Wildlife and nature have always held a special place in my heart. Some of my fondest memories have been spent in the company of amazing creatures and majestic scenery. I wanted to expose both of my children to wild animals and educate them, so I enrolled them at the Denver Zoo’s summer camp. It was there that I learned of the opportunity to join the zoo’s 600+ volunteers. I joined this dedicated group 19 years ago. Today I continue to be a docent in addition to being a member of the Board of Governors.
My lengthy experience as a docent responsible for educating students (90,000 annually) and visitors (two million annually) has given me a firsthand look at the impact the Denver Zoo makes daily. It’s getting more difficult to connect with nature and it’s only the lucky few who are fortunate enough to travel to see wild animals in their natural habitats. It is through exposure to these amazing animals that people are able to develop knowledge and empathy enough to want to protect wildlife. The Denver Zoo’s mission “to save wildlife for future generations” is becoming more essential every day.
“A lot of us in the field think that we’re on the front lines of conservation, but we are wrong. It’s the zoos and aquariums who are on the front lines because they’re the ones having face-to-face interactions with people every day—people who can change the direction of our planet,” said M. Sanjayan of Conservation International. Our outreach, and that of other zoos within the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), is critical with the frightening developments we are faced with: declining endangered species, environmental regulation rollbacks, habitat destruction, and climate change.
Denver Zoo’s commitment to conservation helps save wildlife and wild places. We invest roughly $2 million per year in five core conservation programs around the world. Relatively unique among zoos is our long–term, boots-on-the-ground approach to conservation.
Two notable examples of our success are programs in Mongolia and New Mexico:
New Mexico: Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge serves as a model and field laboratory for the development of innovative grassland restoration and conservation, ecological and cultural bison restoration, community engagement and environmental education. Denver Zoo partners with the USFWS, the Pueblo of Pojoaque, and New Mexico Highlands University to lead this project.
Mongolia: Along with partners Ikh Nart Park Administration, Mongolian Conservation Coalition, and various local educational institutions, the Denver Zoo has spent the last 20 years helping to develop and protect the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve. This reserve encompasses roughly 160,000 acres of semi-arid grasslands and historical sites.
I’m also excited about a recent addition to our conservation program: the “Tap into Change” scholarship program for women in conservation. Each year we award several (2-3) scholarships to female identified students both here and around the world where we work. The goal is to give women the tools they need to gain knowledge, have a voice and feel empowered to become active leaders in wildlife conservation within their communities.
I care passionately about wildlife, the natural world and future generations. As Rachel Carson wrote in a letter to her longtime friend Dorothy Freeman, “I could never again listen happily to a thrush song if I had not done all I could do. And last night the thoughts of all the birds and other creatures and the loveliness that is in nature came to me with such a surge of deep happiness, that now I had done what I could.”
I deeply believe in the work and the people who work and volunteer at the Denver Zoo, and I too “will do what I can” to advance our mission of saving wildlife for future generations.
Olga Donahue of Colorado was born in Medellin, Colombia but moved to the United States in 1965. She was an international lending officer for Bank of Boston as well as a partner in a small real estate investment and management company. For the last 19 years, she has been a docent at the Denver Zoo, and more recently as a member of their Board of Governors.