To increase our El Paso Zoo conservation impact, we need to find more ways to get people involved. One of the ways we have identified is by focusing on conservation projects close to home in El Paso. Twelve years ago the Zoo hosted a special meeting that Diane Perez of the El Paso Water Utilities and Zoo Education Curator Rick LoBello organized to bring conservation educators together. Together they formed a new organization called the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC). Today the CDEC chairperson is Dr. Gertrud Konings, a biologist at the El Paso Community College. Dr. Konings and her husband Ad have been championing conservation education efforts about native desert plants for many years and have brought their passion to CDEC.
In 2014 with support from the El Paso City Manager’s office CDEC launched a native plant conservation project designed to encourage El Pasoans to landscape their homes with drought tolerant and water saving native plants. The main goal of the project is to help homeowners make wiser choices when landscaping which not only saves water and helps homeowners lower their utility bills, but also creates more habitats for native wildlife impacted by urban sprawl. Last year El Paso Channel 15 produced a video on the project which is now available on YouTube. The Parks and Recreation Department also helped promote the project by installing seven interpretive signs about native plants at Cleveland Square across from the Digital Wall at the History Museum and the baseball stadium.
The Zoo encourages you and your family to purchase from local plant nurseries native plants like red yucca, desert willow, mesquite and ceniza. Many species of birds and butterflies will benefit from these plants helping to make El Paso a wildlife friendly city while improving our quality of life at the same time. The shade from trees like mesquite and desert willow helps to keep your home cooler in summer and lower your electricity bills. Cutting back on energy consumption helps to lower your carbon footprint and its effect on climate change. As an added benefit native plants help to capture carbon from the atmosphere.
CDEC is now offering a free Habitat Certification program that encourages people to make their yards Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition Certified Habitats. Anyone who registers for the free program will receive a signed certificate confirming the habitat level on their property and information on how they can get a yard sign designating their property as a certified habitat.
Together Zoo visitors working with community groups like CDEC and other neighborhood and community groups can help the Zoo increase its conservation impact.