The Saiga Saga

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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!

When most people think of conserving endangered animals, they imagine tigers, elephants, rhinos, and even bees. Very rarely do people, including me, think of the saiga antelope. It wasn’t until very recently that I had even heard of it! This week, we met with Ms. Colleen Bowman who is an Educator at the San Diego Zoo. Though she works with many animals, she was most excited to tell us about her experience in Uzbekistan working with children and teachers to aid in the efforts to conserve the saiga antelope, a critically endangered species.

The afternoon began with learning about what Ms. Bowman’s typical day at work might consist of. This includes giving tours, doing outreach programs at schools, field experiences, and many others. No matter what she’s doing, her goal is to educate people about conservation of any kind whether it’s about conserving water or preventing deforestation by recycling at home. Some may think that outreach programs and such experiences wouldn’t have that huge of an impact, but teaching children about conservation at a young age is crucial as that knowledge often sticks with them. From there they’re able to apply those concepts to their own lives and influence those around them. Outreach programs are a vital component to this goal as the students are able to have close encounters with animals that they wouldn’t typically see in their everyday lives. This is actually what sparked my own personal interest in conservation and environmental science. We also had the opportunity to meet two animals that participate in those programs: a three-banded armadillo named Cocoa and an African Grey parrot named Kizzy.

Ms. Bowman later moved on to tell us about her trip to Uzbekistan to help with the conservation of saiga antelope. At one point, there were millions of saiga roaming Central Asia, but their numbers dropped by about 95% over the last 15 years. Unfortunately, this is due to many factors: poaching, disruption of migration patterns, rise in bacteria due to climate change, and the depletion of natural sources, including both food and water, for agriculture. Since these are all problems caused by human activities, the best way to help the saiga antelope is to raise awareness. In Uzbekistan, there isn’t much focus on conservation education; luckily, many teachers came together to create eco-clubs (the Steppe Wildlife Club being just one of them) and they even made booklets about Saiga antelope!

Even with those clubs, the teachers still needed help. This is where Ms. Bowman and her colleague Dave O’Connor came in. They hosted a workshop to help the teachers incorporate conservation education into their own curriculum. Consisting of 32 participating teachers and translators from many different parts of Central Asia, the workshop was eight hours a day for an entire week. Participants spent this time doing activities and learning about teaching methods focused on the conservation of the Saiga antelope. With that knowledge, the teachers can successfully teach their students about conservation and the students are able to take this newfound knowledge, and apply it to their everyday lives while influencing both friends and family.

While in Uzbekistan, Ms. Bowman visited a local school called Progress where she met many young students and had the opportunity to attend a Saiga puppet show that the older students put on for the younger ones. Since art is such a huge part of Uzbekistan’s culture, the puppet show had a huge impact on the children and successfully raised awareness about the need for saiga antelope conservation throughout Uzbekistan.

Though Saiga antelope exist only in Central Asia, our actions are capable of affecting them and other species that are endangered around the globe. The main thing is to be conscious of what we are purchasing and consuming. When we buy something from a company, we are supporting what they are doing. If a company we purchase from is doing something harmful to the environment, such as getting palm oil from plantations that cut and burn down acres of natural forest, (which is habitat for many animals), we are supporting that though we may not know it. Through conservation education, Ms. Bowman raises awareness of these issues, and in turn, helps the environment and animals within it.

Andi, Conservation Team
Week One, Fall Session 2017

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