Sunset Zoo partners with elementary school, raises funds for endangered porpoise

The sun sets behind Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kan. on Nov. 5, 2017. (File photo by Regan Tokos | Collegian Media Group)

The Sunset Zoo partnered with Frank V. Bergman Elementary School for a three-week campaign titled “Pennies for a Porpoise” to raise awareness and funds for saving the endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction.

The partnership kicked off with a pep rally and porpoise parade at Bergman Elementary on Oct. 23. Students were encouraged to collect pennies for donating to conservation efforts through Nov. 13.

Bergman Elementary raised $854.11 for vaquita conservation, surpassing their $500 goal.

“When it comes to conservation and protecting endangered wildlife, every penny counts,” said Rachel Herrod, marketing and development officer at Sunset Zoo. “Every small proactive action counts, and every person counts.”

Herrod said the partnership between the zoo and Bergman Elementary for the Pennies for a Porpoise campaign was very important to them.

“We love the opportunity to connect with our community, especially our kids, with amazing conservation campaigns like this one that was working to partner with organizations to save the vaquita,” Herrod said. “We hope we can use these opportunities to educate and connect our community members to the wild world around them.”

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the vaquita porpoise, or the “panda of the sea,” is the most endangered marine animal in the world. Scientists’ latest estimates show there may be fewer than 30 vaquitas left in the wild.

The partnership between the elementary school and the zoo aimed to teach students about the conservation efforts in the Gulf of California to rescue remaining vaquitas, rehoming them in temporary large floating sea pens to monitor health and protect them from illegal fishing, according to Sunset Zoo’s website.

Ashlyn Riley, junior in elementary education, said it is beneficial for kids to be taught about biodiversity at a young age.

“Learning about subjects like biodiversity will show children that they have a role to play on this earth, and no matter how big or small their actions, they can impact the environment and help save endangered species,” Riley said.

Matt Mindrup, junior in biology and philosophy, said it is important for all children to be taught about endangered species because every ecosystem is important, especially marine ecosystems.

“Marine ecosystems are very delicate, and their survival is dependent on the species that live within them,” Mindrup said. “Our marine ecosystems are threatened by multiple factors right now, and it is critical that young people learn how important it is to conserve species from these environments, as well as how to combat the threats to marine ecosystems.”

Herrod said through partnerships like this, Sunset Zoo can show the “non-zoo” community how they can help save endangered species and contribute to the conservation of animals through small, daily actions.

“Children need to know that being generous and giving their time can make a difference in the world,” Riley said. “Not only does this partnership give children the experience of helping a good cause, but they also receive the chance to learn about different animals they don’t typically see every day. This experience will open their minds to different places and environments around the world.”