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Local student helps keep zoo promise

A Gresham teen helps Oregon Zoo keep its 23-year-old promise to chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.
by: Shanda Tice, Keri Kestermont, 17, an active member of ZooTeens, talks about her experience working to help create a new primate display at the Oregon Zoo.

Keri Kestermont isn't used to being in the spotlight.

The 17-year-old Gresham girl is modest and unassuming when asked about her personal life, but when the conversation turns to her work with the Oregon Zoo, Kestermont lights up.

'I love working with the pygmy goats!' Kestermont says. 'They're so round and cute … we call them 'beer kegs with legs' … they're irresistible.'

The Springwater Trail High School senior has volunteered for three years with the Oregon Zoo's ZooTeens program. She's worked with children at the Family Farm, kept track of the zoo's posse of goats and showed visitors around the primate area.

Last year, Kestermont, along with a number of other Portland-area teens, helped the zoo keep its 23-year-old promise to chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.

Inside the zoo's primate area is a new chimpanzee display in memory of Goodall's late husband, Derek Bryceson.

Goodall visited the Oregon Zoo with Bryceson, then director of the Tanzania National Parks, in 1979, shortly before Bryceson died of cancer. The zoo promised to dedicate an indoor showcase of Goodall's work with chimpanzees, but an administration change put that promise on hold.

Now, 23 years later, that promise has been kept.

The interpretive display highlights four decades of Goodall's work as well as the zoo's own dedication to chimpanzees.

Kestermont helped paint the 1990s exhibit and is proud of the project.

'I just love being at the zoo and working with the animals,' Kestermont says. 'I'd like to be a veterinarian someday.'

The daughter of Kristi Brown and Mark Kestermont, the teen says she's close to her family and she credits her cousin, Teresa Stykel, 17, of East County, with introducing her to the ZooTeens program.

If she could work like Dr. Goodall, researching in the wild, Kestermont says she would probably study baby polar bears or penguins.

After high school, Kestermont hopes to attend Mt. Hood Community College for her basic courses and then transfer to Oregon State University, which has a veterinarian program.

Dave Thomas, the zoo's senior primate keeper and a friend of Goodall's, never forgot the zoo's promise to Goodall, and he was the one who approached the ZooTeens with the project idea.

'Their commitment to complete the work assigned was obvious,' Thomas says. 'However, I sensed something more in their interest in the animals. I felt a maturity in the group that I had not seen for many years.'

The ZooTeens threw themselves into the project, working on the display whenever they had a free moment and donating $1,000 to the cause - money the group had raised for trips to other zoos.

'The Oregon Zoo's ZooTeens have shown a strong commitment toward our chimpanzees,' Thomas says. 'Because of them, a dream is finally coming true.'