The Minnesota Zoo is pleased to offer the Our World Speaker Series. This free series introduces you to experts in local and global wildlife conservation and environmental issues.

Here are our video recordings from past speakers.

Saving Minnesota’s Pollinators

Speaker: Erik Runquist, Conservation Biologist, Minnesota Zoo
Date:  Friday, May 17, 2019
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Pollinators light up our gardens and sustain our wild spaces. Join us to discover the wide range of bees, butterflies, and other wildlife that are central to healthy ecosystems, as well as some of the problems they are facing. Dr. Erik will share stories from the field of the Minnesota Zoo’s efforts to help save some of the world’s most endangered pollinators, and how everyone can take little actions to help!

The Power in Partnerships and Pride to Protect Rhino – an update from Namibia

Speaker: Jeff Muntifering, Conservation Biologist, Minnesota Zoo
Date:  Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Time:  7:00-9:00 p.m.
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While the fight to protect Africa’s majestic rhinos continues , a hopeful case is emerging from Namibia. Here, where the Minnesota Zoo has partnered with Namibian conservation organizations for the past decade to support rhino protection efforts, a new approach that prioritizes cultivating partnerships, and more recently ‘Rhino Pride’, has seen significant success.

Speaker Series – Saving a Unicorn: The remarkable story of Saola and the Annamite Mountains

Speakers: William Robichaud, Coordinator, Saola Working Group
Date:  Friday, February 8, 2019
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Since the 1990s, several new species of large animals have been described by science in the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. This pace of discovery of larger terrestrial vertebrates is unmatched by any region of the world in perhaps the last century. The most spectacular of these discoveries was the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), a new bovid found in Vietnam in 1992.

Sharks, Laser Beams, and Shipwrecks: Your role as an Underwater Shark Detective

Speakers: Avery Paxton, PhD, South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation (SEZARC)
Date:  Friday, January 18, 2019
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Come learn how you can be an underwater shark detective, harnessing advanced technology to solve mysteries of an imperiled shark species, the sand tiger shark. During the evening, we’ll virtually dive on World War II shipwrecks resting in North Carolina’s offshore ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’ that are frequented by sand tiger sharks. You’ll learn how our team is studying sand tiger sharks using marine robots outfitted with lasers, photographs from scuba divers, and more. We’ll conclude by discussing opportunities for you to become involved and help our team solve longstanding mysteries about sand tiger sharks.

Penguins around the world and at the Minnesota Zoo

Dr. Michelle LaRue, Research Ecologist, University of Minnesota
Jamie Toste, Curator of Birds, Minnesota Zoo
Eric Reece, Bird Zookeeper, Minnesota Zoo
Date: Friday, April 20, 2018
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A birds’ eye view: How penguin research is changing Antarctic conservation
The two “true” Antarctic penguins (Adelie and emperor) are iconic and certainly charismatic but play an important role in the function of the Southern Ocean ecosystem. In this talk, Michelle will introduce Antarctic conservation and how learning about the global populations of these penguins provides us with a deeper understanding of one of the last pristine systems left on the planet.

From Prairie Dogs to Predators: Managing Conflict with Wildlife

Presenters: Dan Stark, Large Carnivore Specialist, Minnesota DNR
Bill Severud, University of Minnesota
Narayan P. Dhakal, Freelance Consultant-Environment
March 23, 2018
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Expanding populations and habitat loss can place people and wildlife in direct competition for resources, often leading to negative outcomes for both. Wildlife conflict issues often center around predators like tigers and wolves or large, charismatic species such as elephants, but even unassuming animals, including prairie dogs, can be perceived as problematic. Strategies that target the needs of both humans and animals are needed to manage conflicts and provide for an environment in which we can better co-exist with wildlife. Join our panel of experts as they discuss their experiences researching and managing human-wildlife conflict here in the Upper Midwest and internationally.

Deep Sea Conservation of a Living Fossil, the Chambered Nautilus

Speakers:  Greg Barord, Ph.D., Conservation Biologist, and Becky Duchild, Aquarist, Minnesota Zoo
Date:  Friday, February 9, 2018
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Although existing for millions of years, chambered nautiluses face an uncertain future resulting from just 50 years of over-fishing. The Save the Nautilus team has traveled across the Indo-Pacific using underwater video surveillance, among other methods, to find out how many nautiluses are left. This information has led to the first international conservation regulations of nautilus fishing and trade, increased capacity building and education in Pacific Island communities, and opened up an entirely new field of conservation in the deep sea.

A Tale of Two Moose Populations: Moose Research in Northern Minnesota and Isle Royale

Speakers: Liz Dengate, Connections Coordinator, Minnesota Zoo and Bill Severud, Postdoctoral Associate, TWS Associate Wildlife Biologist®
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Moose are an iconic species both in northern Minnesota and on the island park of Isle Royale, a dozen or so miles off shore in Lake Superior. While we’ve seen declines in moose populations in Minnesota in recent years, their numbers are climbing at Isle Royale. What are the differences between these two north woods populations? What unique threats do moose face in the wild? How do they relate to wolves, their main predators, and the rest of their ecosystem? Learn more about these enormous animals, the ongoing research with both calves and adults, and predictions for their future.

Kangaroo Crossing: How We Brought Down Under Up North

Minnesota Zoo: A Tasmanian Devil’s Advocate
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Speakers: James Sanford, Assistant Curator, Kangaroo Crossing and Amanda Drews, Interpretive Naturalist
Join Minnesota Zoo staff, James Sanford and Amanda Drews, for this two part presentation. As the Assistant Curator for the Kangaroo Crossing exhibit, Jim was instrumental in developing the exhibit and working with the animals to acclimate them to the northern climate of Minnesota. Amanda will talk about her travels to Tasmania to help with the research and care of the endangered Tasmanian devil.

Get Outdoors:  Experience Glacier National Park

Speaker: Rod and Sharon Johnson
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Join Rod Johnson and his wife Sharon as they retrace their adventures in Glacier National Park. Rod and Sharon have seen National Parks with more spectacular single features like El Capitan, the Grand Teton, Angel’s Landing, and Old Faithful, but none of the areas they’ve visited have been more consistently beautiful than Glacier National Park. They will share information addressing where to go, weather, reservations, recommended trails, and information about bears.

Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation of Minnesota’s Wild, Native Bees

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Speaker: Dr. Daniel Cariveau, Bee Research Lab, University of Minnesota
Minnesota is home to more than 400 species of native, wild bees. Habitat loss, disease, and pesticide use can have negative effects on native, wild bees. This talk will focus on the conservation of wild bees with a special emphasis on the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee – a species was recently listed as federally endangered. Minnesota is one of the hotspots for this species thus provides an opportunity to protect this important pollinator.

Animal Babies – Zoo Style

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It’s always an exciting time when we have babies at the Minnesota Zoo.  But sometimes zoo babies arrive in nontraditional ways … not just by the stork.  Join Curator of the Northern Trail Diana Weinhardt and hear the “tails” of some of the Zoos most popular babies – brown bears Sadie, Kenai, Haines; Sundari, the Amur tiger; and our resident herd of moose!

Saving Sea Turtles: Lessons from 30 Years of Conservation in Antigua in the Caribbean

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photo by K. Levasseur
Sea turtle populations have been decimated over the past several centuries, with current numbers at mere fractions of pre-Columbus times. Although they still face a multitude of threats, some populations are recovering and showing signs of long-term growth. These successes are the product of strong local and international conservation efforts and a network of individuals dedicated to preserving sea turtles for future generations. Take a break from the blustery Minnesota winter and escape to a warm, Caribbean beach as Seth Stapleton, biologist at the Minnesota Zoo, shares stories of sea turtle conservation work in the West Indies. Learn more about what you can do to help save sea turtles from right here in Minnesota!

How the Minnesota Zoo and Local People are Saving Rhino in Namibia

Poaching continues to decimate Africa’s iconic rhinos. Together with our local partners, the Minnesota Zoo has been coordinating community-based rhino conservation in Namibia since 2009. This work is based on the idea that if local people see value in keeping rhino alive, they will actively work to protect them. So are we winning or is this just wishful thinking? Jeff Muntifering, the Minnesota Zoo’s Conservation Biologist based in Namibia, will share uplifting stories from the field that demonstrate how local people have shown remarkable efforts to save the world’s last wild population of critically-endangered black rhino.

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Raising Delicate Aquatic Creatures

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What do Live Corals, Jellyfish, Sea Dragons & Horses, and Cuttlefish have in common? All these aquatic creatures need state-of-the-art, highly-specialized life support filter systems to keep them alive. What do the zoo professionals that care for these creatures need to know and do for these animals to thrive in human care? What does this diverse collection of salt water creatures eat? Duplicating the oceans of the world is not as easy as you may think.

Minnesota Zoo aquarists Dan Peterson, Becky Duchild, Christoph Noetzli, and Ben Minerich will talk about their personal experiences in caring for some of the most delicate aquatic creatures on earth.

bison-calves-2013_KJ-300x200Bison & Butterlies

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Speaker: Tony Fisher, Director of Animal Collections for the Minnesota Zoo, and Erik Rundquist, Ph.D., Butterfly Conservation Biologist for the Minnesota Zoo.

The Minnesota Zoo and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have been working together to conserve the American plains bison in the state of Minnesota. A joint herd of bison is being managed cooperatively at Blue Mounds State Park and at the Minnesota Zoo. This fall, a new herd was added by reintroducing bison to the Minneopa State Park in Mankato. Tony Fisher, Director of Animal Collections, will talk about this new exciting project and the progress made towards enhancing the pure bison genome in Minnesota.


Jeff-and-RhinoRhino Poaching Crisis in Africa: What is the Solution?

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Speaker: Jeff Muntifering, Conservation Biologist for the Minnesota Zoo

Rhino poaching is escalating across Africa, to feed black market demand for rhino horn.  Roughly three rhinos per day are being killed in South Africa alone.  To stem this crisis, numerous approaches have been proposed and tried, to varying degrees of success.  So what is the solution?  Or is there no one-size-fits-all strategy?  Jeff Muntifering, a Conservation Biologist at the Minnesota Zoo, will discuss these issues and the successful community-based approach the Minnesota Zoo and partners are using to save critically endangered black rhinos in Namibia.

The Science and Compassion of Wildlife Medicine

See the videoPhil Jenni Speaker Series

Speaker: Phil Jenni

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is one of the nation’s leading veterinary clinics for injured and orphaned wildlife. It has treated more than 9,000 wild animals from among 184 species in each of the last two years. WRC also provides professional education to veterinary students from around the world and to many other students interested in careers involving wildlife. As wildlife medicine is a new phenomenon, Jenni will outline some of the larger cultural trends that provide historical context for this rapidly growing field and how this emerging discipline is connected to other socio-economic patterns, and why this work is not only important but socially significant in today’s world.

Why Nature Play Matters: stories from the field

See the videonature play speaker series

Speaker: Patty Born-Selly

Children (and families) need nature! Explore the research that shows the many benefits of time spent in nature: increased creativity, reduced stress, improved physical and mental health. It has even been shown to support the development of a sense of stewardship.  Despite all this, there are numerous challenges to finding time and appropriate places for nature play. Identify some barriers, learn about local opportunities and special places for nature play, and  generate new ideas about how to make nature play a priority in your family’s life.

The Bears of the World: Are Some Species Headed for Extinction?

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Speaker: Dr. David Garshelis, PhD
Bears of the World Speaker Series photo
The last extinction of a bear was 8,000 years ago. Is another extinction impending? Bears are one of the most threatened mammalian families, with ¾ of species considered globally threatened. Threats vary from shrinking habitat to escalating poaching. Which species is being most affected by the burgeoning palm oil industry? Which species is heavily poached (and now farmed) to produce a valuable medicine? Which species attacks the most people? What two species are most in trouble due to climate change? On the other hand, which bear species is most secure, outnumbering all the others combined by more than 2:1? This is a whirlwind tour across the globe, highlighting populations that have suddenly disappeared, may blink out, or conversely, are resurging, or have been unexpectedly discovered. Gain an appreciation for the complexity of trying to understand what drives bear populations, and for trying to carry out conservation work to save them.

Polar Bears and Climate Change: What we know, what we don’t know, and how we got here

See the videoPolar Bears Speaker Series

Speaker: Dr. Seth Stapleton

Polar bears are icons of the Arctic, capturing the imaginations of wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists worldwide. They also have come to symbolize climate change and are frequently invoked to promote broader agendas. This reality has created a confusing picture in which it can be difficult to disentangle fact from fiction. Polar bears face a tenuous future, but how are they currently faring, and what does their future look like? How do biologists monitor polar bears across the far-flung reaches of the Arctic? Where do uncertainties remain, and why? Join Seth Stapleton, wildlife biologist at the University of Minnesota, as he discusses the current state of polar bear science in the North American Arctic.

Deborah Swackhamer, director of U of MN Water Resources Center, posing along Mississippi River.Land of 10,000 Lakes: Water for our Future

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Speaker: Dr. Deborah L. Swackhamer – Professor of Science, Technology, and Public Policy in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota

Minnesota is rich with water, but will it be clean enough, and abundant enough, for the next generation? Come hear about what challenges we face, what good we have done, and what we will need to do for the future of Minnesota’s water resources.

The Great Lakes Piping Plover Population: On the Road to Recovery

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Piping Plover Speaker SeriesSpeaker: Dr. Francesca Cuthbert

In 1986, the population of Piping Plovers in the North American Great Lakes was listed as “Endangered” by the U.S. government. Over almost 30 years, an intensive recovery effort, has increased the breeding population from about 15 to 70 pairs and expanded its distribution beyond Michigan to include Wisconsin and Ontario. This presentation reviews the recovery process, including its successes and challenges, and identifies future efforts needed to delist this still vulnerable population.

Photo from Photographer Roger Ericksson

What “World Heritage” Will We Leave for Future Generations?

See the videoSpeakerSeriesJimPerry

Speaker: Dr. Jim Perry

There are more than 1,000 internationally recognized World Heritage sites, more than 200 of those are natural sites e.g. Yellowstone, the Serengeti, and Mount Everest.  Every one of them is currently being affected by climate change, urbanization, and land use.  In order to conserve these sites for future generations, we need to know which sites are most at risk, which animals (and plants) are at risk, and we need to agree on the concept of heritage.  Dr. Perry will share his personal stories from his travels and research to profile five natural World Heritage sites, discussing the animals and the ecosystem characteristics that are being threatened by different forces.

The Role of Zoos in a Changing WorldLee Ehmke Speaker Series

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Speaker: Lee Ehmke
As President of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, I have the privilege of communicating with zoos and zoo associations across the globe.  While the cultural, political and financial contexts in which zoos operate are very different, there is a common understanding that the conservation of wildlife is a core role for all zoos and aquariums.  I will talk about some of the important and interesting zoos and zoo people I’ve had  the opportunity to visit and meet as WAZA President.


Dwindling numbers for an iconic insect: A conservation biologist ponders moving beyond the documentation of declines

See the videoKaren Oberhauser - speaker series

Speaker: Karen Oberhauser, University of Minnesota
Monarch butterflies populations have been declining over the last 20 years. It is important to move beyond simple documentation, and toward responding to the challenge posed by monarch conservation, and insect conservation in general. This presentation will focus on the amazing biology of migratory monarch populations, the work of citizens and scientists in documenting monarch numbers at all stages of their migratory cycle, and finally, threats to monarchs, and potential responses to these threats. Because conservation biology must be, at its essence, a science of hope, the focus will be on positive changes.

On the Trail of the Olinguito: Discovering New Mammals in an Age of Extinctions

See the videoSpeakerSeriesKrisMarch2014

Speaker: Kristofer Helgen, Ph.D.
Dr. Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian Institution has discovered approximately 100 species of mammals previously unknown to science. His team’s recent discovery of the Olinguito, the smallest member of the raccoon family found in the cloud forests for Colombia and Ecuador, was the first carnivore in 35 years to be discovered in the Americas. Join us as Dr. Helgen tells of his fascination with the variety of life on earth and how he works both behind the scenes in museum collections and on the field expeditions to document species of mammals never before discovered or described by scientists.

Tamarins and Teamwork: What it takes to Conserve the Critically Endangered Cotton-top Tamarin in Colombia.

See the videoSpeakerSeriesAnneOctober2013

Speaker: Anne Savage, Ph.D.
Cotton-top tamarins are a one-pound monkey found only in the tropical forests of northern Colombia. Dr. Savage will share on “Proyecto Tití”, a very successful conservation program that engages local people in learning about Cotton-top tamarins and how they can help protect them. Through income generating programs several small business opportunities have been created that have helped the communities create a sustainable future for themselves and for Cotton-top tamarins.

Hand Raising Sea Otters—It Takes a Village

See the videoSpeakerSeriesMelanieSeptember2013

Speaker: Melanie Oerter
View and discuss the documentary “Otter 501,” a remarkable true event that chronicles the story of an orphaned sea otter pup who was washed ashore when she was less than a week old. This otter became part of a groundbreaking surrogate program where she was introduced to an adoptive sea otter mother who reared her for months so she could develop the necessary skills to survive in the wild. Minnesota Zoo’s Marine Mammal Zoologist Melanie Oerter will share her experiences of hand raising sea otter pups, what goes into the 24-hour care required, why it takes a village to raise even one sea otter pup.

The Ecological Future of North American Bison

See the videoSpeakerSeriesKyranAugust2013

Speaker: Dr. Kyran Kunkel
More than 20 million bison once roamed the Great Plains and beyond, but now they occupy less than one percent of their historical range, and no truly free-ranging herds exist. Urgent measures are needed to conserve and to restore the ecological role of bison. Economic trends in the Great Plains combined with new conservation initiatives have created the potential for
significant progress in their restoration. Dr. Kyran Kunkel, the Director of Conservation Science Collaborative at the University of Montana, will share the innovative work required to restore large herds of wild bison.

Wildlife Conservation in the Russian Far East

See the videoSpeakerSeriesJonathanMay2013

Speakers: Dr. Jonathan Slaght and Dr. Tara Harris
The Russian Far East, located at roughly the same latitude as Minnesota, is home to numerous endangered species and inspired the Minnesota Zoo’s Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit. Dr. Jonathan Slaght, a 15-year veteran of the region, will discuss the conservation issues facing this resource-rich wilderness, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society’s efforts to protect Amur tigers, Amur leopards, brown bear, and Blakiston’s fish owls. Dr. Harris, Minnesota Zoo director of conservation will also discuss what the Minnesota Zoo is doing to help.