A Community of Wildlife Conservationists

Hannah Webster, AIP Graduate Student, Miami University & San Diego Zoo Global

There have been several times in my life when I began on a new path and felt overwhelmed with no other wish but to stop and go back to what I knew.  At the beginning of my master’s program, this feeling was all too apparent. I thought I had made a big mistake and was not ready for the task but, little did I know, I was on a life changing course. Now, almost two years later, I am incredibly happy that I kept chugging along.  There is one major aspect that has made all the difference and helped me grow into the individual I am now - it is the community of wildlife conservationists to which I belong.  Most notable of the wildlife conservationists is my 2015 San Diego Zoo Global, Project Dragonfly Cohort and our amazing instructors and advisors.

While looking for a pivotal moment during the program thus far, I found that it wasn't a particular project or event that has inspired me most, it was actually this community, which has been an irreplaceable component that has made my projects more diverse and complex.  Also, they have continually bolstered my passion for wildlife conservation.  Many times, before meeting as a class, I felt underwhelmed and lost; after these gatherings, I am ignited with passion once more.   These people have become a support group that has inspire me each day through their support and honest feedback. In addition, being a part of their journey reminds me that we are all working towards a common goal of improving our environment for humans and wildlife alike.  It is wonderful to be a part of a group that is making such a difference for our local regions and beyond.

Besides my cohort community, this program includes community members from other organizations, like San Diego Zoo Global, who are affiliated with Project Dragonfly. There is a network of like-minded individuals that expands across North America.  My personal experience with this expanded network of current students and alumni began over a year ago during the development of a program that is very near and dear to my heart, Walrus Awareness Week. This program transformed from a hypothetical school project to an event celebrated transnationally in the United States and Canada by six zoological facilities! Its successful launch would not have happened without the feedback and support of my fellow graduate students.

Throughout the project’s development, community has remained an important focus and the driving force behind its success. Highlighting the threats faced by walruses in the Arctic, Walrus Awareness Week brings together conservation organizations across North America to share a common conservation topic of global climate change in conjunction with walrus ambassadors to inspire the public to reduce their carbon footprint.  My cohort members helped to shape the initial week, and the community of keepers and educators from the other master’s institutions helped to morph it into the finished product that is shared at zoo locations and on their social media accounts today.  Each time I come into contact with this ever-growing community, I am grateful to be a part of it - it inspires me to continue on the path of wildlife conservation!