Sunday, August 3, 2014

Photographing Apes: Spotlight Chimpanzees

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with a wonderful troop of chimpanzees. This particular troop was very animated and had me laughing at the similarities I could see from the human species. Like humans, chimpanzees are very curious and social animals - they are also highly intelligent. So intelligent, that they share 95-98% of our DNA, making chimpanzees one of the closet living relatives to humans.

Chimpanzees develop strong family bonds that can last a lifetime, especially between mother and child.

Watching the babies play and interact with each other was so much fun. The way they used sticks as tools and communicated with each other through hand gestures and body language was truly fascinating. It was like I was watching kids play at a park. The facial expressions completely melted my heart.

I believe the same characteristics that drew me to watching the chimpanzees play and interact for so long are the very traits that are causing these animals to disappear from their habitats. Chimpanzees are intelligent; therefore, it is easy to train them to do tricks and become performers or in some cases, a household pet. Chimpanzees are neither performers or pets - Chimpanzees are wild animals and should be treated as such. We need to be respectful of their natural habitats and support organizations like the Jane Goodall Institute to help save these highly intelligent primates.

Even though chimpanzees share close to 98% of our genetic makeup, humans are the main cause of harm to the species. As part of the great ape family, chimpanzees are endangered and live under continuous threat from habitat destruction and bushmeat hunters.

If that isn't enough to make you think about saving the chimpanzees, then maybe this statistic from the Jane Goodall Institute will at least make you want to learn more.

At the turn of the 20th Century, they numbered between 1 and 2 million . . . now there are estimated to be fewer than 300,000 chimpanzees remaining in the wild. Incredibly—over the past 100 years—we may have lost as many as 1.7 million of the chimpanzees that roamed the forests of Africa.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Some Days You Just Need To Get Outside!

For most people summer vacation is what they look forward to all year long. Summer vacation means no school, staying up late, and sleeping in past 7 a.m. I'm just like most people, summer vacation can't get here soon enough! However, I have a love-hate relationship with summer.

Summer means keeping Dylan busy all day long.
Summer means double grocery bills because Dylan is a growing boy.
Summer means making the paycheck stretch for 2 months.

Thankfully we have some great trails within walking distance of our home and we can spend the day enjoying nature, free of charge ... because some days, you just need to get outside!

The path is paved for walkers, runners, bicyclist, and even horseback riders, but sometimes it's nice to get off the path and take one of the many hiking trails. You never know what you will find.

Like this hidden spot under a tree that let us get right next to the water and explore the biodiversity of the ecological reserve ... or the flowering buckwheat that is a beautiful shade of peach this time of year.

Getting outside is something that we all need to do more often. Connecting with nature does wonders for the mind and body ... not to mention my love-hate relationship with summer.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How One Boy Made Lots of Zoo Keepers Smile

National Zoo Keeper Week is celebrated every year as a way to honor the thousands of animal care professionals who dedicate their lives to animal care, conservation, and education. In the past, Dylan and I have each written open thank you letters to our zookeeper friends, but this year Dylan wanted to do something more. He wanted to be able to thank them all in person and let each zookeeper know how much he appreciated everything that they were doing for the animals.

Wow, this would require lots of brainstorming and some creativity on my part. Dylan wanted to actually give them something. How could we possibly thank all of the zookeepers in person and give them a token of appreciation?  Dylan had some great ideas, but I needed to fine tune them and figure out a way to keep the cost down. Thanks to Pinterest I found my answers and we started making some little gifts.

With mailing labels and washi tape that I had at home, we made some cute labels that we could attach to individual size m&m bags. In no time at all we had 75 gifts for zookeepers - and all for under $10.

Now the trick was getting the candy to the zookeepers. I knew we would see a few here and there, but often the keepers are behind the scenes.

Ironically, my friend Nicki let me know that there was an ice cream social planned for all the zookeepers on the same day we were planning on being at the San Diego Zoo. This was our lucky day!

When we first arrived at the zoo, we had a plan to visit some places we knew keepers would be. First stop was the Children's Zoo. The reaction I witnessed from one keeper when Dylan handed her the small bag of m&m's was priceless. She then proceeded to take us around her area, making sure that we saw each zookeeper working that day.

Soon after, another friend who was not working that day shared a Facebook post with me via twitter. It said, "So a young boy, probably 10 or 11, came to my area of the zoo and passed out personal size m&m's to all the keepers. There was a note that said happy national zookeeper week and thank you for all you do. It's amazing how something so small can cause such a big impact!! It just made me realize that we are making an impact on people. I love my job!!!"  I almost started crying right then and there.

I also found out that one of the zookeepers has a picture of her and Dylan on her locker as a reminder that she is making a difference. There were several more posts like this that I saw when I got home and some Instagram pics as well. This was not the reaction I expected.

After handing out a few more, it was time to crash the ice cream social. This was something I will never forget, nor will Dylan. He was in a room filled with zookeepers and all eyes were on him. Dylan was with "his people" and the smile on his face was just as bright as the smiles on their faces.

Nicki walked Dylan around to each table and introduced him to the zookeepers. She told them about his philanthropy work and how he wanted to be a zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo when he was older. Some recognized him and gave handshakes or hugs, others simply appreciated the gift and smiled.

Aside from thanking the keepers, Dylan had the opportunity to meet some people face to face that he only knew through email. Meeting Aimee (a tiger keeper) and seeing Julian again may have been the highlight of this event for Dylan. The ice cream social was put on by the San Diego American Association of Zoo Keepers and they shared a lovely post about Dylan with some pictures on their Facebook page too.

Overall, the day was a success and we accomplished our mission of thanking as many zookeepers as possible in person. Seeing the smiles of so many zookeepers was awesome, but to be honest, it saddened me that they were so shocked by his small gift. These men and women work hard, and not in cushy offices, but out in the heat and rain, to care for the animals that we often take for granted. It made me realize that thanks need to be given more often. Dylan's wish to thank zookeepers taught both of us a valuable lesson - It really is the thought that counts and not the gift itself.

Thank you to all of the wonderful zookeepers for doing what you love!