|Orang utans at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, Sabah|
“These trips, for me, are personally such an amazing experience,” Ms. Bernard said. “It really helps reconnect you to the purpose of why I went into this field.”
Her classroom is the landscape, her study guides are living creatures and the living quarters, if she’s lucky, will provide running water and a bathroom. Despite the lack of basic amenities and the need to rough it at times, Ms. Bernard is looking forward to her third trip for credit, and fourth trip with the program.
In 2007, Ms. Bernard and the zoo’s former executive director, John Scott Foster, received grant money to travel to Trinidad as part of the Wild Research Consortium. The trip was a chance to take educators and connect them with field research. She also traveled to Mongolia and Kenya.
“It was a remarkable experience that opened our eyes to different ways of educating people,” Ms. Bernard said. “We were able to bring back a lot of what we learned and apply it to our actions here in Watertown.”
The 2007 trip helped the consortium develop a master’s program with the Cincinnati Zoo and the University of Miami, Ohio. She applied in 2008 and will receive her degree in December.
“Last year, I was in Kenya, and we learned about wildlife and people in integrated landscapes,” she said “It was about farmers having to fight off elephants from their crops or herders having to fend off lions.”
This year, she will study primates and stay with a host family, two opportunities to which she is greatly looking forward.
“I’m super-excited to have the opportunity to see orangutans in the wild,” she said. “Within the next 20 years they may be extinct from the wild. There’s also a strong cultural and community element with this trip, as well. It’s such an enriching experience that makes you take a second look at what we take for granted.”
Executive Director John T. Wright said the opportunity for his staff to learn about other habitats is important to their own zoo.
“I think it’s important that we continue growing ourselves in biodiversity in ours and others habitats,” he said. “We will always support professional development of our staff in whatever means we can.”