Celebrities and public figures usually have the resources to take their children on ecotourism adventures and travel the world with them. More often than not they choose to visit their local zoo or wildlife center as an opportunity for the whole family to learn about nature in an entertaining and engaging way. With kids, hectic schedules and a desire to keep a low profile, celebrities often visit zoos and aquariums unannounced at times when they can blend in to the crowd. For famous families, these covert expeditions can turn into unforgettable informal learning experiences, as much as they do for typical patrons.
Casual visits by public figures serve as good PR for the zoo community. But more importantly, they demonstrate to people of influence that cutting edge conservation science is being carried out by zoological institutions around the world, and that the animals managed at these facilities are afforded the best of care.
Many years ago, I visited SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo with Alicia Goranson from the Roseanne Show. Lecy and I got a chance to talk about some of pressing issues facing imperiled species in some of the exotic locales we had both been fortunate enough to see in person. She was a particular fan of orangutans.
In recent years, I toured the likes of actor Charley Boorman and actress Vanessa Hudgens around the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. As animal curator, I introduced Senator Lisa Murkowski to two orphaned Kodiak bear cubs being cared for on the campus. I’m sure the intimate encounter left a lasting impression.
More recently, I visited a gibbon conservation facility in California with actress Charlotte Ross, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Farrah Smith and model Julie Cialini (see featured image). The visit demonstrated just how critical captive wildlife facilities are to the conservation breeding of some of the world’s most endangered primates. We engaged in discussion concerning the roles of both zoos and sanctuaries and how they both can serve the population management of conservation-sensitive wildlife species.
Other personal experiences include a visit from Mick Jagger. Early in my career as a zoo keeper in Ohio, the Rolling Stone stopped in for a tour. He was very impressed with the tropical rainforest exhibit that had recently been opened. And not long before before I began consulting the East Indian animal rescue organization Wildlife SOS, Actress Julia Roberts stopped by to visit some sloth bears.
The stars do visit more often than you may think, but again many remain fairly inconspicuous and covert as they tour around animal parks. Some publicists contact zoo and aquarium personnel requesting behind-the-scene tours for their clients, but most public figures prefer to enjoy the experience in privacy.
A couple A-listers who support zoos, include the likes of Katie Holmes. Katie and Suri and her mother visited the Central Park Zoo in recent years. Gwen Stefani was photographed with her oldest son Kingston at the London Zoo. Kate Beckinsale recieved a private tour at the LA Zoo. Jason Segel and Michelle Williams were spotted with her daughter at the Bronx Zoo. And they do it internationally. Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain visited the Madrid Zoo.
This is just a sample of stars who support the mission of zoos, but it should be a reminder to everyone that most people get exposure to wildlife through a visit to the zoo at some point in their childhood and throughout their lives.
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