Zoo Teens Receive Hands-On Conservation Experience

The Zoo Teens at Rolling Hills Zoo are preparing for a conservation trip that will make a lasting impact on their lives and the environment.  While the Zoo Teen experience teaches teens about leadership, responsibility, community service and job skills, it also gives them a unique opportunity to expand their conservation awareness through hands-on learning.

Recently the Zoo Teens put their conservation skills to work by partnering with The Friends of the River Foundation in clean-up and restoration efforts along the Smoky Hill River.  Not only did they pick up trash along the river banks, they also worked at cutting down invasive species that have choked out native plant flora.  While the work was hot and dirty, the teens saw first-hand the impact they were making.  As they were leaving they were already talking about a return trip to tackle more of the river clean up.

“By helping our teens take ownership  of the environment around them and to be actively involved in what it looks like, they come to know that one person really can make a difference,” shared Amy Barnhill, RHZ Education Director.  “In cleaning up one small area they can see the good they are doing and are inspired to do more.”

Now the teens are ready to tackle an even bigger conservation effort.  On August 1st, the teens are heading to Little Rock, Arkansas to partner with Audubon Arkansas in the Fourche Creek clean up.  The Fourche Creek Watershed is arguably the most important urban watershed in the state of Arkansas and it drains and filters runoff from Little Rock, the state’s capital.  Despite years of abuse and neglect, Fourche Creek continues to support a highly diverse population of flora and fauna along a 1,800 acre core bottomland region that still maintains its wetland functions and character, and covers 3 of Arkansas’ 6 major ecoregions.

Thirty-one of the 44 teens in the Zoo Teen program earned the required 80 hours (40 in June and 40 in July) to make this year’s Zoo Teen trip.   While the trip has a serious mission, the trip does include some fun.  The teens will also be spending a day at Silver Dollar City’s White Water Theme Park and a day at the Tulsa Aquarium which will include behind the scenes tours.   The teens raised all the money for their conservation trip by selling face painting, snow cones and giraffe feedings at the Zoo.

About the Rolling Hills Zoo Teens Program

The Zoo Teens began their journey last January when they submitted their applications for an opportunity to be a Zoo Teen at Rolling Hills Zoo.  Like any job, the applicants had to go through an interview process and submit a letter of recommendation.  Once accepted into the program, the teens attended mandatory training sessions and pledged to adhere to a code of ethics and maintain a positive attitude.  They also commit to 40 hours of volunteer service per month at the Zoo during the summer (June and July).

The Zoo Teen program is designed to teach youth, ages 14 – 18, how to work together, personal responsibility, finance, and leadership skills.   The teens learn about conservation efforts, locally and around the globe, and becoming involved in their community.  They also explore various career paths by working with animal care, hospitality, guest services, landscaping and education.

Forty-four teens were accepted into the Zoo Teen program this year.  These teens are instrumental in helping with summer camps, hosting inspiration stations, running the recycling program, and assisting with special events and landscaping.

After going through the Zoo Teen program, or other programs at the Zoo, local youth are now pursuing zoo-related careers or other opportunities at the Zoo.  These include: Jonathan who is now a vet intern at K-State; Reed who is now employed at the Sedgwick County Zoo; Colin, who was a former camper and Zoo Teen, is currently a head instructor with the RHZ Camps’ program; Tristin, a former Zoo Teen, is now working his way through college as a RHZ tram driver; Wyatt, who went through the summer camp program and is now a Zoo Teen; and Amy Barnhill, former intern at Rolling Hills Zoo, and now the Education Director at Rolling Hills Zoo.

Story by: Linda Henderson  / Rolling Hills Zoo