Jessica Sparks immersed herself in conservation-related efforts during her five-week externship in the area of Chengdu, China. In the education departments at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and the Chengdu Zoo, she committed her time to educating visitors, collaborating with local communities on sustainability projects, and creating wildlife trade exhibits and a “hot” interpretation exhibit. Additionally, she taught local students about conservation medicine, toured and examined practices at farms, nature preserves, and wildlife sanctuaries, and experienced the diverse global definition of and efforts towards conservation.
The following excerpts highlight just a few of the amazing experiences she documents in her externship journal:
- 6/3: Today was my first day working in the education department at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. There are some amazing programs coming out of the base since it is the largest zoological education program in the country. They are successfully breeding pandas, but at this time, they don’t have a suitable habitat for release into the wild. With the lifting of the One Child Policy, the Panda Base’s conservation education agenda is shifting towards habitat protection.
- 6/11: I gave a presentation today on conservation medicine to over 150 middle school students at the Jiaxiang Foreign Language School. It was an excellent opportunity to try to explain to a lay audience what conservation medicine really is. The students were incredibly insightful and asked some very profound questions.
- 6/13: Today we visited the Moon Bear Rescue Centre, which is a sanctuary for moon bears rescued from bear bile farms. This was probably one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Due to the many health problems that these bears have when they are rescued, most die even with acute medical attention. Each bear receives a special ceremony and its own grave. There is also a memorial garden commemorating every bear that has died on the property. Anyone who believes in doing conservation work should come to this place.
- 6/16 – 6/18: We spent the past three days at China’s first organic farm, the Gao Family Farm, part a co-op of 7 other organic farms. We were greeted by Grandma (Li Zhilan) and Grandpa (Gao Chengjian) and their son (Gao Yicheng) who runs the farm. Besides helping to pick vegetables, Grandma gave us cooking lessons, we ate a lot of delicious food that we picked ourselves, and we learned about the history and amazing practices of the farm. They truly embrace the idea of an organic farm to help improve their own health and that of the environment and were recognized by the WWF and nominated for a Nobel Prize for their accomplishments.
- 6/28 – 6/30: I just spent three days at the Juizhaigou Nature Reserve, located on the Eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, which is considered prime habitat for pandas. Unfortunately, there are less than 10 pandas in the reserve. This reserve epitomizes the conundrum that is “ecotourism.” It attracts a huge number of visitors, that while being positive in providing awareness and education, becomes detrimental in making any type of viable panda population here unlikely.
- 7/1: I learned a tremendous amount and had many powerful, eye-opening experiences that will shape my career as I move forward.