Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Zoology for Kids

As the parent of an animal lover and an animal lover myself, I can tell you that Zoology for Kids is a book that you will definitely want to add to your collection. My son has read too many animal books to count and frankly, they all start to look the same to me after a while. He doesn't read the average animal books, he reads animal encyclopedias. Animal facts, species breakdowns, habitats, and so on ... is what most of his books contain and he loves it. Don't get me wrong, this is all valuable information for him. I've just always wondered if there isn't something else out there to teach him more about his passion of working with animals.

Luckily, last weekend we had the opportunity to meet Josh and Bethanie Hestermann, coauthors of the wonderful new book Zoology for Kids, at a meet and greet during the International Children's Day Festival at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Listening to them talk during a brief presentation was so inspiring. They both have backgrounds in Zoology and truly believe that whatever your passion is ... scientist, educator, artist, photographer, writer, etc. there is a place for you working with animals.

It is no secret that Dylan wants to pursue an animal-related career. Whether he becomes a zoologist, a zookeeper, a researcher working in the field, an ambassador for endangered species, or is working campaigns to stop the poachers is still unknown because of his young age.

Until now, he has only talked about the possibility of these careers. Thanks to Zoology for Kids, he can actually read about his choices and what each job entails. This book is the ultimate research tool for any child interested in understanding and working with animals.

Each section contains valuable information about the various animal-related careers along with corresponding science experiments, activities and fun games for kids of all ages.

Aside from the great content, what I love about Zoology for Kids is that it was written by two people who have made their living working with animals. Josh and Bethanie encourage kids to follow their dreams and are living proof that it is possible to make a difference doing what you love.

To learn more about Josh and Bethanie and find out where you can purchase their book, visit ZoologyforKids.org

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Happiness is being someone's Hero

I've said it many times and I will probably continue to say it a few more times ... being a single parent is no easy task. Heck, in today's world being a parent period is no easy task, married or single. There are so many things to think about, questions to be asked and answered, problems to solve, and so on. The last thing any parent needs is to be second guessing themselves as a parent. As difficult as things may get, the one thing I really love about being a single mom is the relationship I have with Dylan. I can honestly say that we are friends and talk about almost everything.

Last week I was going through one of those times where nothing I was doing seemed right. At least not in my eyes. All I could see was failure and disappointment as I compared myself with others around me. Better jobs, bigger houses, nicer things.

As usual, I was not able to hide how I was feeling from Dylan. He sees right through my "I'm fine, nothing is wrong" responses. I guess that only worked when he was younger. So I proceeded to tell him small tidbits of what was bothering me and asked him if he was really happy. Was he happy living in a small apartment with hand-me-down furniture? Was he happy with his school? Was there anything he wanted or needed that I wasn't providing him? I was making the biggest parenting mistake of all and questioning my worth as a mother.

It didn't take long before the roles were reversed and I was sitting across from my son (who became the parent) listening to words much wiser than his 11 years.

He began with "Mom, listen to me ..."  
For the next five minutes I sat in awe of my child and just listened.

"Mom, I am proud of you. You work really hard for what we have and I love you. Sure, those other people might have a big house or a successful career, but there is something that none of them will ever have. They don't have you as a mom. You have taught me so much about conservation and philanthropy. You have made a difference. You inspire me to save animals and make the world a better place. (This is where I fought back the tears) I know it cost millions of dollars to build Tiger Trail and we only raised $1300, but still, we made a difference and helped build a new home for the tigers. That is something they don't have. Mom, you are my hero."

I felt the tears rolling down my cheek. All this time I thought he was inspiring me and come to find out that I inspire him. He told me I was his hero, just like Rick and that I should be proud of that. Heck yes, I'm proud of that! My son just put me in the same category as Zookeeper Rick - top that!

So the lesson that I learned from my 11 year old son is that it doesn't matter what my job title is or how much money I make. Living in an apartment doesn't make me any less of a person than someone who owns a home. Money cannot buy happiness and sometimes the little things really are the big things in disguise.

What does matter is that I am someone's hero ...
                     and nobody can take that happiness away from me.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

It's Time To Get Serious About Wildlife Crime

Wildlife Crime -
You see it on the news and read about it on social media, but do you really know what it is? You might think you do. I know I did ... until one day I came face to face with the reality of wildlife trafficking.

This day was so intense that it has taken me two years to share my story. I thought about telling my story numerous times, but to be perfectly honest, it is a painful story to tell. Not many things stop me in my tracks, but this did. In fact, the experience literally took my breath away. I had to step back and remind myself to breath, remind myself that this was reality and that what I was seeing was meant to educate people about wildlife crime.

On February 17, 2013 my son and I were attending an event at the San Diego Zoo called Discovery Days: Cool Cats. There were various booths set up for people to get information and learn more about what else, cats. Pet stores, animal shelters, organizations where you could adopt endangered cats, an artist sketching pictures of cool cats, and then we saw it. The booth that stopped my heart for a split second.

A booth from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This was not an ordinary booth. This booth was specifically set up with one thing in mind.

Wildlife Crime.

I can still picture it clear as can be. It is an image that will never leave my mind. Fur coats hanging in the background. A female lion cub in a sitting position to the left. Full body skins of leopards, ocelots, jaguars, and other small cats to the right. Then there was the face, the face that was looking at me, the face that was attached to the skin and fur of a young tiger.

The tears began to flow and I had to walk away. We both did. It was too much to take in.

I was not prepared for what I was seeing, or for how I was feeling.

Each item on display had a tag attached to it that read "These items are all genuine animal products seized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service".  I was looking at real animals that had been killed for their fur and body parts. This was the reality of wildlife crime. Yes, the fur was beautiful. However, I would have much rather seen it on a live animal. Was the fur soft? I don't know, because I didn't touch it. I wanted to know what a tiger felt like, I still do, but I couldn't touch this one. It was just too sad.

Many people were petting the skins, like they were pets or something. Some even made jokes. I chose not to engage in their uneducated conversations and chose rather to talk with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer that was there. I chose to educate myself more about wildlife trafficking. The sadness and pain didn't go away, but I did become more determined to do everything I possible could to stop wildlife crime.

This painful day is something that I will not forget. Nor will my son. It was a day that forever changed us and reminds us to keep fighting. This Tuesday, March 3, 2015 is World Wildlife Day -  a day to create awareness and work toward a future where people and wildlife can coexist.

I chose to share my story this year in hopes of getting more people to stand up against organized wildlife crime. Please join me and thousands of others by using #SeriousAboutWildlifeCrime on your social media channels this week. Alone it is an uphill battle, but together we can save these animals and put an end to wildlife crime.