Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How Today's Children Are Making a Difference for Tomorrow

I have often heard it said that we are preserving the world for future generations. That what we do today, will in fact, have an impact on our children and grandchildren. 

Sounds good, right? 
Well, I'm not so sure anymore.

Are we really doing the changing or is it our children?

Who is preserving the world for who?

I read about it almost every day now. I see more and more stories of children making a difference; children doing something that makes me want to do more. Just the other day I read about Landon Clark, a 10-year-old boy in Oregon, who collected change in his coin jar to help save the orangutans. Landon raised $164.07 for the Oregon Zoo Foundation; but more importantly, he created awareness about the palm oil crisis in his community. This is a child teaching other children and adults about making a difference.

Children in Nepal are working with the Red Panda Network to help save the endangered red panda. A group of sixth grade students know that red pandas live in the jungle near their village, yet many of the children have never seen one. Again, a story of school children making a difference for conservation and fighting to end extinction.

The dictionary defines the word environmentalist as "any person who advocates or works to protect the air, water, animals, plants, and other natural resources from pollution or its effects"  - What I see today are young environmentalists. What our parents may have called hippies or tree-huggers 40 years ago, are today, what we call wildlife heroes.

Could today's children be the new generation of "hippies"? Making a stand for the earth to come before big business, a stand for what they believe is important? If so, who are their teachers?

I do not consider my parents environmentalists and I do not remember talking about endangered species or climate change at the dinner table. However, these are the exact topics that my son and I talk about every day. Am I part of the generation gap?

Could my generation be the teachers? If so, who taught us? Was it the uncle who everyone called the hippie because he went to Berkeley and had long hair? Was it the friend who loved nature and photography? Or was it just me who loved the ocean and grew up wanting to save the dolphins?

Is this a cycle that repeats itself every other generation? Like a wheel that keeps turning, only to get stronger and faster with time.

I know that I influence my son and his passion for wildlife. I support his choices and encourage him to keep making a difference in the world. He is only 11, but just like the other children his actions are creating awareness and making a difference. These children are preserving the world for us just as much as they are preserving it for future generations.

Our children might just be the ones having the impact on us. What do you think?

We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Checking Things Off the Bucket List, Tiger Style

Now that Tiger Trail is open we can cross one more thing off the Family Bucket List ...

Item #36 is now half way complete. Way to go Dylan!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Looking Back at Our Journey to Tiger Trail

It seems like just yesterday Dylan was making a birthday wish, a wish that seemed almost impossible for a 9-year-old-boy, a wish that would forever change his world.

However, it was not yesterday, it was two years ago. A wish that has taken two years to become a reality.

A wish to help save the tigers.

The kindness of a stranger brought a beautiful tiger painting into our home - Recognition from the White House gave Dylan another sense of pride for his conservation work - Getting to go behind the scenes and meet Danai, Connor, and Christopher was the icing on the cake. Now, we are ready for the final stop of our journey.

About a year ago the signs started going up and the paths to the see the tigers began closing. As much as we loved seeing Joanne and Majel, seeing these signs meant we were that much closer to the new Tiger Trail opening.

I never thought Dylan would be so happy to not see the tigers, but the day that we walked up to this he proved me wrong.

Now, instead of seeing the tigers we got to see his birthday wish come true. Right before our eyes, visit after visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we watched the construction of Tiger Trail.

From the early groundbreaking with just a few bulldozers ...

To the sight of something more ...

This was no small task. Everyone had a job to do and each visit brought us closer to seeing Tiger Trail. A 5.2 acre habitat for the six Sumatran tigers who call the Safari Park home.

Could this possibly be the new tiger bedrooms?

 In January 2014, we finally got to see a glimpse of the longhouse. This was really happening.

I am so happy that I took these pictures over the past year and a half. Looking back at our journey, seeing where it all started, and knowing that so many people helped to make Dylan's birthday wish for the tigers come true with their donations in his name brings such joy to my heart.

Knowing that Dylan will have his name on a plaque at the exhibit, as one of the many people who helped raise the $19.5 million it took to create Tiger Trail, gives me a sense of pride that I can't even begin to put into words. As strong advocates for tiger conservation, Dylan and I are honored to be attending a special celebration on Thursday, May 22 before Tiger Trail officially opens to the public.

We have been counting down the days - the excitement is getting harder to contain - a birthday present two years in the making is now less than 48 hours away.

You can read more about Dylan's Tiger Trail journey by visiting our Wish for the Tigers page.

The official opening of the Tull Family Tiger Trail is Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sunday, May 18, 2014

10 Reasons for Hope for the Future of Wildlife

Two years ago Dylan and I joined the fight to end extinction. Even though it can feel like an uphill battle most of the time, we keep holding out for a small victory. A glimmer of hope. A success story. The birth of an endangered species or the reintroduction of a species into the wild.  Something to let us know that we are making progress.

"Today we are facing an extinction crisis, with species disappearing every day," said Douglas Myers, chief executive officer and president for San Diego Zoo Global. "To combat this crisis we needed an audacious mission that focuses our efforts toward creating successful outcomes, even if we have to do it by saving one species at a time."

San Diego Zoo Global has more than 132 conservation projects in 62 countries around the world and has reintroduced more than 43 species back into the wild during its almost 100-year history. This is progress! Working together, we can create awareness and make a difference.

In honor of Endangered Species Day, which was last Friday, May 16, San Diego Zoo Global released a list of success stories in the conservation of endangered species. Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal and in my opinion, nobody does it better than San Diego Zoo Global.

The Ten Reasons for Hope are listed as follows:

1) Mountain yellow-legged frog recovered after wildfires. In 2002, fewer than 200 mountain yellow-legged frogs were left in the streams of Southern California's mountains. Four years later, a group of tadpoles was rescued from fire-damaged habitat and brought to the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. A team from San Diego Zoo Global, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife worked together to reintroduce and reestablish a wild population in the San Jacinto Mountains. Reintroduced males are now beginning to show signs of breeding behavior and scientists hope to see wild-hatched frogs in this area for the first time in 20 years.

Mountain yellow-legged frog

2) Giant pandas less rare than before. Not long ago, the future for the giant panda looked grim. Today, the captive population of pandas has reached the milestone of 300 bears, the minimum necessary to sustain 97 percent of the genetic diversity for the next 100 years. With wild populations stabilizing and even increasing, the giant panda may now be close to having its status changed from endangered to threatened.

Gao Gao

3) Tecate cypress preserved for the future. San Diego Zoo Global partnered with The Nature Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to preserve the Tecate cypress, a conifer found in Southern California and parts of Baja California, Mexico. Numbers of this noble tree have declined rapidly in the past decade. Plant ecologists collected seeds from one of the last remaining cypress stands in California and established a nursery to produce seedlings. Some of the seeds were frozen and placed in the Native Plant Gene Bank at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, protecting the species from loss by wildfires in the future.

4) Tasmanian devil population protected from devastating disease. A deadly and contagious cancer called devil tumor facial disease has been wiping out entire populations of Tasmanian devils in the wild. Working with the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, San Diego Zoo Global experts are helping to monitor healthy populations isolated from the disease so that the species can be recovered.

5) Wild-hatched condors now in Baja California, Mexico. Overall, the California Condor Recovery Porgram now produces 12 to 15 chicks produced annually in the wild. Combined with birds raised in managed care, over 50 condors join the species count each year. In Baja California, Mexico, where San Diego Zoo Global is leading the recovery effort, the first released condors have become parents, with two chicks successfully fledged last year. As more wild condors transfer to natural foods and lead poisoning becomes better controlled, a full recovery of this iconic species could be achieved over the next decade.

California condor

6) Baby pocket mice born. In an emergency rescue effort, 22 Pacific pocket mice founders were brought to the Safari Park in the summer of 2012. Housed and monitored at an off-exhibit area, this endangered species, an important seed disperser in its habitat, bred for the first time in 2013 and produced 16 offspring, which are now part of this year's breeding efforts. Eventually, these young mice will be released into coastal habitat to bolster the remaining wild population.

7) Island iguana population booms. Twenty years ago, Anegada iguanas were declining and in serious danger of extinction due to the heavy predation of juvenile iguanas by feral cats. Scientists from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research partnered with the Fort Worth Zoo and the British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust in 1997 to begin raising hatchlings on Anegada Island until the juveniles were large enough to survive in the wild. To date, 179 "headstarted" iguanas have been released on Anegada Island, nearly doubling the size of the wild population.

Critically endangered Anegada Ground Iguana

8) Gorillas protected in the wild. Ebo gorillas were identified in 2002 by San Diego Zoo Global researchers in Cameroon's Ebo forest. Numbering less than 25 animals, the gorillas are isolated from the 2 currently recognized western gorilla subspecies and may represent a unique form of gorilla. In 2012, the San Diego Zoo's Central Africa Program established the Clubs des Amis des Gorilles (Gorilla Guardian Clubs) in two villages located less than two miles from the gorillas' habitat. The groups actively work to monitor and protect the rare population.

9) First captive breeding of mangrove finch. The mangrove finch is the most threatened bird in the Galápagos Islands. Threats to the remaining 60 to 80 birds include introduced rats, cats, and disease, with the grimmest hazard being botfly larvae, which infest nests, overtaking and eventually killing chicks. San Diego Zoo Global is partnering with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galápagos National Park to employ hands-on techniques to nurture eggs and then chicks until they are large enough to avoid botfly infestations. To date, 15 chicks have been raised and transferred back to a release aviary within the mangrove forest on Isabela Island.

10) Rare Hawaiian bird ready for reintroduction. In 1994, the alala (or Hawaiian crow) population dipped to just 20 birds and the species is extinct in the wild. San Diego Zoo Global's Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife to turn the tide for this last corvid in the Hawaiian Islands. Thanks to the successful breeding program at our Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers, the alala population has now increased to 108 birds. There is now the possibility of releasing alala back into the wild in coming years.

The next time I read about a rhino poaching or a habitat that is being destroyed, I will remind myself of these successes. No matter how hard the fight, the important thing is to keep fighting; because eventually there will be another reason for hope.

Baby Black Rhino
Two-year-old Black Rhino, Erik - 2012

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Learning To Take The High Road

Two weeks ago, my perfect world as I knew it came to a screeching halt. Someone had thrown a stick in the gears that kept my world spinning and I was dumbfounded. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I could be so disappointed in a choice made by an organization that I believe so strongly in. The utter shock and disappointment was overwhelming. I didn't know how to comprehend what I heard, nor did I know how to react.

The news went against everything I believe in, both morally and ethically. I think the worst part was that I had seen it coming. I had been tossing thoughts back and forth about some affiliations I had and trying to decide which road to take. Should I take the high road or the low road?

I have worked too hard to get where I am. I did the groundwork. I followed protocol. I put in my time and paid my dues. I take pride in the fact that I earned what I have.

After a few days the anger turned to hurt and I had to remove myself from a particular group affiliation. I didn't want to be a part of something that went against my ethics.

As my world remained still, I began to look around me. Who were these people? Am I surrounding myself with people that I admire or people that go against what I believe in? I began to see social media in a whole new light. I started seeing people for who they really were and I didn't like some of the things I saw. I took a break from Facebook and Twitter.

My goal in life is to make a difference - to make the world a better place for those that come after me. Not to be the best or to be the first to share something. It’s not a competition people, at least not in my world.

After a few tears (ok a lot of tears), frustration and some pep talks from friends, I was finally able to pull that stick out of the gears and get my world spinning again. My world spins a little slower now and in a slightly different direction, but I like it this way. I realized that I don’t need affiliations to make what I do special.

My son and I are making a difference by giving our time, making small monthly donations, and creating awareness through this website. Our world is filled with passion, commitment and the drive to do more.

If you want the satisfaction and the glory, then do the work. Take the steps to earn what you have. Taking the high road isn't always the easiest way, but it sure does feel good when you do.

Next stop on our journey ... Tiger Trail.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Garden Festival - The Mother's Day Bouquet That Keeps on Blooming

All families have traditions. Some traditions have been passed down from generation to generation and other traditions are newly created with the anticipation of being carried on for many years to come. My family has some traditions that I can remember doing since I was a little girl, but I think my favorite tradition is the one Dylan and I started two years ago for Mother's Day. We spend the day together enjoying all the sights and smells that the San Diego Zoo Discovery Days: Garden Festival has to offer.

The beauty of each flower.
The intricate details of the orchids.
The other side of the zoo - the side most people overlook.

This year's theme is “How Does Your Garden Grow?” and will feature display booths where visitors can get gardening tips on pruning techniques, container gardening, the difference between soil and dirt, odd and curious plants, botanical wonders, growing bamboo, making a home garden more beautiful and bountiful, and more. Visiting the booths during this two-day event is a wonderful way to learn some great tips and tricks from the experts!

Garden Festival also will offer self-guided walking tours, a scavenger hunt featuring plants with animal names, craft activities for children, and a chance to meet Zoo horticulturists, insect keepers and a researcher from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research who is working to save plant species around the world and in our own backyards.

I always enjoy seeing how the zoo's horticulturists have decorated the planters and have been known to take hundreds of pictures ... of flowers! My favorite part of Garden Festival is the opportunity to spend time inside the fabulous Orchid House.

Yes, the San Diego Zoo has an Orchid House! Did you know that?

Last year was my first time visiting the Orchid House and I was in awe of the beauty that was all around me. There are now 949 rare, unique and glorious species of orchids to see ... and 22 of the orchid species are conservation worthy!

Presented by Sparkletts and held every Mother's Day weekend, the Garden Festival has quickly become my favorite family tradition. I can't think of a better way to spend Mother's Day then being surrounded by flowers while I spend the day with my son at the San Diego Zoo.

Does your family have a Mother's Day tradition?

For more details about the activities and booths offered during Garden Festival visit