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Zoo Educator Heading to the Galapagos as a 2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Fellow

I am excited to announce that I’ve been selected as a 2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Every year, K-12 educators (formal and informal) are encouraged to apply for this professional development opportunity that allows them to bring immersive geographic learning experiences back to their classrooms and communities. Last year, my colleague in the Zoo’s Education Department, Sarah Navarro, was a Fellow and traveled to the Canadian Maritimes. This year, it’s my turn.  I am one of 35 educators from the United States and Canada to receive this honor this year in recognition of my commitment to geographic education here at the Zoo (out of a pool of 2,700 applicants). Read about all of the Fellows here.

2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows  (Photo: Mark Thiessen)

2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows (Photo: Mark Thiessen)

In September, I will embark on a Lindblad voyage for one-of-a-kind field experience, accompanied by Lindblad-National Geographic expedition experts. I will be traveling on a 10-day expedition aboard the National Geographic Endeavour to the Galapagos, and I couldn’t be more excited!

National Geographic Endeavour sailing in the Galapagos (Photo: Michael S. Nolan)

National Geographic Endeavour sailing in the Galapagos (Photo: Michael S. Nolan)

The Galapagos is a unique ecosystem with an equally compelling history. I’ve read (and will continue to until I embark) about the region’s geology, ecology, wildlife and human history, but travelling to the actual place will really bring those ideas to life. I’m keenly interested in understanding how all the biotic and abiotic components interact with each other to provide a big picture of the region as well as learning how each component is designed to survive in this place. I’m also very curious to learn about conservation on the islands.

Snorkel with Galapagos sea lions? I'm in! (Photo: Michael S Nolan)

Snorkel with Galapagos sea lions? I’m in! (Photo: Michael S Nolan)

During the expedition, I expect to build my knowledge through first-hand experiences such as hiking and snorkeling as well as from interactions with the Expeditions staff and fellow travelers. I’m particularly looking forward to a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about their tortoise conservation efforts. I plan to keep a detailed journal as well as take a LOT of photos.

This could be me in September, taking pictures of giant tortoises! (Photo: Walt Denson)

This could be me in September, taking pictures of giant tortoises! (Photo: Walt Denson)

My primary responsibility here at the Zoo is to plan and create interpretive exhibits and experiences that connect people to nature and inspire them to respect and conserve it. This expedition will provide me with new and exciting first-hand knowledge of the wildlife and ecology of the Galapagos Islands that I can incorporate into authentic learning experiences for guests, particularly at our Galapagos tortoise and bird exhibits.

On April 15, another of the Fellows from Cincinnati, Dawnetta Hayes, and I were invited to share our news on WVXU’s Cincinnati Edition with Mark Heyne. That was a new experience for me, too! You can listen to the podcast here.

Pre-voyage interview with Mark Heyne on WVXU's Cincinnati Edition (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Pre-voyage interview with Mark Heyne on WVXU’s Cincinnati Edition (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Prior to our expeditions, all 35 of the Fellows traveled to National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., in April to participate in hands-on workshops covering photography and outreach planning. We had the opportunity to meet Lindblad Expeditions’ naturalists and National Geographic staff as well as get to know each other and several of the previous year’s Fellows.

Here I am at National Geographic headquarters in D.C.

Here I am at National Geographic headquarters in D.C.

This year marks the ninth year of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program, established to honor former National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor’s lifetime commitment to geographic education. The program began with two Fellows in 2007 and has grown each year. The expeditions were donated in perpetuity to the National Geographic Society by Sven-Olof Lindblad and Lindblad Expeditions to mark Grosvenor’s 75th birthday in 2006 and to honor his service to enhancing and improving geographic education across the United States. (Additional support for the 2015 program is provided by Google and private funders.)

Sven-Olof Lindblad actually gave a presentation here at the Zoo in May as part of our Barrows Conservation Lecture Series, and I was very happy to connect with him then. He gave a fantastic talk about the importance of travel and direct experiences to opening people’s eyes and minds and hearts to the wonder of our natural world and the interconnections between themselves and the people and wildlife of faraway places. Our world is changing and we need to be global citizens to ensure its sustainability.

Former Fellow Sarah Navarro, current Fellow Janet Shedd (from Lexington) and I introduce Sven-Olof Lindblad to Gabriel the potto prior to his presentation.

Former Fellow Sarah Navarro, current Fellow Janet Shedd (from Lexington) and I introduce Sven-Olof Lindblad to Gabriel the potto prior to his presentation.

As the date of my voyage approaches, I’ll be reading and absorbing as much as I can about the Galapagos Islands in preparation, and I will be sure to share my experience through pictures and stories after I return from the expedition in October.

I can't wait to see these blue-footed boobies in action! (Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins)

I can’t wait to see these blue-footed boobies in action! (Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins)

May 29, 2015   3 Comments

Celebrating 40 Years of Graduates from the Zoo Academy

If you follow the Zoo blog, you’ve likely read posts written by some of current Zoo Academy students and are somewhat familiar with the program. This year, we are celebrating a milestone as the 40th class of Zoo Academy graduates prepares to walk across the Cintas Center stage and receive their diplomas on May 24.

The Cincinnati Zoo Academy has been a part of the public school system in Cincinnati since 1975. In 1995, the program underwent a substantial change from a strictly vocational program with an emphasis on natural resources and wildlife management to a four year college preparatory program where the students earn vocational degrees by working with zookeepers for two hours a day. During the 2008 – 2009 school year, we became a Tech Prep program with articulation agreements with UC Blue Ash and Cincinnati State. Students spend their ninth and tenth grade years at Hughes High School. During their eleventh and twelfth grade years, home base for the Zoo Academy is located on the first floor of the Education Center on Zoo grounds. The students spend several hours a day working alongside keepers, educators and other staff in labs throughout the Zoo.

Soon to graduate, Zoo Academy student Dominick Stowers (right) works with the Africa keepers and an ostrich.

Soon to graduate, Zoo Academy student Dominick Stowers (right) works with the Africa keepers and an ostrich.

Soon to graduate, Monneka Johnson socializes Bonnie, a screaming hairy armadillo, during her Education lab. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Soon to graduate, Monneka Johnson socializes Bonnie, a screaming hairy armadillo, during her Education lab. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

This year’s graduates follow in the footsteps of an esteemed group of alumni. Many graduates have gone on to establish careers in environmental or zoological fields and some have actually been hired on as staff here at the Zoo, including Rickey Kinley, who has worked at the Zoo for 22 years and is currently a keeper in the aviculture department. Here Rickey shares his story in his own words:

“I started my life as an underprivileged kid. We were very poor.  I can remember being fascinated by nature and animals as far back as when I was three years old watching a ladybug on my window sill. At about the third grade, I had the epiphany that books held the information about the animals that I was so interested in. I became a bookworm, but only with books about animals. This curiosity developed further on to my teenage years when a freshman year science teacher mentioned to me about a high school called the Zoo School. As a teenager, this school seemed too good to be true. I applied, was accepted, and started school at the beginning of my junior year.

It was quite amazing to see on a daily basis all of the Cincinnati Zoo All-stars:  Cathryn Hilker (founder of Cat Ambassador Program), Mike Dulaney (current Curator of Mammals), Milan Busching (former insect keeper), and of course, Thane Maynard (current Zoo Director). These were people that I had regularly seen and idolized on the TV show “Zoo Zoo Zoo.”  Every single day I felt like I needed to pinch myself to make sure that it was a real high school.

Like every teenager, I was never quite sure what, when, or where life would take me or what decisions I should be making. The Zoo School gave me focus, direction, and mentoring. My very first lab rotation was in Wildlife Canyon with folks like Randy Pairan (current keeper) who taught me about the babirusa named Oscar that was more like a dog than a pig. During the Cat House lab, I was allowed to ride in the vet van next to an anesthetized lion on the way to the vet hospital for a root canal.

Rickey Kinley as a Zoo Academy student assisting with a procedure on a lion.

Rickey Kinley as a Zoo Academy student assisting with a procedure on a lion.

In the Bird House, Casey Nastold (former keeper) taught me how to hand-feed a variety of parrots, including baby macaws, eclectus parrots, African grey parrots, cockatoos, and the list goes on. Way back in 1992, the Bird House used to remove the eggshells from each egg before we smashed them for diets. I mentioned to Casey one day how in one of my books I read that many bird breeders smash the eggs with the shell on to provide grit and calcium for the birds. Casey decided that it made sense, the change was made and that is how we do our eggs still to this day. Looking back it still amazes me that she, in her managerial position, listened to the idea of a teenager.  It was extraordinary that she judged the concept on the merit of the idea and not from whose mouth it came.

Today, Rickey works in aviculture with birds, including the rhinoceros hornbill.

Today, Rickey works in aviculture with birds, including the rhinoceros hornbill.

I met Mary Abbott (current keeper) during my rotation in the Children’s Zoo.  In this department lived a turkey vulture named Greta that only liked Mary. Actually, she only liked women.  Any woman could pick this bird up like a baby, but men were never treated so kindly. Even though Greta was partial to women in general, I could tell that this vulture was a great judge of character because Mary was one of the nicest people I met as a student.

I want to help others understand how great of an impact that a program like this can have on a person.  Two things seemed impossible to me as a youngster with few opportunities:  1) to one day become a zookeeper and 2) to own my own business.  I have now been at the Zoo for 22 years and I have been a business owner for 13 years.”

Rickey shares his knowledge as a bird keeper with participants in the Zoo's Spring Break Camp.

Rickey shares his knowledge as a bird keeper with participants in the Zoo’s Spring Break Camp.

Learn more about the Zoo Academy and hear inspiring stories from other graduates here.

 

May 22, 2015   1 Comment

What Do Lion Cubs Like to Do Best? Play!

Just like human children, life for a lion cub is all about play, and our 6-month-old lion cubs – Willa, Uma and Kya – love to play!

Willa, Kya and Uma at play (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Willa, Kya and Uma at play (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

So much more than just a fun way to pass the time, play also helps little lions develop and grow. By running, climbing and wrestling, they practice their gross motor skills and develop physical strength and coordination.

"I'm Queen of the World!" (Photo: DJJAM)

“I’m Queen of the World!” (Photo: DJJAM)

"Oh, no you don't!" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“Oh, no you don’t!” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Play is also enriching for their minds. Mental stimulation triggered by playing with each other and a variety of toys, which could be anything from a ball to a stick to Daddy’s mane, builds big, clever brains.

"I got it!" (Photo: Mark Dumont)

“I got it!” (Photo: Mark Dumont)

"Ouch!" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“Ouch!” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Social play like chasing, roughhousing and playing keep-away with each other is important for bonding. The pride that plays together, stays together!

"I'm going to get you!" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“I’m going to get you!” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Even Imani gets in on the fun! (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Even Imani gets in on the fun! (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Play also helps our budding predators practice and hone their stalking and hunting skills.

"Hey! That's my tail!" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“Hey! That’s my tail!” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

"Pretend to be a buffalo, Dad" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“Pretend to be a buffalo, Dad” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

In the wild, learning through play is critical to a lion’s survival. Over in Kenya’s South Rift Valley, where the Zoo partners on a community-based conservation program to restore healthy lion populations called Rebuilding the Pride, lioness Nasha’s three girls are growing up fast! Born in April 2014, these sisters are just over a year old. Researchers recently captured some of their playful antics on camera – a good sign that these cubs are developing and learning the skills they’ll need in future life.

Nasha's cubs (Photo: Guy Western & Sarah Malcolm)

Nasha’s cubs (Photo: Guy Western & Sarah Malcolm)

Nasha's cubs at play (Photo: Guy Western & Sarah Malcolm)

Nasha’s cubs at play (Photo: Guy Western & Sarah Malcolm)

When is the best time to catch our lion cubs at play? Your best bet is to visit the Africa exhibit first thing in the morning or much later in the day, avoiding the heat of the day when the lions are most likely to just be “lion” around. (Sorry for the bad pun. I just couldn’t resist.)

Our pride at rest (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Our pride at rest (Photo: Kathy Newton)

May 19, 2015   1 Comment