Conservation Colleen

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!

Passionate doesn’t even begin to describe Ms. Colleen Bowman, a talented Educator at the Zoo. From showing incoming guests the Zoo’s animal ambassadors to traveling halfway across the globe, Ms. Bowman will jump at any opportunity to teach people about wildlife conservation.

However, as a college student, she never would have predicted becoming an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Originally, she specifically wanted to work with marine animals. As a result, she studied marine biology at Texas A&M University, and followed that up with a summer job at SeaWorld. Ms. Bowman worked with the resident camps at SeaWorld and taught campers about marine life and conservation. When summer ended, she started an internship training dolphins at Disney World for six months. Next, she moved back to Texas to once again work at SeaWorld, but this time with the animal ambassadors (animals that act as representatives to educate the public about their species). That was another teaching job, which she really enjoyed. It wasn’t until she later worked behind the scenes with monkeys at a primate facility that she realized how much talking to people about the animals meant to her. After two years of training primates, she missed the public interaction so much that she left to become an educator at the San Diego Zoo.

For the past three and a half years here in San Diego, this native Texan has found herself the perfect job. She gets to work hands on with a wide variety of amazing animal ambassadors, and talk to people from around the world. Big parts of her job include giving tours at the Zoo and assisting with special programs like Zoo Corps, a teen volunteer program at the Zoo. Additionally, she sometimes gets to leave the Zoo for outreach programs at schools and other facilities to essentially bring the Zoo to those who may not be able to come visit. As if all of this wasn’t enough, one and a half years ago, she got the amazing chance to educate people far away from the city of San Diego, in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is a country in central Asia, once containing habitat for the critically endangered saiga antelope. While these animals look pretty weird, they are very rare and important in the food chain. Therefore, the San Diego Zoo wants to help save them from extinction. How does sending Ms. Bowman across the world do that? Well, there are groups of conservationists and teachers in Uzbekistan who are working hard to inspire younger generations to care about these precious mammals, but that is not always an easy task. The Zoo is partnered with the Saiga Conservation Alliance to help the people in Uzbekistan best enlighten children about saiga and how to protect them. Zoo educators, like Ms. Bowman, have designed curriculum focusing on saiga conservation; it’s full of interactive games, questions, and a detailed teacher’s guide, and it was even translated into Russian.

Once Ms. Bowman had completed the curriculum, the Saiga Conservation Alliance requested to have a teacher workshop. The workshop focused on teaching both conservationists and instructors all about saiga, and why it is vital that we save this species from the brink of extinction. In addition to this, Ms. Bowman was able to teach attendees of the seminar how to effectively give lessons in various conservation topics to students of many ages. However, the meeting wasn’t strictly business. One day, they took a bus to the Aral Sea, which was once the fourth largest lake in the world. Today, what’s left of it is basically a desert. The fish and water supply was not managed sustainably, and now practically all of it is gone. Witnessing that scene with the old boats sitting in dirt was an eye-opening reminder that our actions have consequences, and we don’t want animals like the saiga to end up the same way.

Real life connections like the one with the workshop attendees and the remains from the Aral Sea, and between a child and an animal face to face at the Zoo are the ones that Ms. Colleen Bowman strives to create for people as an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Although she is remarkable at her job, she basically fell into it. In fact, many people end up in positions they previously never thought of as options. Keeping an open mind and trying anything that interests you are some key pieces of advice she gave to us interns the other day, and is what led her to her dream position today.

Nikky, Real World Team
Week One, Fall Session 2017

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