Meeting a New Friend

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!

On January 31st, we met our first presenter for InternQuest who taught us about conservation in Uzbekistan for the critically endangered species called the saiga. These animals are suffering from poaching, environmental destruction, and most recently, from a deadly bacterial bloom that caused septicemia throughout wild populations. Our presenter, Colleen Ferguson, told us all about her experience working to conserve this species in Uzbekistan and introduced us to one of her many animal ambassador friends at the zoo.

Colleen Ferguson, who first became interested in animals at a young age and later found a passion to teach about them, was our first speaker. She took us through her influential experience in Uzbekistan and her involvement in the workshop, known as the Summer Wildlife Academy for Environmental Teachers in Nukus, Uzbekistan.

While in Uzbekistan, Ms. Ferguson co-facilitated the Summer Wildlife Academy for Environmental Teachers. Prior to the workshop, Ms. Ferguson was given the opportunity to create curriculum focusing on the conservation of the saiga antelope. Ms. Ferguson was able to use her experiences creating and designing curriculum for local school children in San Diego and apply them to the materials she created for the children of Uzbekistan.

Throughout her presentation, Ms. Ferguson explained that a major focus of the workshop hosted in Uzbekistan was to incorporate art as much as possible. Arts of various mediums, including the comic book pictured above, inspire children to care for and respect the saiga antelope. Additionally, this comic book was used as a tool to raise awareness of what the public can do to help save saiga in their day to day lives.

After her presentation, Ms. Ferguson took us to the Zoo’s Children Zoo to meet an Animal Ambassador. Full of excitement, Amber, Meghan, Allison, Conner, Carly, James, and I waited patiently, curious about what little critter we were going to meet.

Before walking in with the animal, Ms. Ferguson instructed us to sit in a circle so she could put the animal in it– we were essentially a corral! Once we sat down, we were introduced to the adorable three-banded armadillo named Bola. Upon setting her down, she immediately began exploring with an abundance of energy, climbing on people’s legs, and trying to squeeze past us. Ms. Ferguson then began teaching us and answering questions about this little creature.

Upon our initial examination of Bola, we noticed that there were three bands on her back. Ms. Ferguson informed us that the number of bands actually distinguishes these species of armadillo from the 20 other species found throughout North and South America. We also learned of Bola’s natural habitat in South America and how her species is threatened in the wild.

While Bola walked around, we were able to feel her shell and we noticed that it was smooth and hard. Ms. Ferguson told us that her shell is made out of keratin, which is the same material that makes up our fingernails. She then informed us that armadillos use their shell as a form of protection. Three-banded armadillos are the only species of armadillo that can completely roll into a ball.

Looking at Bola’s underbelly, we examined how her feet were not like paws or hooves, but actually looked more like one long claw. Ms. Ferguson explained that these claws make it easier for her to dig in the dirt and tree bark to find insects.

Looking at the sides of Bola, Ms. Ferguson told us about the long thin hairs that stick out either side of her shell. She told us that these hairs are similar to a dog’s whiskers, and because of these hairs, armadillos are able to sense the world around them. They allow her to feel her way around at night as armadillos are nocturnal.

Knowing that the hairs on the side of her body were used as a navigation tool, I wondered whether or not Bola had a poor sense of sight. Ms. Ferguson informed us that her eyesight was, in fact, not perfect, making her hairs on the side that much more important. Lastly, after noticing her large ears, Ms Ferguson informed us that her sense of hearing was much more acute then her sense of sight.

Throughout the interaction, our new friend began burying her nose in the ground and rummaging around with her claws. Ms. Ferguson informed us that Bola was searching for her favorite treat, grubs! Ms. Ferguson explained that Bola can actually smell insects about eight inches underground.

Throughout our day, we learned about the importance of conservation as well as impactful ways to teach about it to the public. Ms. Ferguson’s involvement has influenced many people, including me.

Lauren, Photo Journalists
Week One, Winter Session 2018

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