Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Gresham High senior joins zoo's polar-bear expedition


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Gresham High School Senior Haley Schaeffer has spent hundreds of hours teaching others about animals as a volunteer at the Oregon Zoo.Haley Schaeffer has employed some interesting hair stylists.

A volunteer at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, she was once inside an enclosed area where the facility’s howler monkeys live.

“These two howler monkeys came down on the vines and started grooming my hair,” she says. “Just the fact that they trusted us so much was amazing. It felt really calming, they weren’t doing it maliciously.”

And her new hair style?

“It didn’t look worse,” she says with a chuckle.

Over the past three years, Schaeffer, 17, a senior at Gresham High School, has become a veritable Dr. Doolittle at the zoo, spending several hours a week there as a team leader and coach of other volunteers who lead tours and explain exhibits to visitors. Given her hundreds of hours there, Schaeffer will be well prepared to take up conservation biology studies at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York next year, she says.

Schaeffer also has been selected to join a group of teenagers from across the country, as well as Canada and Australia, who will travel to the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, in early October for a weeklong Teen Leadership Camp sponsored by Polar Bears International, a leading polar bear conservation group.

The Oregon Zoo is part of PBI’s network of Arctic Ambassador Centers, which educate the public about polar bears and climate change and try to inspire communities to reduce carbon emissions contributing to climate change. The centers include more than 50 leading zoos, museums, science centers, and aquariums in the United States, Canada and Europe.

The Oregon Zoo selected Schaeffer based on her past outreach and community involvement. The trip will include several nights at the Tundra Buggy Lodge, with polar bears just outside. Despite the remote location, participants will stay connected with the rest of the world through blog posts on the PBI website, polarbearsinternational.org.

“I’ve always really wanted to work with animals and save them,” Schaeffer says, noting she’s concerned about the impact climate change is having on the hunting habits of polar bears.

The bears can only hunt on ice, she notes, and must wait for summer to end before they can get food. As summers lengthen because of global warming, the bears must wait longer and longer each year to start hunting.

“Often they will starve if the summer season lasts too long,” she says, adding even if you don’t care about the fate of polar bears, you will once you realize how they affect your food supply.

“Polar bears eat seals, and seals eat fish,” she says. “If we had an explosion of the seal population, then we’d have less fish. And then fish prices go up, and people get angry.”

Speaking of angry, she says she’s not concerned the polar bears will attack her and her fellow explorers when she travels to the tundra to study the huge creatures.

“They’re a lot more afraid of us than we are of them,” she says.

For more information on the Oregon Zoo, visit oregonzoo.org.