This summer has been busier than ever here at the Los Angeles Zoo. Even though the heat has been high, so has our energy! The Zoo is hosting more than 1,100 Zoo Campers and has visited 34 L.A. Public Library (LAPL) branches throughout the City as part of a new outreach program partnership with LAPL, which I announced earlier this summer. So far, the Zoo has engaged more than 600 children across the City, teaching them about the unique history of how the L.A. Zoo moved to our current site from its former location near Mineral Wells in Griffith Park, and connecting kids with nature at each library branch to foster a love and appreciation for the biodiversity right in their own backyard.
The Zoo proudly welcomed its second cohort of paid interns this year—18 outstanding young people from systemically excluded communities in Los Angeles engaging in project-based learning and professional development in the Learning & Engagement and Conservation fields. For ten weeks, interns closely follow their mentors to work on a variety of real-world projects. Interns with our Conservation Division are researching the impacts of eucalyptus trees on soil health, understanding the types of reptiles that exist in the Zoo’s oak woodlands and their specific habitats and discerning whether pollinators prefer native or non-native plant environments. Meanwhile, interns with our Learning & Engagement Division are developing community engagement skills by interacting with Zoo visitors in nature play activities, including nature journaling and California condor spotting. I look forward to seeing the growth and knowledge these interns have gained when they make their final presentations this month.
In July, we saw the culmination of the first-ever L.A. Zoo Teen Council for Conservation (TCC), a nine-month program uniting youths from systemically excluded communities in Los Angeles to create pathways toward a future centered on local conservation solutions in by empowering them to create positive changes for the natural world in their own communities. Teen Councilmembers representing 13 L.A. City Council Districts focused their efforts this year on conservation, social and environmental justice, and climate change towards a capstone project. In this first year, the Teen Councilmembers chose to center their capstone projects around access to nature spaces by hosting a community engagement event at the Zoo in July. The TCC highlighted three conservation issues related to access to green spaces that were important to them: urban greening, community gardens, and pollution. During the event in the Zoo’s Keck Plaza, the Teen Councilmembers created activities and presentations relevant to their focal topics, which were informed by their experiences within the TCC and throughout their lives as young Angelenos. This first year was nothing short of a success, and I cannot wait to see what our second year brings when the new cohort of the TCC starts later this October.
As the days of summer wind down, I am reminded that we must remember that children’s lives are intrinsically connected with the environment and nature, and whatever happens to it affects them. To successfully ensure a sustainable future for wildlife and our co-existence with it, every child and future generations must be engaged in a way that makes them want to protect this planet. Programs like Zoo Camp, our partnership with the library, and the Teen Council for Conservation are all opportunities for the Zoo to have an impact on young hearts and minds—our future ambassadors and advocates for people and wildlife to thrive, together.