Kids certainly make things more fun. I had the chance to spend some time at the Quarters for Conservation voting station at the Oakland Zoo the other day. I was sitting with “Jungle Jake” Ledesma, one of the Zoo volunteers, who was staffing the station for a couple hours, along with his plush chimpanzee “companion.” Judging by his endearing jokes and puns, Jake clearly likes engaging the public,
making personal connections that the station’s graphics can’t do alone. As a steady stream of visitors stopped by, I soon found myself being drawn in. Yet despite Jake’s simian sidekick, it was the young kids that made the biggest impression. The issues at stake may have been serious, but the kids were definitely having fun participating.
In case you haven’t heard, Quarters for Conservation is a wildlife conservation program at the Oakland Zoo whose motto is “Saving Wildlife with Each Visit.” Whenever you come to the Zoo, you receive a token. This token does two things.
First, it symbolizes the twenty-five cent donation that the Zoo earmarks for conservation on behalf of each visitor. Secondly, it serves as a means for selecting which one of three different conservation projects this money will be spent on. At the voting station by Flamingo Plaza, you’ll find three green funnel-shaped coin receptacles under a cute little tin roof. Here you’re able to use that token to vote for which wildlife conservation effort you’d like to support. This year, we’re promoting The Amboseli Trust for Elephants, The Budongo Snare Removal Project (saving chimpanzees) and The Ventana Wildlife Society Condor Project. Whether it’s from habitat loss, poaching, or other issues, these animals face serious threats in the wild right now. Quarters for Conservation allows the public to take part in helping them.
As I sat there under the tin roof beside Jake, I was impressed by how aware the kids were about these worldwide issues.
They were informed, passionate, and articulate. A nine year old girl came up and immediately started to talk about the Disneynature film “Chimpanzee,” and how it inspired her to help chimps in
the wild. She dropped her token in the appropriate receptacle. It spiraled its way down the little green chute and fell to the bottom with a clink. Later, another girl stopped by with her family. She was participating in a walkathon for a chimp orphanage in Uganda (pretty impressive for such a young kid.) She was having fun with another girl as they dropped a steady stream of tokens into the chimp receptacle. The elephants, by the way, got almost as many tokens, but the condors were having a bit of trouble keeping up in the race.
The coin spinner receptacle is a clever gimmick. One kid had a whole fistful of tokens and had clearly mastered the technique of getting them to spiral gradually down the chute instead of plopping straight to the bottom. Another kid, peering down into the green funnel, was fascinated by the real money that was lying among the pile of shiny tokens.
The adults took a more pragmatic approach, simply tossing in their tokens without allowing themselves to enjoy it as
much as the kids were. But it was clear that they were just as interested in the conservation efforts of the Zoo, and were happy to do what they could to help out. And they’d be equally happy to know that Quarters for Conservation has raised more than $40,000 this year. That’s definitely good news for elephants, chimps and California condors. So visit the Oakland Zoo soon and show your support for wildlife conservation. Jake and his plush pal say “Thank you!”