October is Kids Free Days at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. During October, our Zoo Institute for Conservation Research staff are sharing their interactions and connections with nature at a young age and how these connections put them on their paths to becoming conservation biologists. Read a previous post, Go Play Outside!
I grew up in rural southeastern Wisconsin and was lucky enough to have a big backyard with a forest and a creek just down the road. I spent as much time as I could outside when I was a kid—I even had an imaginary friend that lived under the shagbark hickory in our backyard. My sister and I would spend hours playing outside; pretending our bikes were horses, we’d pack up our backpacks with “gear” to make mudpies and other goodies on our journeys. We’d “help” my dad in the garden, go for long walks to the park, or just play on the swing set to our hearts’ content.
I got to spend summers at our lake cottage or the family “hunting shack” in northern Wisconsin. Going “up north” was my favorite part of summer vacation. At the lake, I got up before sunrise to go fishing with my dad and then spent the rest of the day in my swim suit playing in the water. At sunset, stampedes of tiny little toads would take over the beach, and we would build sand castles for them to sleep in. At the shack, my dad and I explored the beaver pond, and he showed me the giant stumps from white pines that had been cut down almost a 100 years before. We picked wild blueberries to put in pancakes and looked for deer in the woods.
All of my experiences in nature created a sense of wonder and awe, but most importantly, I learned that we are all part of nature, and it is our responsibility to take care of it. I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with animals, but it wasn’t until fourth grade and a forward-thinking teacher that I decided I wanted to work in wildlife conservation. I eventually received a bachelor of science in biology and Spanish and an masters in fish and wildlife management, and I got hooked on birds. I have had the opportunity to work with many different animals; I have also learned the importance of understanding and conserving habitat and have come to appreciate plants and all their amazing adaptations.
As a research associate in the Applied Animal Ecology Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, I work with coastal cactus wrens and golden eagles. My work includes studying and restoring habitat as well as monitoring birds. I am very fortunate to get to spend so much time outside and to work toward preserving native biodiversity. It is very fulfilling to work hard at something I feel so passionate about.
Colleen Wisinski is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Golden Eagles: An Exercise in Patience.