The Teen Wild Guide (TWG) Program at the Oakland Zoo is a fantastic program for teens who are interested in animals, volunteering and having fun! One of the many perks of being a TWG is the summer trip! Every year we go on an international conservation trip with the exception of this summer 2016 we decided to stay domestic and visit the beautiful Yellowstone National Park.
Myself, one other chaperone and 13 zoo teens headed off to Bozeman, Montana on July 9, 2016 for a 9 day conservation camping trip. We went through an incredible program called Ecology Project International (EPI), which provides educational trips to youth based on wildlife research and conservation.
Prep for this trip included monthly meetings, journaling and a hike. During one of our meetings the high school volunteers were broken into groups for a research project. They were given a topic to learn more about and develop a presentation for the rest of our group. These awe-inspiring short presentations ranged from amphibians affect in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) to invasive and non-invasive fish species throughout the water ways. The awareness that each student showed made it apparent that they were in fact the perfect group to go to Yellowstone and participate in data collection for the National Park Service’s lead Bison Biologists research that investigates the grazing effect of Bison in the GYE. How did we do that you ask?! With camp food, sleeping bags, elk carcasses, rain coats, binoculars and more!
We experienced some pretty torrential rain for the first few days. Did that stop us? No way! Rain gear on and ready for adventure, the next 5 days were filled with geothermals, bison research and pulling invasive plant species.
We were very lucky to learn from and work alongside, Jeremiah, Yellowstone’s very own Lead Bison Researcher and Biologist. We counted grass, performed fecal transects and had a lab day.
It was a great privilege to be a part of such important conservation research! Believe it or not, the favorite part of bison research for the teens ended up being the day centered around counting and weighing poop! I was very proud of them!
Interested in doing wolf observations in Yellowstone? Why, all you have to do is wake up at 4:30am (preferably earlier) and find the legendary, Rick McIntyre! He has been observing Yellowstone wolves every morning for over 30 years. He is as much a story teller as he is a wolf biologist. It was so much fun learning about the ups and downs of Yellowstone wolf packs, we even spotted a few of the elusive animals near a bison herd in the distance and heard them howl!
Our last couple days were filled with individual species presentations, white water rafting and bison burgers!
We stayed in cabins that night and FINALLY got to take showers. Eight days of no running water was our (or maybe just my) biggest feat of the whole trip. Our three fantastic instructors led activities that evening about reflection and appreciation of our time there and each other. Hearing all the kids talk about how this trip has changed them, how excited they were about new friendships, and seeing the tears from not wanting to leave was a personal highlight for me. That’s what these trips are about.