Younger generations may be less familiar with pioneering and iconic zoo media ambassadors like Joan Embery and Marlin Perkins who brought zoo-based conservation initiatives to the forefront via national television. By doing so, these household names exposed the populous to species in peril, which were literally on the brink of disappearing at the time. Many are still threatened with extinction.
Perkins and Embery developed platforms, which have radically revolutionized the general public’s perception of and appreciation for nature and natural resources. And these dynamic public figures, along with more contemporary zoo professionals, have embraced national media venues with a charismatic style and charm, that is both unique and authentic and, perhaps, ageless. Their work in front of the camera has served to engage audiences the world over, and has inspired many young people to pursue work in conservation science and education disciplines.
What other science field boasts its own suite of popular celebrities with such wide ranging appeal? Zoos have launched the careers of many notable naturalists and have put zoo keeping on everybody’s radar.
Who is more well known on the planet, except for maybe Michael Jordan, than Jungle Jack Hanna? The self-deprecating zoo keeper is known as well outside of the field as he is to people within the zoo, marine park and aquarium profession. SeaWorld ambassador Julie Scardina and Zoo Keeper Rick of the San Diego Zoo are some examples. And what about Ron Magill of Zoo Miami or Cincinnati Zoo’s own director Thane Maynard who hosts his own radio program The 90-Second Naturalist on NPR. All of them have been on network TV circuits, including both morning shows and late night TV. They have written books and given keynote addresses, and through various forms of multimedia, have really changed the way we learn about animals and nature.
And then there is our good friend the versatile Dr. Grey Stafford, who is not only a commentator and go-to person for captive and free-ranging wildlife issues for programs like Fox and CNN, but does the late night circuit, as well as a local Arizona news programs for Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium. He is both a scientist and animal trainer and a passionate advocate for captive animal programs.
Joan Embery is the longstanding goodwill ambassador for San Diego Zoo Global (Zoological Society of San Diego). She went on to host her own TV shows and became a staunch advocate of animal welfare, zoo sponsored conservation programs and environmental issues at large.
Marlin Perkins first hosted Zoo Parade through an NBC network affiliate under the auspices of the Lincoln Park Zoo. And then he hosted the widely acclaimed hit Wild Kingdom, which brought him much fame, and more importantly, permitted him to reach an audience, which had not really been exposed to pressing issues facing vanishing species.
We can’t forget the late Steve Irwin. He may have been over-the-top, but he was a force. There are also a number of people outside the zoo field who have launched careers as zoo personalities. My friend Rachel Reenstra comest to mind. There are many others.
In an age when so many people are famous for nothing, it is refreshing to know that public figures still emerge who are in it for something beyond themselves.
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