Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

Spring is here and with that is warmer weather, blooming flowers, and the desire to explore the outdoors! While nature is a beautiful thing and wild places are a magical place to experience, not everyone has access to them. Whether it be because you live in a city, don’t have a lot of time off, or your country/area does not have a lot of native flora you are interested in seeing, there are other options for you! Zoos (and sometimes aquariums) are a wonderful option for people wanting to experience some extra plants in their life. The more updated style of zoos aims for a more natural look and strives to transport the visitor to the natural world of the animals they house. Exhibits with towering trees, lush grass, and even streams are more and more popular in the zoos of the world. Indoor pavilions provide tropical flowers and plants for the many birds and insects they house. Some areas have plants as the main focus!


There are a number of zoos worldwide that are also partnered with a botanical garden. Sometimes admission to both is included, or at least a discount ticket is offered. Not only does this give more variety to your visit but also the opportunity for experiencing new and exciting plants you never knew existed! I have definitely seen more species of plants in my life from visiting zoos!

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Visiting a zoo with a good horticulture department and staff really heightens your experience and makes for a better zoo visit. Seeing animals in a more natural environment in general is great, but in a natural environment with plants that are native to their wild ranges is even better. Yes, learning new facts about the animals you are seeing is fantastic, but what about learning about the plants! Did you know many zoos house plants that are extinct in the wild? Did you know some zoos have more species of plants than of animals? Maybe that there are over five zoos in the US that are officially recognized as museums due to their plant collections? Or how about that the Toronto Zoo’s collection of plants is said to be worth more than their animal collection?


So now that you’re craving a little more flora, where should you go? Any zoo that also has ‘Botanical Garden’ in the name is a good bet. Look to see if they house species like butterflies or tropical birds, or if they have any greenhouses or pavilions on site. If you’re still unsure, give them a call!

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While many plants are grown to be used as food and enrichment for the animals, most of the plant collection is used to enrich the exhibits and grounds of the zoo itself. So next time you’re visiting, take time to stop and smell the roses!



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One of the ‘games’ I play when visiting zoos is sneakily correcting people about animals. If someone is gushing over how cute the baby jaguar is, I’ll call over my boyfriend with a “Hey, come look at the ocelot!”. If someone is commenting how they always thought kangaroos were bigger, I’ll read the sign stating average lifespan of a wallaby out loud to who I’m with. Sometimes I’m a little more up front about it…I’ll just state a random fact about the animal or say something like “oh the axolotls are always too hidden for me to get a good photo”. I don’t like conflict and I don’t want to make anyone feel stupid for not knowing…but I also don’t want people to go home thinking they saw forty species at the zoo that day when it was actually sixty.


Although it resembles a kangaroo this is actually a wallaby!


Now I understand I graduated in zoology, have worked at zoos, and frequent zoos often so I tend to know animal species a little more than the average zoo goer but this is still a frustration of mine. Let me tell you why:

Signs: The most obvious reason…I have yet to visit a zoo that hasn’t posted even the most basic sign about the animal you’re looking at. Even the worst zoos I’ve been to have at least ‘LION’ hand painted on a board and nailed to the fence. Yes sometimes the signs are not right in front of your face but they are usually pretty easy to spot.


Conservation: What you thought was an armadillo was actually a pangolin, the most trafficked mammal in the world. By reading the signs and understanding what you are looking at it might give you a different outlook on the animal in front of you. Maybe when you realize you’re looking at an animal who has lost 90% of it’s habitat to deforestation you might decide to adopt one on the way out. By encountering an orangutan for the first time and learning how unsustainable palm oil is wiping them out, that visitor may change their spending habits in their home.

Education: Even just for the fact of an educational outing, please learn what it is you are looking at. Maybe it will just be another animal name that you know; it may help you during trivia night sometime. Who knows you might even learn something about yourself or the world! Did you know that weird thing you just assumed was like any other crustacean at the bottom of the ocean is in fact a horseshoe crab? Did you know that they have had a profound impact on human medicine?

Children: Quite often when I’m hearing people referring to animals by the wrong name it is parents discussing the animals with their children. Now I understand with young kids it’s easier to say ‘monkey’ rather than ‘gibbon’ because they may already know what a monkey is, or say ‘cat’ for all of the big cats….but is it really? Children are picking up on a lot of vocabulary and teaching them the difference between a tiger and a lion is not that big of a feat. In terms of older children who have an easier time with the distinctions, why WOULDN’T you? Raising your children to have a broader view of the species throughout the world and the challenges they face with climate change, habitat loss, and poaching (to name a few…) can make them more environmentally conscious adults in the future. For example linking shoreline cleanups with the spiny softshell turtle they fell in love with at the zoo could encourage them to take part. After experiencing the popcorn scent of a binturong and discovering the island of Sumatra on a map, your child may become an advocate for its critically endangered inhabitants.

This spiny softshelled turtle could inspire your child to be a protector of watersheds.

This spiny softshelled turtle could inspire your child to be a protector of watersheds.

Conservation relies on awareness and public interest. A major aspect of zoos is raising awareness and encouraging the public to relate to the species they are interacting with, which in turn boosts activism and conservation efforts. If every zoo visitor left having learned about the challenges of a species they otherwise did not know existed, that species has a better chance of survival. Donations, awareness, and greener living and spending habits are what can turn the fate of species around. Knowing how small interactions can produce big lifestyle changes is perhaps why I find it most irritating. I still discover new species during zoo visits! So next time you’re at the zoo try to discover at least one new animal!

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As you have probably guessed by now, I love zoos. This love started with my love of animals. When I was younger I would copy out animal facts as my made up homework. This eventually turned into a degree in Zoology and a keen interest in wild species throughout the world. Zoos allow me to experience these amazing animals up close, but nothing beats seeing them wild in their natural habitat.

During my final year of school I was able to have the opportunity to go on a research trip to Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. We picked a topic of research and carried it out for two weeks in the middle of no where. I was lucky enough to see the majority of the animals on my must see list: hippos, giraffe, crocodiles, zebra, elephants, and lions. These moments were exhilarating – especially since for the majority of them we were on foot with nothing between us. The sounds of the animals at night would keep us up – the far off (and sometimes not so far off) lions and hyenas, to the warthogs tearing through camp. We learned we had to place our tents in specific spots so we wouldn’t be trampled by hippos when they left the river at night, and that elephants have the best technique of retrieving drinking water. This trip was full of inspiring moments for me and the people I was with…it is so difficult to pick just one. I have always felt inspired to protect the environment and it’s species but I feel that trip showed me how much I took things for granted at home and how much what I did could affect the world.

More than anything my trip inspired me to inspire others to travel. I want others to experience that feeling of making eye contact with a wild lion or seeing a herd of elephants walk by. That feeling you get whether you were a conservationist before or not will change you.

Wild lion in Selous Game Reserve

Wild lion in Selous Game Reserve

Since my trip four years ago, Selous Game Reserve has been placed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites under threat. As I mentioned I was able to see most of the animals on my list. I did not see any rhinos, or cheetahs, or painted dogs. An estimated 66% of Selous’ elephants have been poached between 2009 and 2013. Since I know first hand how beautiful this site is I am more inspired to help save it.

Wild elephants like this one may not be seen in Selous if we do not act.

Wild elephants like this one may not be seen in Selous if we do not act.

For everyone who reads these reviews and features I hope one day you take the opportunity to visit these animals in the wild. Truly get to know the dangers they face due to poaching and climate change. I hope in doing so you will be inspired to start taking steps to change it – big or small.

In the meantime visiting reputable zoos in your area is also playing a part. Through introducing your children to animals and conservation issues at a young age you are encouraging greener practices in the future. By seeing the magnificent animals up close you are nurturing a connection with animals within yourself making the news stories hit closer to home. Even the smallest green changes can have big impacts worldwide.

What is one small thing you can do right now?

Watch Contiki Storytellers video on the sea turtles of Costa Rica.


Contiki has partnered with the Sea Turtle Conservancy and agreed to sponsor a turtle to aid in research if this video reaches 250 000 views – we need your help. Show this to friends, family, and neighbours. Not only will this help with Contiki’s goal but you never know who you will inspire to take action.


As part of Contiki’s Storyteller Challenge I would further like to challenge some of my fellow bloggers to share their travel stories!

The Bear Necessities

Travel For Wildlife

The Gut Gazette – hopefully that Alaskan cruise has inspired you!


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Looking for activities or camps for your children once they’re done school for the year? Look no further than a zoo near you!

Many zoos host summer camps, weekly educational programs, or overnight events. These are a great option for children who love animals or the outdoors. Based around educating youth on the different species as well as ecology, conservation, and the environment, zoo summer camps will keep your child’s mind working while instilling positive ecofriendly outlooks. As a parent you can also feel great knowing that your money is going towards helping zoos care for their animals and/or are funding conservation initiatives worldwide.

Make sure you start looking now – February and March are usually when registration begins for summer programming and spots can fill up fast!

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Introducing a new category in this post today…a feature animal! When going to a zoo everyone has their favourite animal or those animals that they’re really excited to see. These may be snakes for some people, the elephant or lion for others. While each animal has draws for different people I feel there are some animals that appeal to everyone or are generally exceptional zoo species. Today’s feature is the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis).

North American River Otters at the Detroit Zoo

North American River Otters at the Detroit Zoo

When describing the River Otter most people use the words ‘playful’, ‘charismatic’, or ‘energetic’…and with good reason! These little guys are full of energy and are always willing to entertain. In the wild they are found throughout North America more so in inland waterways (such as rivers, lakes, and the like) than on the coasts. There are 10 subspecies throughout North America so if you have some living near you, you can usually tell which one it is by location alone. They are very agile in the water with adaptations such as very streamlined bodies, webbed feet, and water-repellent fur. Their diet consists mainly of meat from fish, amphibians, and crustaceans.


North American River Otters at the Detroit Zoo

As for River Otter exhibits in zoos I find the general design is consistent between the zoos I have seen them in as well as pictures of exhibits from other zoos. Usually the exhibit itself is open air with grass/logs/pebbles/rocks laid out to look like a river bank. In all the exhibits I have been to there was also a small waterfall feature that the animals could play in as well. Then there is the main water tank where the main viewing area is. Being as playful and energetic as they are they are a dependable exhibit to go to. They are also very curious and tend to interact through the glass with guests…either following you, doing tricks, or being general hams for the camera. You have to be quick though! They rarely stay still for a picture for long!

Otters are very susceptible to pollution in their environment. They are a great indicator of water pollution and unhealthy ecosystems…so if you have otters in your area (or used to!) you can help to support them by organizing garbage clean ups and water pollution awareness campaigns.

Overall I highly suggest going to see otters in a zoo near you, I guarantee no matter what your age you will be entertained!

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