Zoo Take 2

Empathy. I recently heard a very inspiring talk at the Minnesota Zoo about how empathy is the beginning of the journey to conservation. I have to agree.

I had the privilege of growing up in a family that spent every free weekend, holiday, and vacation hiking, camping, horseback-riding, fishing or skiing in the Rocky Mountains. My Dad knew Colorado from the inside out, from the geological formations to the flora and fauna. I learned to love nature from a very young age.

My Dad carrying me in a home-made child backpack. You can see “we” were hiking above timberline.

Not everyone has the opportunities I had as a child to interact and learn from nature. That’s where the Minnesota Zoo comes in. Raise your hand if you remember going to the zoo as a kid, or perhaps taking your kids to the zoo. Growing up in Colorado, I loved going to the Denver Zoo. But, as a kid, it was just a fun outing with animals and ice cream. Today, as a Minnesota Zoo volunteer, I have the opportunity to observe the passion and dedication of the employees who are involved in fulfilling the mission of the Minnesota Zoo which is “to connect people, animals and the natural world to save wildlife.” I’m so grateful that the Minnesota Zoo is providing programs that allow individuals the opportunity to experience the joys of nature, to build empathy and appreciation for nature, to begin that journey towards supporting conservation.

For instance, the Zoo is helping to build empathy by offering outdoor experiences. This fall they will again offer the “Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular.” I went last year and it truly was Spectacular. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s an opportunity to take a walk in the woods and see over 5,000 uniquely carved and illuminated pumpkins. I’ll be going again this year.

The Zoo also envisions a treetop trail elevated 40 feet above the ground following the old monorail track, cabins in the woods, zip-lines, and rope courses – all to encourage interaction with nature. When one appreciates nature, one longs to protect its beauty.

artists rendition of treetop trail

Did you know that accredited zoos are essential to the conservation and protection of wildlife? Perhaps its time to do a second take on what zoos are and what they do. Here are some excerpts from the Minnesota Zoo Website. http://mnzoo.org/

From the MN Zoo _website: update on Black Rhino Conservation in Namibia

The Minnesota Zoo’s support for critically endangered black rhino conservation in southern Africa reached a decade in January, 2019! Zoo Conservation Biologist Dr. Jeff Muntifering, who works with Save the Rhino Trust and other local partners in Namibia, reports that despite consistently high poaching rates in Africa of some 3 rhinos per day, our collective efforts to protect the desert black rhinos of north-west Namibia have seen tremendous success. The last confirmed poaching incident in this region occurred in August, 2017, meaning that there has been no poaching for the past 18 months! Moreover, after nearly 2 years without any new rhino calves due to a 4-year drought, we have recorded 16 new calves in the past year! Our Conservancy Rhino Ranger incentive program has bolstered patrol efforts and rhino sightings over the past 6 years, and our Rhino Pride Campaign has helped improve the value that local people attach to saving rhinos. 

Black Rhino (internet photo, artist unknown)

And closer to home – update on Bison Conservation

The Minnesota Zoo is excited to announce 11 genetically rare bison (three from the Minnesota Zoo and eight from Blue Mound State Park) have been released into Minneopa State Park as part of the newest efforts by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Zoo to expand the Minnesota Conservation Bison Herd. This is a significant milestone in saving one of Minnesota’s iconic species!

At one time, bison herds in North America were estimated to number between 30 and 60 million animals, and they roamed throughout Minnesota except the northeastern portion. Populations in Minnesota are unknown, but reports from the 1700s to 1800s suggest they were numerous. During the late 19th century, bison were hunted to near extinction until less than 1,000 animals remained in the entire United States. The last wild bison observed in Minnesota was in Norman County in 1880.


Bison were reintroduced to Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne in 1961. Genetic testing of the herd from 2011-2013 found they were largely free of any genetic material that would have come from cross-breeding with cattle, making them rare. Of the more than 500,000 bison in North America, less than 20,000 fit into this category.

DNR/Minnesota Zoo partnership:

In 2012, The Minnesota Zoo and the DNR entered into an agreement to work together to preserve the American bison. The Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd will expand from the 90 bison at Blue Mounds State Park to a 500-animal herd occupying several locations. Minneopa State Park will be the first of these additional locations welcoming the rare bison.

“We are excited about our bison conservation partnership with the DNR,” said Tony Fisher, Minnesota Zoo director of animal collections. “The Minnesota Zoo works on animal conservation projects around the world and we are proud to now be helping a rare species right here in Minnesota.”

American Buffalo (internet photo, artist unknown)

From the MN Zoo Website: news regarding the Asian Horse

The domestic horse’s closest living wild relative, the Asian wild horse, disappeared entirely from the wild in the late1960s. The Minnesota Zoo and other organizations around the world have cooperated to breed zoo animals and reintroduce their offspring to native lands. Today nearly 500 Asian wild horses again roam the grasslands of China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.

Asian Horse (internet photo, artist unknown)

Here is additional information about the MN Zoo conservation program from their website (apparently you have to be able to write code in WordPress in order to change the color of bullet point):

  • Committed to Minnesota conservation projects, including moose, endangered butterflies, bison and native wildlife at the Zoo
  • Coordinate tiger and Asian wild horse conservation breeding programs and campaigns to protect these endangered species in the wild.
  • Conduct international conservation work on endangered black rhinos and Asian wild dogs
  • Supported more than 120 conservation projects in 47 countries through the Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Program
  • Incorporate green practices throughout the Zoo, from large-scale recycling and composting initiatives to environmentally sustainable buildings

Serving as a volunteer and learning more about the mission of the MN Zoo, I have come to deeply cherish this organization and its dedication to the protection and conservation of wildlife. If you haven’t been to the Zoo in a while, consider a visit in the near future. Also, if you feel inspired to do so, please donate to the MN Zoo or an accredited zoo in your area. It’s a simple way to show your love for our unique and beautiful planet.

One last thing. Zoos specialize not only in conservation, but also in fun. So I have to share a few of my own photos from the MN Zoo which reflect the joy and visual rewards of visiting the Zoo.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Winnie says:

    Susan, this is one of the best blogs I’ve seen. Purposeful, well organized, and beautiful!


    1. Susan Boyd says:

      Thank you. with love, Sue


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