October is Kids Free Days at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Our 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, Outdoor Survival Skills.
I grew up in a very different place than San Diego; I was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, where towns were smaller and times seemed simpler, and seeking entertainment outdoors was the standard. Nintendo hadn’t yet been invented, car phones were the next big thing, and nobody could have imagined that something like the Internet could ever exist. Every day until dusk, life was filled with imaginary adventures that became the foundation for real memories I look back upon with great fondness.
I have always loved being outside. My family went camping when I was younger, and the outdoors seemed so limitless compared to the confines of buildings. I read National Geographic magazine and watched nature shows on television, dreaming of one day becoming a wildlife photographer. As I became older, my passion for nature fueled my desire to be part of the effort to conserve the plants, animals, and ecosystems that were part of it.
When I was 10 years old, I moved to San Diego with my family to a housing community where the imaginations of children took them not to lakes, woods, and open spaces but to tennis courts, swimming pools, parking lots, and the strip mall across the street. Not to say we didn’t have fun—kids are extremely capable of entertaining themselves in almost any situation; it was just that the opportunities to intimately experience the natural world became fewer and further between, especially with the advent of technological novelties such as video games and the Internet. As the entire community became more and more disconnected from nature, school field trips to the outdoors became a rarity, and media shifted away from accounts of wilderness toward the material and ephemeral. The San Diego Zoo was the first zoo that I ever went to, and it instantly became one of the few sources where I could be enlightened to the Southern California environments and the world beyond it.
Attending the University of California, Los Angeles, for my undergraduate work, I chose to pursue a degree in ecology, behavior, and evolution. As part of the requirement for the degree, I had to conduct my own field research project as part of an off-site field biology course; I was lucky to be accepted into the group that went to Nicaragua. There, I experienced for the first time a rain forest environment filled with a plethora of plants and animals that I had never before in my life seen or could have imagined. The opportunity gave me the chance to engage myself in scientific field research that could be directly applied to conservation. I knew then that my love of science and the outdoors could be combined and help fuel the knowledge and conservation of the planet.
Today I work for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, part of a team working toward learning about and conserving species and their habitats around the world. It was not just my hard work that allowed me to achieve my dreams—it was the passion I have in my heart for nature and its inhabitants that has been the driving force for the efforts I make to preserve this world for future generations and to ensure that they, too, have the opportunity to find meaning in doing the same.
Susanne Marczak is an administrative assistant at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
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