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Conservation Up Close and Personal

Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest blogs. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal

Today, Lead Mammal Keeper Jane Kennedy and Senior Mammal Keeper Matt Gelvin took us to look at some of the animals that they oversee at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We all sat on bales of hay in the back of a keeper truck to get an up close and personal look at the wildlife of the Asian and African plains at the Safari Park. We actually got to feed giraffes and rhinos which was an amazing experience! Although I had an absolute blast feeding the animals at the Park, one animal stood out above all others. As we were driving through the Asian Plains enclosure, Mrs. Kennedy pointed out to us a very special animal with a very special story: the Père David’s deer.

Over 3,000 years ago, more than one million Père David’s deer roamed the open plains and marshes of China. The wild herds kept diminishing due to over-hunting in their habitat. However, their extinction was prevented by the Emperor of China, who had the only surviving herd placed in captivity in his Imperial Hunting Park. At this time, the deer were very popular and in high demand throughout Europe, so the emperor gifted many of the animals to zoos. The remaining Chinese herd was slaughtered and eaten by soldiers during the Boxer Rebellion resulting in the extinction of the Père David’s deer in its native China. However, the deer in captivity in Europe were thriving. European zoos worked together toward conserving the species and rescuing their population. These deer are now found in zoos around the globe. Mrs. Kennedy explained that the reason the Père David’s deer that I saw are even at the Safari Park is because of the conservation efforts done by zoos like the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. Mrs. Kennedy said that, “If we didn’t have zoos, these animals would be extinct. They just wouldn’t be here.”

It is humbling to think about what zoos do in terms of species conservation. When you think of a zoo, what comes to mind? Animals in enclosed habitats? Families with children? Petting corrals? Have you ever really thought of zoos in relationship to wildlife conservation? The San Diego Zoo is a big supporter of wildlife conservation. They raise and donate financial support and increase conservation awareness. They band together with other zoos around the world to work on wide scale conservation issues as well as breed and release species. They also exercise their most valuable resource, education. If I have learned one thing through this experience with InternQuest it is that knowledge is power and that education is key to conservation efforts. At places like the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, the clear message of conservation education is being spread to every visitor: “Inspire change by educating and motivating people to take action that will protect and nurture the natural world.”

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