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An Experience like No Other: the Zoo Academy Story

Guest Blogger: Zoo Academy Senior, Sarah Franklin

To start off, my name is Sarah Franklin.  I’m a Zoo Academy student here at the Cincinnati Zoo, and I love every minute of it. The Zoo Academy is a branch of Hughes STEM High School, and is offered to anyone who attends.

Here’s a bit of my story on how I ended up here:

I was raised on a farm, not too far from Cincinnati, but in a small town that you’ve probably never heard of before. Growing up, my family and I had an array of animals on our farm. I used to love to go out with my father in the mornings or evenings to feed the animals. Any opportunity I had to go out with him, I’d jump right into my muck boots, (that came higher than my knees), throw on my coat or jacket, depending on the temperature, and run out right behind him. Some of my favorite memories from my hometown were right out on that farm with him.

Here I am as a toddler on my Dad's farm.

Here I am as a toddler on my Dad’s farm.

At about the age of fourteen when my dad got remarried, I had the opportunity to move to Cincinnati and change schools. I wasn’t particularly happy with my current school system, so I began to research about public schools in Cincinnati. During one of my searches, I came across Hughes High. They talked a lot about pathways on their website, and featured a pathway they called: (you guessed it) The Zoo Academy! I called up the next day to learn more about it, and actually spent time talking to Glen Schulte, who is now my current teacher. I fell in love the minute I learned about this amazing opportunity, and decided that this was where I wanted to start my new beginning. We packed up and moved soon after and that began my story here, at my favorite place on Earth.

In my Zoo Academy uniform

In my Zoo Academy uniform

The Cincinnati Zoo and Hughes High School have become second homes for me. I have had experiences here that I could experience nowhere else.  I became a strong leader within my school, and the biggest Big Red Athletics fan they’d ever seen. Actually, this year, (my SENIOR year), I was recorded as the first girl in Big Red history to score points for the Hughes Football team. I even did a radio interview about it. That was an experience within itself, and I am so fortunate to have been a part of that.

Here I am in my football gear with my littlest fan.

Here I am in my football gear with my littlest fan.

Here at the Zoo, I do daily work with the keepers, animals, and currently the wonderful staff within the Education Department. Some of my favorite animal encounters have been during these last two years, having the opportunity to work with animals that range from insects to elephants. One of my favorite experiences was working with the cougars this past fall while in the Night Hunters department at the Zoo. I also met the love of my life here at the Zoo, a hyacinth blue macaw named Azul at the Bird House. I’ve enjoyed every lab I’ve participated in, and learned so much from the staff here. It is really an experience that is like no other, because the Cincinnati Zoo is the only zoo in the country that allows high school students to participate in labs and work alongside keepers on a daily basis.

Here I am with the love of my life, Azul.

Here I am with the love of my life, Azul.

In the upcoming future I plan on attending the University of Cincinnati and continuing on my story here at the Cincinnati Zoo. I feel as though my experiences here at the Zoo aren’t ready to come to an end yet, so I hope I am able to continue on here after I graduate, whether it is as a volunteer or even a paid staff member. I love it here at the Zoo, and though this may not be where my career path ends, it is definitely a place that I would hope for it to begin. Thanks so much for reading my story!  If you ever see me around the Zoo, stop me and ask any questions you’d like!

Best Wishes, Sarah.

November 20, 2013   No Comments

Passenger Pigeon: Imagine a Billion Birds Flying Overhead

Guest blogger: Sophie Williams, Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) student and consultant on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, and perhaps the world. In 1800, North America was filled with more than five billion passenger pigeons. It is hard to imagine the scope of their flocks. In 1813, ornithologist and wildlife painter John J. Audubon calculated a single flock he observed in Kentucky to contain more than 1,115,000,000 birds! An authority on the passenger pigeon noted that the birds moved “in such enormous numbers as to confound the senses.” Many reports described flocks of the birds blotting out the sun.

Audubon marvels at a flock of passenger pigeons.

Audubon marvels at a flock of passenger pigeons.

It is difficult to fully understand what  it would be like to look up and see a flock of these birds flying overheard, to hear their billions of wings beating together, to feel the air moving over you from their flight. We may find the massive flock of starlings, called a murmuration, in this video unbelievable, but to imagine what a flock of passenger pigeons might be like, you would have to multiply the size of this murmuration by thousands!

The story of the passenger pigeon is a poignant example of nature’s abundance and humanity’s ability to exhaust seemingly endless riches. We also have the ability to save today’s imperiled species from suffering the same fate. The Cincinnati Zoo is part of an international effort called Project Passenger Pigeon, which will bring together scientists, conservationists, educators, and artists, musicians, and filmmakers to increase awareness of the passenger pigeon’s story and use it as an opportunity to engage people in current issues related to human-caused extinction, promote species conservation and habitat preservation, and motivate people to get involved in sustainable actions that promote biodiversity and deter future human-caused extinctions.

Those of you in the Cincinnati area  can experience a larger-than-life version of world-renowned wildlife painter John Ruthven’s latest painting titled Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon. Reproduced as a mural on the side of a building at 15 E. Eighth St. in downtown Cincinnati, it features a flock of passenger pigeons, led by Martha, in flight at the Zoo. The mural was dedicated on September 19. Forty years ago, John Ruthven captained an effort to create the Passenger Pigeon Memorial at our Zoo to honor the passing of the passenger pigeon and Martha. He is now collaborating with us to renovate the memorial in time for the 100th anniversary of Martha’s death.

A representation of John Ruthven's painting of Martha, the last passenger pigeon.

A representation of John Ruthven’s painting of Martha, the last passenger pigeon.

Tune in each month as we celebrate what’s working in wildlife conservation leading up to the commemoration of 100 years since Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo.

To read the first post in this series, click here.

October 1, 2013   2 Comments

A Story of Loss and Redemption – The Passenger Pigeon 99 Years after Extinction

On September 1, 1913—the passenger pigeon was one year away from extinction.  Martha, the last of her species, lived here at the Cincinnati Zoo and was an aged bird. Efforts had been made for years to find a mate for Martha that would provide a chance for the species to survive. In truth, the fate of the passenger pigeon had been sealed several decades before by modern communications (telegraph), transportation (rail), rampant commercial-scale harvest of the birds and the felling of large expanses of hardwood forest habitat.  For Martha and her species, it was a waiting game. The eyes of the nation watched for the inevitable to happen.


Martha, the last passenger pigeon

Martha, the last passenger pigeon

The inconceivable loss of the most common bird species on the planet shook society out of its torpor. There had been billions of passenger pigeons only 50 years before—racing up, down and across the continent like a biological storm, consuming the fruits of the forest in its quest to fulfill their mission to feed, nest and make more pigeons.  Few would have believed that there would soon be none. Those that were concerned were not influential enough to prevent it. By the time it was clear to the majority what was going to happen, it was just too late to do anything about it. It was the first time we could be certain that humans had caused a species’ extinction.  It was, and is, a heavy burden, yet it was also a catalyst for change.

There is good that came from this extinction. Many species considered common today were on the brink of the same fate at the end of the 1800s. American bison, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope were all on the same path to extinction as the passenger pigeon. After the loss of the passenger pigeon, people got to work to save these species from the same outcome. President Roosevelt began the National Parks program and wildlife conservation efforts sprang up all over the country. The wildlife conservation effort we know today was born out of the loss of the passenger pigeon.  In a very real way, modern zoos as well as countless other conservation organizations around the globe owe their existence to this one event. It is an impressive legacy and one to be celebrated in the coming year.


It's hard to believe that the white-tailed deer was once on the brink of extinction.

It’s hard to believe that the white-tailed deer was once at risk of extinction.

Over the next year, the Zoo will celebrate what works in the world of wildlife conservation as a commemoration to Martha. To start, we will renovate the current Passenger Pigeon Memorial at the Zoo to include a hopeful message that celebrates the success of wildlife conservation rather than mourning the loss of a single species. We will highlight the work of our Zoo in species conservation and celebrate the work of others in our community and beyond.  We will be blogging each month with updates on the renovation of the Passenger Pigeon Memorial and more, and hope you will join our story and celebration in the coming year.

Passenger Pigeon Memorial

Passenger Pigeon Memorial


September 1, 2013   3 Comments