I recently returned home from a whirlwind of travel to two incredible destinations – Hawaii Island and Lambayeque, Peru. These in situ conservation field sites of San Diego Zoo Global are connected to one another by a variety of factors. Namely, they are biodiversity hotspots rich in culture but have suffered huge losses to these claims to fame, they are the site of some of SDZG’s cherished conservation projects, and they have been chosen as pilots for the Forest Guardians program.
You may have heard talk of Forest Guardians because we are so excited about the international connections being formed and the opportunities for community-based conservation that have arisen. This was made possible by the prestigious Museums Connect grant, in which we have brought a global perspective of conservation to the communities on the Big Island of Hawaii surrounding the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP) and the communities in Lambayeque, Peru surrounding the Andean Bear conservation program. In Hawaii, the HEBCP focuses on studying and propagating native endangered Hawaiian birds, including the ‘Alalā, or Hawaiian crow Corvus hawaiiensis. They are vital to the regeneration of native forests but extinct in the wild due to invasive species, including feral pigs.
In Peru, our scientists support the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society that consists of local Peruvians studying and protecting a unique population of Andean (spectacled) bears Tremarctos ornatus living in the disappearing dry forest surrounding many rural villages.
As a Senior Research Technician in Conservation Education, I have the privilege of coordinating the human dimension of Andean bear conservation in Peru, which I visit about twice a year to train local coordinators and implement community-based conservation programs with teachers, children, and the community to lessen their impact on the forest. My colleague, Robin Keith, does this with communities on the Big Island of Hawaii, however, this time we decided to team up and create a connection between two seemingly disparate regions suffering from similar conservation crises.
On this trip, I was afforded the opportunity of bringing along companions to share in the magic of each location. Three Forest Guardians teachers in Hawaii and three in Peru were selected to travel to their partner country to experience everything from the traditions, wildlife, the education system, and conservation problems and solutions implemented in countries that are far in distance, but nearby in present and historical predicaments.
Man, what an experience these teachers were given and what an opportunity to learn about conservation on a global scale. From paddling an outrigger canoe in Keauhou Bay, hiking through Kīlauea Crater, planting wiliwili trees, visiting schools, and attending the Grow Hawaiian festival, the Peruvian teachers were given a crash course in what it means to be Hawaiian (person, plant, fungus, or non-human animal!).
In Peru, Hawaiian teachers were likewise not treated to a relaxing vacation, but lived in and visited rural villages, climbed atop pre-hispanic pyramids and experienced the Moche, Sican, and Incan civilizations, climbed rugged mountain terrain to follow in the footsteps of Andean bear field researchers, and were the guests of honor at a festival celebrating cultural heritage and the dry forest.
Watching the sun set and the faces of our teachers watching it over Ōneo Bay in Hawaii and the pyramid “Las Ventanas” in Peru was a great reminder of why we, in Conservation Education, do what we do to preserve nature and culture, the affect that real world experiences can have on people, and the importance of sharing this message with communities around the world. Oh yeah, I think to myself in moments like this. Despite the sometimes overwhelming task of preserving our wildlife, the planet is going to be OK because of people and experiences like this.