Published on: May 14, 2021
“A zoo is a place that combines the idea of preserving the environment and the role that humans play in that preservation,” says Dr. Amy Harrison-Levine, Director of Field Conservation Programs at Denver Zoo. I interviewed her earlier this year as we engaged in a partnership between Denver Zoo and Palm Done Right. This collaboration has shaped over our shared mission to encourage people to change their behaviors and make different choices to protect wildlife.
A little over 21 years ago, Dr. Amy Harrison-Levine started working for Denver Zoo. After working in educational roles for 10 years she got recruited into a field conservation team, which perfectly matched with her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology. “The good thing about conservation is that education is an integral part of the equation. To inspire people around the world to take action and change behavior has tremendous impact on the environment,” says Amy.
Amy now oversees a variety of Denver Zoo’s field conservation programs, but her personal story is mostly tied to the Zoo’s conservation work in Vietnam, to preserve a critically endangered primate called the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. This primate is threatened by hunting and habitat loss due to local communities’ forest harvesting to collect timber for cooking and construction.
Denver Zoo’s conservation work centers around collaborating with these local communities, and finding solutions that work for them, in order to be sustainable in the long run. “What our conservation work can bring is new ideas and new perspectives, to find ways where community life and wildlife protection go hand-in-hand,” explains Amy.
Just like the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey has lost a great deal of its natural habitat to local logging, wildlife in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America is losing its habitats to agricultural conversion, notably for palm oil production.
Bringing it closer to Ecuador, Palm Done Right’s production area, one of the species that captured our attention is the Linne’s two-toed sloth, one of Denver Zoo’s most sought-out Up-Close Looks and soon to be spotted in the Zoo’s new sloth habitat in its Tropical Discovery exhibit. In its natural home, the Ecuadorian cloud forest, you might find a sloth hanging out in one of the abundant treetops. But, with an increasing amount of palm oil produced in South America, the sloth’s treetop homes could be threatened unless we produce palm in harmony with nature.
“Denver Zoo’s biggest focus is on developing an appreciation for the interconnectedness between humans, animals and the environment,” says Amy. “Our goal is to help people see the connection between what they do and what happens in nature.” This requires awareness raising, education and activities at the conservation sites, but also at the Zoo, where over two million visitors are educated every year, while enjoying a special day among wildlife from around the globe. “Appreciation for nature is deeply rooted in peoples values and starts at a very young age. This is where zoos are very well placed, planting the seeds in young people to develop an appreciation for the diversity, uniqueness and connectedness of life.”
Another important focus of Denver Zoo, linked to its conservation work, is encouraging a change in everyday behavior, taking one step at a time and becoming more environmentally aware. As well as motivating people to become environmental champions. The Zoo hopes guests and supporters will encourage their families, friends and neighbors to start making mindful choices as well.
Where Denver Zoo encourages people at their conservation sites and at the Zoo to change their behavior and make choices in favor of wildlife, Palm Done Right is helping farming communities to produce palm oil in harmony with nature, so wildlife is protected, and the Linne’s two-toed sloth can keep its treetop home.
And you can save sloths too, by shopping smart and checking the labels of your products and make sure they are made with sustainable palm oil. With palm oil found in 50% of the packaged products in your grocery store — from cookies, peanut butter, soap, to snacks — your choice makes a difference. This is where our shared mission starts and where you have a role to play as well.
The Denver Zoo | Palm Done Right partnership will by launched with the official opening of the new sloth exhibit at Denver Zoo on 31st May. More information can be found in Zoo Tales.
Written by Monique van Wijnbergen, Natural Habitat’s Sustainability & Corporate Communications Director and spokesperson for Palm Done Right.
Palm can be grown for good, bringing benefits to:
Together, we can influence change for: