needs to be done before rhinos once again roam in the wild in Uganda, the rhinos themselves are doing their part. At Ziwa Ranch in Uganda, they are busy making babies to support the release. UWEC’s rhinos serve as ambassadors for any and all visitors and the dedicated staff there will continue to work with the communities surrounding Murchison Falls National Park until they have all been reached (fingers crossed for future success in partnering).
As a rhino and hoofed stock keeper here at the Zoo, I have been blessed, alongside my friends and colleagues, with the opportunity to work with these awesome animals, be involved in efforts to safeguard them in the wild, and to share my experiences and love of rhinos with the people I meet.
So I invite you to come visit us here at the Zoo and be part of the human effect of conservation, too! There are so many more people like Vivian out there just waiting for that connection to become stewards of their own land and wildlife.
Also, don’t miss World Rhino Day on September 21st here at the Zoo when we celebrate these marvels of nature and the work being done to safeguard them. Come out and have some family fun while making a difference!
September 2, 2014 2 Comments