Buffalo, N.Y. – Tiffany Vanderwerf, the Buffalo Zoo’s Curator of Education, will travel to the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, from October 3-9 for a Communicators Leadership Camp sponsored by Polar Bears International (PBI), a conservation group. The Buffalo Zoo, which is part of PBI’s network of Arctic Ambassador Center Zoos, selected Vanderwerf based on her past outreach and community involvement. She will join 18 other educators and public relations professionals from the U.S. and Canada.
“Zoo communicators have the ability to reach a wide audience with a conservation message,” said Robert Buchanan, PBI president. “They spend a week on the tundra during the fall polar bear migration on the shores of Hudson Bay. They stay at the Tundra BuggyÒ Lodge—with polar bears just outside— to learn about polar bears, climate change, and how each of us can help. From this remote location, they stay connected to the rest of the world through their blog at polarbearsinternational.org. Before returning home, each Ambassador creates an individual action plan to help reduce CO2 in their community.”
Churchill’s polar bears, part of the Western Hudson Bay population, draw visitors from around the world during their fall migration. Every summer, these bears are driven ashore when the ice on the bay melts, taking away their seal-hunting grounds. They spend the next few months resting and fasting. As cold weather returns, they begin to gather on the shore near Churchill to wait for the ice to form.
Having the chance to see polar bears in their natural habitat –and to learn first-hand about arctic climate-warming—is a transformative experience for Leadership Camp students. The goal of the camp is to inspire, inform, and empower zoo professionals to advocate for environmental stewardship in their home communities.
Vanderwerf says she’s excited by the opportunity. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to experience polar bears in their natural habitat and bring back first-hand knowledge of these majestic creatures and the issues surrounding their survival. My goal is to come back and take real action as an educator in Western New York to encourage environmental responsibility,” Vanderwerf said.
The Buffalo Zoo was invited to send a representative to the camp because of its role as a PBI Arctic Ambassador Center Zoo. These centers focus on animal well-being and enrichment, take a leadership role in stewardship and carbon reduction efforts in their communities, and participate in PBI polar bear research efforts. Many also help support polar bear conservation through the PBI Polar Bear Sustainability Alliance.
“Outreach by institutions such as the Buffalo Zoo can make an enormous difference in motivating the public,” Buchanan said. “If we are serious about conserving polar bears and their ecosystem we need to act quickly—and our Arctic Ambassador Center Zoos and Leadership Camps play an important role in inspiring change.”