Representing Reptiles

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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 jobs, and the blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

emily_W1_picMost people know the basics of conservation—protecting endangered animals from extinction—but not many understand what conserving a species really entails. There is a wide variety of goals that conservationists intend to achieve, including informing the public about endangered species and how people can help them. This is exactly what our Educator Guide and Reptile Keeper, Peter Gilson, aspires to do. 

Mr. Gilson’s job as an educator seriously helps the efforts of those protecting the environment because he helps guests understand why reptiles are important. He explained to us how much of an impact all animals have on the world because they all have a major role to play. With one gone, another animal that was dependent on that animal might also leave, and this simply spirals into a downward domino-like effect within that habitat.  However, if more and more people are informed and told that they have the power to help, maybe we could avoid another one of those downward spirals.

Mr. Gilson led the interns throughout the reptile and amphibian exhibits at the San Diego Zoo. He showed us various species and told us about how they are being affected both negatively and positively by humans. For instance, the Zoo cares for one of the most endangered fresh-water turtles in the world, the Roti Island snake-necked turtle. The Zoo breeds these turtles at a highly successful rate, but due to poaching and habitat loss, it is nearly impossible to reintroduce them back into the wild. However, there is progress being made towards educating people in areas where poaching and deforestation take place by programs such as the Turtle Survival Alliance in Southeast Asia. These organizations require time and effort from everyone involved, but they also make a huge difference.

Conserving an animal species is no easy feat, especially when it seems like every factor is against it. We learned that the differences between reptiles and amphibians create different conservation challenges. Amphibians are much more sensitive than reptiles and the keepers must be very careful when handling them. In the wild, amphibians are impacted by many threats, including both water pollution and climate change. Pesticides and chemicals running into an amphibian’s water-source can cause serious mutations, such as extra limbs, loss of eyes, and general deformation. Climate change brings about not only a severe temperature change that affects the delicate skin of amphibians, but is also a hypothesized factor in the spread of lethal Chytrid fungus. This fungus is responsible for entering an amphibian’s skin and thereby reducing their ability to move and breathe. Although we cannot get this fungus out of the forest, there are assurance programs that are attempting to rescue species that are the most significantly infected by the disease. It is also hoped that some survivors might build resistance towards it in future generations.

Conservation is not just about protecting endangered animals, but also about making sure they can be released back into the wild without fear of becoming negatively impacted once again by opposing factors. Someone like you could help by spreading the word about how people’s actions impact an animal and their habitats. These actions could be as simple as conserving energy or donating a few dollars to an organization that promotes conservation. It takes work to change anything, but people’s day-to-day habits can be swayed if one person takes the time to make the change.

Emily, Conservation Team
Week One, Winter Session 2014