Your Guide To Being A Beary Good Consumer!

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their job and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

Don’t you love visiting the giant pandas and sun bears at the San Diego Zoo? They are some of the cutest animals out there, but giant pandas are unfortunately an endangered species, and sun bears are threatened in the wild. The giant panda’s and sun bears are both declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Sun bears in particular, are one species that is highly affected by the construction of palm oil plantations in their habitats. Suzanne Hall, a Senior Research Technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, studies animal behavior to find solutions to support giant panda and sun bear conservation. She and her team collaborate with China regarding the panda breeding program at the Zoo and she also collaborates with the organization, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil  (RSPO). The RSPO was designed with the goal to encourage all markets to use sustainable palm oil in their products and help with the conservation of the animals and their habitats.

The San Diego Zoo is home to four giant pandas, all of which are part of a successful breeding program. In collaboration with China, the Zoo is helping to increase the number of giant pandas to ensure their future survival. The Zoo and the Chinese government have an agreement that for a period of six to twelve years, the Zoo pays to have the pandas here in San Diego. The money that we pay to China is then used to help further the efforts to breed and conserve pandas in China. Because the pandas are native to China, there are more pandas that can be bred there, resulting in more successful numbers of panda births. Four pandas that were born at the Zoo have been returned to China to participate in breeding efforts. Pandas are suffering from habitat destruction and fragmentation, which can be helped if consumers support the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC is designed to encourage markets to use sustainable resources from the forests, including bamboo, so that animals and habitats are conserved as much as possible. Simply reading labels and only purchasing products that are supported by the FSC, will help ensure that your product is sustainable and not from panda habitat!

Another way that you can help as a consumer, is to be aware of issues with palm oil. Sun bears’ lives are greatly affected when humans clear forestland to build palm oil plantations to harvest palm oil. Ms. Hall works closely with the RSPO to make sure people are producing products that use palm oil in a sustainable way, so the animals in that habitat are protected. Ms. Hall made sure to point out that animals suffering from loss of habitat due to the production of palm oil will not be benefited if people avoid buying products containing palm oil. Instead, it’s important for consumers to express their desire for companies to use sustainable palm oil. Consumers will be supporting sun bears if they read food labels and look to see if they have the RSPO trademark. Additionally, there is an application that can be downloaded on smart phones called the “Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping Guide” that will tell you what products use sustainable palm oil while you’re in the grocery store.

Ms. Hall also pointed out that collaboration with Zoos, governments from other countries, and the public, is extremely important to the conservation of these animals and their habitats. The collaboration the Zoo has with China is fantastic in that we are both helping the future of pandas by establishing breeding programs. Other governments or organizations in countries where animals are endangered are also vital collaborators to have, to make sure conservation efforts are worthwhile. At the end of the day, collaboration is important so that all of the parties involved are able to apply their goal to the country, zoo, or organization they are apart of.

Throughout this Zoo InternQuest experience, I am exposed to the many projects people are working on to help endangered plants and animals in the wild. It makes me both happy and optimistic for the future because there are many people who do care about the survival of giant pandas and sun bears! For now, if you want to help giant pandas or sun bears, I encourage you to be a smart consumer and check if products are supported by the FSC or the RSPO. Encouraging companies to use sustainable forest products or use sustainable palm oil that are not yet on board with this mission, will be beneficial to the survival of these bears!

Tess, Conservation
Week Five, Fall Session 2013

 For more information on the FSC, please visit –

For more information on palm oil and the RSPO, please visit –