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Every Bird Worth the Fight

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 the Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

cam_W2_picIf you live in Southern California, chances are you live in or near a habitat known as the Coastal Sage Scrub. A Mediterranean habitat, it is characterized by a semi-arid climate and a widespread presence of the coastal sagebrush (Artemisia californica), a shrub that grows from four to six feet tall. However, this habitat is under attack. Due to expansion of human housing and infrastructure, only 10% of the original habitat remains in place. We clearly must take immediate action to protect this unique and precious habitat.

One of the most precious creatures living in this threatened habitat is the Coastal cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus couesi). When we met with Colleen Wisinski, Senior Research Technician for the Applied Animal Ecology and Applied Plant Ecology Divisions of the San Diego Institute for Conservation Research, she told us about her studies of this unieque bird, and how she is working to help restore its population. Adjacent the San Diego Safari Park, this is an 800 acre Biodiversity Preserve, the vast majority of which is characterized as coastal sage scrub habitat. Of those 800 acres, 38 are now considered suitable for Coastal cactus wren nesting. The cactus wren needs large patches of cactus to survive, as it protects itself in nests only made in the crevices of these spiny plants.

The conflict for this bird lies in the fact that it has been brought under threat by a high degree of habitat fragmentation. Although there are a good number of areas in Southern California that have suitable amounts of cactus, they exist in small patches are divided by as much as 50 miles of developed land. Take the Safari Park’s case, for example: 38 acres of suitable habitat is clumped together, making for a population of about 50 birds. Then, less than 20 miles away at Lake Hodges, another protected area contains a few dozen acres of suitable cactus habitat, but so far the Lake Hodges habitat has gone unoccupied. This is because between the Safari Park and Lake Hodges lie hundreds of residential homes, Highway 78, and Interstate 15. The cactus wren does not like to move through these urbanized areas, and so it gets trapped on these tiny islands of cactus, and its population shrinks due to the genetic pool becoming less and less diverse.

So, wherever you are living, it is important that you are aware of the world outside your backyard. You may be occupying an area that represents an extremely rare habitat for a unique animal and ecosystem. If you are so inclined, have you backyard registered as a safe habitat for native animals. Volunteer at a local nature conservancy or organization. Not only do these volunteer-based organizations really need the help, but from my experience, work with these groups is extremely gratifying and spirit-lifting. If enough people do this, then this will create stop off points between larger tracts of habitat, especially for birds, allowing their populations to be better connected. Every bird is worth the fight, and if we don’t start now, it will only become more difficult to save these precious creatures.

Cam, Real World Team

Week Two, Winter Session 2013

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A day in the life of a Zoo Educator

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 the Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

cam_W1_picToday, interns had the pleasure of going on a tour with Ms. Kimberly Carroll, Zoo Educator, who has worked at the San Diego Zoo for over four years. After majoring in Zoology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Ms. Carroll went on to work at an outdoor camp on Catalina Island and two other zoos before landing her position as an Educator at the San Diego Zoo. Ms. Carroll has diverse background and an enthusiastic attitude, which made our tour very not only informative but super enjoyable.

As an Educator, Ms. Carroll works with a variety of Animal Ambassadors which are special animals specifically chosen and trained to interact with the public for educational purposes. In the Children’s Zoo, we got the chance to see Ms. Carroll complete an actual training step with her supervisor Mrs. Stephanie Alexander. This training step is the act of allowing the public to touch meerkats Animal Ambassadors Hakuna and Mattata. When being trained on Animal Ambassadors, educators much go through very specific training steps before they can be cleared to use the animal. After getting the siblings Hakuna and Mattata out of their exhibit, Ms. Carroll and Mrs. Alexander, put the two meerkats in harnesses, and took them to the CZ VIP area. Mrs. Alexander demonstrated to Ms. Carroll the proper way to safely allow people to touch meerkats. As Ms. Carroll came around to each of the interns and we got to touch Hakuna’s back, which felt like a bristly, thick haired dog’s back.

Ms. Carroll has had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of animals for educational purposes. She has worked with porcupines, horses, chinchillas, sugar gliders and kookaburras, to name a few. She is also working with an African grey parrot named Kizzy to perform vocalization on command. Parrots have a knack for mimicry so Ms. Carroll has taught Kizzy to associate certain sounds such as a whistle or the world “hello” with a hand motion and vocalization. Working with Animal Ambassadors allows Ms. Carroll the opportunity to visit elementary schools during Outreach Programs where it may be the first time kids have actually seen a particular animal. She has taken birds, armadillos and other smaller animals in the hope that children will feel a spark of inspiration to care about the natural world.

During our tour with Ms. Carroll, we stopped at Panda Trek and got to meet another type of educator, Panda Narrator, Ms. Alyssa Medeiros. As a Panda Narrator, Ms. Mederios, shares panda facts with Zoo guests and the dangers pandas face in the wild. Ms. Medeiros is around the pandas often and has gotten to know their personalities and behaviors quite well. Part of her job is to report to the Panda Researchers if she observes changes in their mood, any new behaviors, or sudden changes in their daily routine. These observations could possibly indicate to Researches if the pandas are ready to breed or if they may need any medical attention.

It was a great opportunity to get a glimpse into the jobs of Ms. Carroll and Ms. Medeiros. Both Ms. Carroll and Ms. Medeiros have great passion for animals and education, which makes them both really effective and inspiring educators. Hopefully, more enthusiastic youth will enter the field of education, and help teach those around them about the importance of a respect for nature and a respect for the world around us, just like Ms. Carroll and Ms. Medeiros do every day.

Cam, Careers Team
Week One, Winter Session 2013

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Living for the Natural World

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 the Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

SelfportraitMy love for nature has been the sole constant in my life. One of the earliest memories that I can recall clearly is the first time I stepped out of the car at Huntington Lake, California, a small lake that has been a gathering place for my family for generations. I was awestruck by the massive pine trees, the large body of water, and the ever-blue sky. Most of all, was the overwhelming peace felt while I was wandering through the wild, without the constant freeway buzz that I had grown so familiar with. To experience such pure serenity and happiness at a young age drove me to protect such places like this. I had always had a natural attraction to animals, so plans for my future seemed to fall into place easily at a young age. By the time my second cousin, Glenn Gerber, came back from his first project with the San Diego Institute for Conservation Research (previously known as CRES), working to protect Rock Iguanas in the Turks and Caicos Islands, I knew what I would do: become a field biologist.

This is what drew me to the InternQuest program. Although I dream of becoming a field biologist, my experiences with true conservation work have been few and far between. I want to speak with people who have worked in this field directly, and make sure this truly is my future path. Not only that, but I could not ignore the opportunity to spend my afternoons writing and exploring the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.

Aside from my interest in conservation, I am a competitive fencer, avid bicyclist and musician. I lead my school’s Ecological Conservation Organization on projects throughout North County, including invasive plant removal at The Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, planting native plants with the Cottonwood Creek Conservancy, and designing a Native Ant Monitoring project alongside the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy. I hope that this club can help others become inspired by nature and find connections with local organizations to get hands-on experience in the field. In the end, my main goal with all of this is to leave a world behind where children can be as inspired as I was the first time that I experienced the wonder of the natural world. I hope that the InternQuest program can bring me insight into the world of conservation and the work done at the Zoo. Hopefully, it will reach beyond that, and the blogs that I create can help others understand what environmentalism, protection and conservation is truly all about. 

Cam
Winter Session 2013