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Exploring the Why of a Where

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.”


The National Geographic Explorer offshore at L’Ans aux Meadows

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.


David Boyd salting a prepared cod at Prime Berth Fishing Village, Twillingate, Newfoundland

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.

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Showing my youngest shipmate, Connor, how to examine water samples for microscopic sea life. Photo by Sisse Brimberg – KEENPRESS

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.”


Snowy owl at Salmonier Nature Park, Holyrood, Newfoundland


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

Small Cat Conservation Gets a Big Boost with a Federal Grant

You probably already know that the Cincinnati Zoo is committed to the conservation of lions, tigers and cheetahs, but did you know that we are also leading the way in small cat conservation? And our Small Cat Signature Project just got bigger! Our Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) recently received a Museums for America Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to improve our ability to maintain healthy captive populations of five small cat species across the country—the Brazilian ocelot, the Pallas’ cat, the black-footed cat, the Arabian sand cat and the fishing cat.

Ocelot (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Ocelot (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Pallas' cat (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Pallas’ cat (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Black-footed cat (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Black-footed cat (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Sand cat (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Sand cat (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Fishing cat (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Fishing cat (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Unfortunately, none of these small cat populations are considered sustainable through natural breeding alone. That’s where Dr. Bill Swanson, CREW’s Director of Animal Research and the world’s leading expert on small cat reproduction, comes in. Working in partnership with Dr. Jason Herrick of the National Foundation for Fertility Research and the Species Survival Plan coordinators for each species, Dr. Swanson will direct the project with a focus on three goals: 1) Collect and freeze semen from the most valuable cats for each species, 2) Produce viable offspring using artificial insemination in recommended breeding pairs that fail to reproduce naturally, 3) Produce offspring with frozen-thawed semen from genetically valuable or under-represented males.

CREW Scientists perform an artificial insemination procedure on a Pallas’ cat. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

CREW Scientists perform an artificial insemination procedure on a Pallas’ cat. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Arabian sand cat kittens produced through artificial insemination and embryo transfer.

Arabian sand cat kittens produced through artificial insemination and embryo transfer.

Building on CREW’s decades of ground-breaking research on small cat reproduction, successful completion of this project will greatly enhance the sustainability and stewardship of small cat collections in AZA zoos. Now that’s big news!

October 9, 2014   1 Comment

A Giant Step Forward for Sumatran Rhinos in the Wild

The Zoo has been committed to saving the Sumatran rhino for 25 years. We work closely with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, the IUCN Asian Rhino Specialist Group and the International Rhino Foundation, to protect this species in the wild, and also propagate Sumatran rhinos in captivity. Despite the devastating blow of the loss of our female rhino, Suci, back in March, the Zoo continues to work to conserve and protect the species.

Considered the most endangered of all rhino species, and perhaps the most endangered large mammal on Earth, it is estimated that no more than 100 Sumatran rhinos remain in Indonesia. The primary cause of the species’ decline is the loss of forests due to oil palm, logging and human encroachment, even in some national parks, and poaching for its horn, which some Asian cultures believe contains medicinal properties.  Today, there are only nine Sumatran rhinos living in captivity worldwide.

Andatu was the latest calf born in captivity. He was born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia in 2012 to mother, Ratu. His father, Andalas, was the first calf to be bred and born in captivity in over a century, which occurred here at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Andatu was the latest calf born in captivity. He was born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia in 2012 to mother, Ratu. His father, Andalas, was the first calf to be bred and born in captivity in over a century, which occurred here at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Just last week, a Debt-for-Nature deal was struck between the United States and Indonesia. In return for lowering the debt Indonesia owes to the United States, Indonesia will commit nearly $12 million towards the conservation and protection of critically endangered species, including the Sumatran rhino, and their habitats over the next seven years. The debt swap was made possible by a contribution of about $11.2 million from the U.S. government under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act and $560,000 from other organizations funneled through Conservation International. The Zoo was proud to help secure this funding by pledging a major gift.

Exactly how the funds will be distributed and applied over the next five or so years is yet to be determined, but the strategies are likely to include 1)establishing intensive management zones in national parks, 2) translocating any rhinos that remain outside of protected areas, 3) integrating high-tech methodologies for rhino censusing and anti-poaching efforts, 4) engaging local communities in intelligence operations and 5) providing economic benefits to communities through environmentally- farming practices.

This Debt-for-Nature swap comes at a critical time in determining the future of Indonesia, its wildlife and its people. One of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, Indonesia also has one of the highest human populations, placing its habitats and inhabitants under tremendous pressure.

One of Sumatra's last protected forests in Kerinici Seblat National Park (Photo: Luke Mackin)

One of Sumatra’s last protected forests in Kerinici Seblat National Park (Photo: Luke Mackin)

October 6, 2014   2 Comments