For Sarah Davy, a junior at Como Park High School, being chosen to participate in Polar Bears International’s Leadership Camp last October was just the beginning of a life-changing experience.
In addition to studying polar bears, one task during her week in arctic Canada was to create an action plan to help educate her peers and create a new mindset on conservation issues.
Davy wrote in her PBI blog, “After my week on the tundra, I’d like to return to Como Park — my home — and tell everyone about my trip and ‘bore’ them with the hundreds of pictures I’m going to take. I’m hoping that I will get others excited about conservation, the Arctic and the future of the polar bear.”
Since her return, Davy has spoken at schools and at her church, St. Timothy Lutheran in Como Park. She visited her former-fifth grade teacher Ms. Bartol’s class at Chelsea Heights Elementary, and the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum.
In November, Davy introduced prominent polar bear photographer Steve Kazlowski at a student-organized event at the Bell called “The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World.”
After she returned from PBI Camp, Davy also joined Como’s Environmental Club and got involved with student efforts to reduce waste and energy consumption at the school.
She said one of the most eye-opening events of her week in the Arctic was a helicopter ride to a polar bear den where students were able to observe the melting and collapsing of the den’s base on permafrost — a direct result of global warming.
She says, “I went into the whole thing with an awareness and general ideas about ‘Don’t waste energy’ but without a deep idea of why.”
Davy also maintains a close relationship with Como Zoo, where she got her first training as a speaker and advocate for environmental issues with the Nature Walk program. The program trains volunteers, ages 13–17, to share plant and animal knowledge with visitors during the summer months.
It was Davy’s supervisor at Nature Walk, Lorrie Cashman, who told her about PBI’s Leadership Camp. Como Zoo participates in PBI programs and PBI President Robert Buchanan was a featured speaker at Como Zoo last January.
Buchanan says, “By working closely with zoos, we can reach millions of people and inspire change.”
Applying for PBI Leadership Camp required Davy to write an essay and be interviewed about an issue in her community that needed to be addressed.
She decided to focus on educating the community about the environment, global warming and saving energy. She included her personal connection to Como Zoo, growing up just one block away, and as a volunteer with the Nature Walk program.
“It’s a small neighborhood zoo,” she says. “It makes you feel like you can make a difference —all the zookeepers know us (Nature Walk volunteers). It’s a neat atmosphere.”
Davy was one of 33 high school students and 12 teachers from around the world who were invited to participate in the camp last October. Camp took place in a five-car “tundra buggy train.” From base camp, a tundra buggy, traveling at three miles per hour, drove students into the arctic terrain to search for polar bears.
Davy jokes that they suffered from “white rock syndrome.” It was easy to mistake white rocks on the tundra for distant polar bears.
Late one evening, three polar bears — a mom and two cubs — appeared near the tundra buggy. Campers were able to observe the bears from just a few feet away for a couple of hours.
Davy noted that they didn’t behave like Como Zoo bears. They were curious about the tundra buggy and she had the feeling there was a sort of role reversal: “We were the ones being observed.”
Davy smiles and her eyes flash with enthusiasm as she sums up her experiences.
“Working at Como Zoo has taught me that what you do as a kid impacts your community and the world,” she says. “Polar Bear Camp opened my eyes to what is going on. And now I know that you can change things if you try.”
In March, Sarah Davy will make a public presentation at Como Zoo about her PBI experience. For more details or to find out how to become a Como Zoo or Nature Walk volunteer, visit the zoo’s Web site: www.comozooconservatory.org.
Sarah Davy’s journal page for PBI Leadership Camp is at www.polarbearsinternational.org/student-journals/sarahdavy/.