A Different Kind of Hero

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

Not all superheroes wear capes. Dressed in khaki pants and boots practically designed for adventuring, San Diego Zoo Educator, Colleen Bowman, is a different kind of hero. Just like all heroes, Ms. Bowman has a mission: to inspire others and help save endangered species from the brink of extinction.

Ms. Bowman’s passion for conservation started at a very young age. Like many other kids, she grew up loving animals and dreamed of one day becoming a dolphin trainer. Ms. Bowman set out to achieve her goals by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from Texas A&M and working during the summers at Sea World as an Educator. Seeking to widen her range of experiences, she was able to branch out and work with other animals, spending time training primates at a facility researching behavioral enrichment. Once there, her perspective changed. She realized that she did not have anyone with whom she could share her love and knowledge of wildlife, so she accepted a position with the San Diego Zoo in its Education Department.

As an Educator Guide, Ms. Bowman spends most of her time teaching Zoo guests about conservation and raising awareness of endangered species. She gives tours of the Zoo and reaches out to local schools in hopes of sparking the interest of San Diego students. She also introduces animals to Zoo guests and students, while telling them about the animals’ natural environments, eating and social habits, and characteristic behaviors.

This past year, Ms. Bowman had the opportunity to journey to Central Asia to participate and lead a conservation effort to save the critically endangered saiga antelope. The saiga antelope population once numbered over a million, but has declined 95% in the past fifteen years. They are poached primarily for their horns (which are falsely believed to be medicinal), but are also hunted by local communities for their meat. Modern development also hinders their success as a species, with border fences that block their migration and competition with domesticated animals, like goats and cattle, for grazing areas.

While in Central Asia, Ms. Bowman met teachers from around the world and worked together with them on ways to inspire and educate local children about the wildlife in their own “backyards.” During field trips to the Aral Sea and area schools, the educators were able to share their knowledge with the communities and set conservation goals for the future. Ms. Bowman hopes to raise awareness of the saiga antelopes struggle.

Ms. Bowman’s advice to anyone interested in a career in conservation research is to have an open mind and take advantage of available opportunities. She recommends “getting your foot in the door” by gaining experience, whether it is by volunteering at a local animal shelter or pet sitting. Ms. Bowman also explained that, while species like the saiga antelope are continents away, we can help endangered animals right here in San Diego and Southern California. By learning about native species such as the pronghorn, we can do our part to protect the animals in the fields, canyons, and mountains that make up the habitats and ecosystems in our own backyard.

Kendall, Careers Team

Week One, Fall Session 2017

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