Animal Planning and Platforms for Conservation: A Conversation with Christina Castellano, Vice Presi

Over the past two decades, the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City has undergone a renaissance. Modern, dynamic habitats have replaced antiquated exhibits throughout most of the zoo and the infrastructure has been put in place for optimal animal welfare. Now the Hogle Zoo wants to take another step forward and become a larger leader in global conservation. A key player in this direction is Christina Castellano, the zoo's Vice President. Here is her story.

@ Hogle Zoo

Christina Castellano’s love for wildlife was inspired by growing up a few minutes from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo. “I spent a lot of my weekends there when I was a kid,” she recalled. “Through those experiences, I developed a keen curiosity for most animals and a fascination with the emotional connection that people have with them.” Eventually, Castellano would end up working at the Bronx Zoo. “I was fortunate enough to hold different positions in the animal department,” she stated. The young professional got insight into the Bronx Zoo’s world-class animal care team and conservation initiatives. “Our mission was very much about marrying animal husbandry and the guest experience with field conservation,” Castellano commented. “The Wildlife Conservation Society was always ahead of the curve and had been an example of how zoos could lead conservation programs for species facing extinction in the wild.”

@ WCS

Through the Bronx Zoo’s Curator of Reptiles the late John Behler, Castellano was introduced to field conservation in Madagascar. “John was a leader that pushed the idea of connecting the programs that we had [at the zoo] with field-based initiatives,” she remarked. “My first task as an intern was to collect temperature data for places in Madagascar where the different tortoise species live and then incorporate it into their husbandry guidelines. From that first experience, I got involved with doing studbooks for Madagascar species and also in the Society’s Madagascar program.” Behler raised awareness of what was happening to reptiles in Madagascar and other wild places. “John put out the call to action when he learned about the devastation of the illegal trade on tortoise and freshwater turtle populations world-wide,” Castellano said. “He inspired others to take action to protect these animals in the wild.”

Julie Larsen Maher @ WCS

While at the Bronx Zoo, Castellano earned her masters and Ph.D. from Fordham University. This prepared her to work in the field. “I moved to Australia with the exciting opportunity to examine the factors that influence biodiversity on farms, and the role that frogs play as natural pest control agents in these environments.” While doing her research, she got a call from Zoos Victoria. “They were looking for someone to help run their threatened species programs as they were expanding their role in saving Australian species from extinction,” Castellano stated. “It was the chance of a lifetime to marry my passion for animal care with wildlife conservation; that position turned out to be a marriage made in heaven, which sparked my interest in reintroduction science. I moved to Melbourne and worked under the incredible leadership of Dr. Jenny Gray (CEO of Zoos Victoria).”

@ Zoos Victoria

At the time, Zoos Victoria was developing an innovative business model that would allow them to become a world-leading zoo-based conservation organization. “I thought that an evolution of this nature would take a great deal of time, instead I learned, that most importantly it takes strong leadership and a clear vision,” Castellano articulated. “I also learned how to incorporate wildlife conservation into the zoo experience in a way that inspires guests to take action.”

@ Zoos Victoria

Castellano eventually returned to the U.S. as Director of Turtle Conservation for the Orianne Society, a newly created reptile conservation organization in Georgia. However, she soon found herself wanting to come back to zoos. “I missed the zoo business, when you work at a zoo it doesn’t matter what area your expertise is in, at the end of the day everyone is working toward achieving a common goal,” Castellano recalled. In 2012, Castellano became General Curator at Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.

@ Hogle Zoo

@ Hogle Zoo

Under the leadership of Craig Dinsmore, the Hogle Zoo had evolved into a well-respected zoo with excellent exhibits and animal care programs. However, the zoo was looking to make a stronger impact for animals in the wild. “The Zoo was working to expand its conservation footprint and I was hopeful that I could make a contribution in that space,” Castellano explained. “During my first visit, I saw that Hogle Zoo was not only beautiful, but also exceptionally well-run. For many years the team focused on building the infrastructure needed to support the zoo’s animal and guest experience programs. The foundation they laid created an unbelievable platform to move forward as a conservation organization. I knew that I wanted to be part of that journey.”

@ Hogle Zoo

@ Hogle Zoo

In 2015, the Hogle Zoo hosted the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Annual Conference, which let colleagues in the zoo-world see for themselves the progress that the zoo had made over the past two decades. “The AZA conference let people experience, many for the first time, what our remarkable zoo and community was all about,” Castellano remembered. “We were so excited to have that opportunity to share our story with our colleagues and friends. It was a very proud moment for our staff.”

@ Hogle Zoo

@ Hogle Zoo

Castellano aspired to bridge the gap between animal care programs at the zoo and field conservation projects. “We wanted to create a Resident Animal Plan (RAP), formerly known as a collection plan, that gave us a multi-layered platform to engage our guests and community in our conservation mission,” she articulated. “We created a set of criteria for species selection that allowed us to make the greatest impact using an effort vs. impact matrix – a process we followed at Zoos Victoria. Every animal here helps us in some way to marry the story of each species with the story of our zoo, whether it’s through education, research, guest experience, special events, etc. Ultimately we want to be the vehicle that empowers our community to take positive action on behalf of wildlife.”

@ Hogle Zoo

@ Hogle Zoo

The Hogle Zoo’s conservation strategy allows the organization to focus its resources in order to have the greatest impact. “Our RAP reflects our conservation strategy, which is called the Big Six,” Castellano articulated. The Big Six species and the zoo’s field-based partners associated with them include the African elephant (International Elephant Foundation), African lion (Niassa Lion Project), boreal toad (Boreal Toad Conservation Project), Bornean orangutan (Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project), polar bear (Polar Bear International) and radiated tortoise (Turtle Survival Alliance). The zoo also drives local conservation efforts through a program called Wild Aware Utah that teaches people living within their community to safely share their backyards with native wildlife, especially predators including bears and cougars.

@ Hogle Zoo

@ Hogle Zoo

In 2014, Castellano became Vice President and Chief Science Officer at the Hogle Zoo. This promotion enabled her to provide leadership to a diverse and talented team that makes widespread contributions to the zoo’s programs. “When this position became available, I jumped at the opportunity!” she recalled. “This role is very much about strategic alignment and ensuring the integration of our programs while continuing to grow a sustainable business that is valued by our community. I’m all about the 'why' we do what we do and I believe that it’s the golden thread that will ultimately continue to strengthen our business and attract and sustain the support we need to fulfill our conservation mission.”

@ Hogle Zoo

@ Hogle Zoo

In the fall of 2017, Dinsmore retired from the Hogle Zoo and Steve Burns, longtime Director of Zoo Boise and former Chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, was brought in as President/CEO. While at Boise, Burns had dramatically grown the zoo’s conservation programming and made them indistinguishable from everything the zoo did. “It’s been a very smooth transition,” Castellano commented. “Steve is a natural fit and we are thrilled to have him on board. Craig made our zoo a leader in animal welfare. Steve will make our zoo a leader in wildlife conservation.”

@ Hogle Zoo

@ Hogle Zoo

Castellano is a champion of the relatively new AZA SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) program. “Conservation is an all-hands-on deck process, especially for those critically endangered species,” she explained. “For many, survival is now a race against time. AZA SAFE provides a platform that enables us to mobilize the collective resources and expertise of the AZA community to save species, it makes us stronger together.” Castellano serves as the AZA Field Conservation Committee (FCC) Coordinator for AZA SAFE and works closely with the AZA and the FCC to identify new SAFE programs.

@ Portico Group

@ Hogle Zoo

Recently, the radiated tortoise, one of Hogle Zoo’s Bix Six, became a SAFE program. This was because of the zoo’s commitment to the species and ongoing field program that they have established with their partners the Turtle Survival Alliance and, most recently, Zoo Knoxville. “The radiated tortoise is poached for meat and the international wildlife trade,” Castellano explained. “The SAFE program focuses on rehabilitating confiscated tortoises and incorporating them into the reintroduction program. This is an important species for the AZA community. There are more than 60 member institutions that participate in the Radiated Tortoise Species Survival Plan, one of the very first established for a reptile. If we combine our forces, we have a chance at saving this species.”

@ Hogle Zoo

Currently, the Hogle Zoo is developing a new master plan. It will build off of the previous one that created Elephant Encounter (home to African elephants and white rhinos), Asian Highlands (a recreation of the Himalayas featuring Amur tigers, Amur leopards, snow leopards and Pallas cats), Rocky Shores (an immersive exhibit recreating the western shores of North America and the Ardtic featuring grizzly bears, seals, sea lions, river otters, bald eagles and polar bears, respectively) and African Savanna (home to giraffes, zebras, ostriches, and lions.) “The new masterplan will give our guests a range of exciting opportunities to take conservation action during their visit,” Castellano elaborated. “It also includes DIY centers for conservation, places where guests will learn how to incorporate conservation into their daily lives.”

@ Hogle Zoo

@ Hogle Zoo

Castellano concluded, “Ultimately, we want our communities to become the story tellers and advocates for the wildlife in their own backyards and beyond. We hope to empower them to do so through the enriching experiences they receive when visiting our zoos."

@ Turtle Survival Alliance

#HogleZoo #ZoosVictoria #BronxZoo

You Might Also Like:
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
0824BZ_3117TA
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
maruska
charlie
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-post/2017/05/14/A-Life-Devoted-to-the-ModernConservation-Zoo-A-Cons
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-post/2017/08/03/Connecting-People-to-Living-Things-in-an-Emotional-

I'm a 23-year old wildlife enthusiast, conservation and animal welfare advocate, environmental activist and zoo fanatic who aspires to work in zoo public relations or education. I am here to share some insight into the world's best zoos to show all the great things they are doing. 

 

About Me
Search by Tags
No tags yet.

© 2017 by Grayson Ponti