Flying Fish

The Power of Three: Education, Outreach, and Communication
by Nicole Carlozo -- July 20th, 2012

Travel has been my “life theme” this past month. Hence, my absence in the blogosphere.  For an environmental writer, travel is a theme with endless possibilities. I could write about carbon emissions, recycling, population, development…the list goes on and on. But for this blog entry, I’d like to touch on a conservation experience I had while vacationing in San Diego, CA.

Last week I spent 6 days in San Diego. I’ll admit that I was there primarily for the 2012 Comic Con (what, I can’t have a hobby?). However, on the last day of my trip, I visited the San Diego Zoo.

My experience at the SD Zoo was in one word, extraordinary. It only took a few exhibits before I realized how truly effective the zoo could be in terms of conservation efforts. I’ve been to a number of zoos in my time, but never before have the animals been RIGHT THERE.

The polar bear was enjoying a carrot, I was enjoying the polar bear!

Zookeepers weighing a female elephant. It's diet time.

A trip to the polar bear exhibit left me dumbstruck with the size and beauty of these animals. While walking by the elephants, I found myself just meters from a female being weighed by her zookeepers. If I didn’t feel connected to these species before my trip, then I couldn’t say the same afterwards. And a personal connection is something truly invaluable when trying to protect these animals from extinction or anthropogenic threats.

Who are you looking at?

Five hours later, I still hadn’t seen everything the zoo had to offer. As I walked around the facilities, I noticed exhibits on fossils, climate change, and endangered species. By using the animal exhibits as a starting point, the zoo staff was successfully executing education, outreach, and communication to further their conservation message.

Red panda saying hi!

Panda making his rounds.

The whole experience left me contemplating the importance of community engagement when working towards sustainability and conservation. Sometimes, all a conservation effort needs is some up-close-and-personal experiences between us and the wildlife we want to protect.

Zookeepers walking a wolf? Can't get any closer than this...

Many of the exhibits were surrounded by educational descriptions or a zookeeper stepping in to answer questions, but in truth, I spent my time simply observing the uniqueness and beauty of the animals. It truly was an uplifting experience. I encourage anyone feeling discouraged in the environmental profession, or anyone trying to engage others in conservation efforts, to visit places like this. Sadly, the SD Zoo is a long trip for many, especially those of us on the east coast.

Has anyone had a similar experience, maybe a little closer to home? Let me know!

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