Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Saving Species: Africa To China, With The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance CEO

March 09, 2021 Paul Baricault, CEO of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance: "Be inspired to protect the world." Season 1 Episode 6
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Saving Species: Africa To China, With The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance CEO
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Determined to save endangered animals, Paul Baricault, CEO of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, shares travel experiences from Botswana to Antarctica, highlighting magnificent memories, impending crises and ways to solve them.

-- Paul explains why it's so critical for world conservationists to work together, such as at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Northern Kenya.
-- We learn of animals in danger of extinction, including the northern white rhino, and the success of helping to birth two rhino newborns at the San Diego Zoo Global.
-- "Life thrives but it has to move." Paul talks of elephants and gorillas, African habitats, the magnificent wildebeest migration and the movement of animals at the flooding of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
-- We talk of favorite travel memories, including safaris, special zoos, working on species priority in the Galapagos Islands, walking among brown bears in Alaska, and visiting pandas in China.
-- Paul reminds us, "Be inspired to protect the world." And connects us to ways we can help.

Paul Baricault is  President and CEO of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, and a committed conservationist, intent on saving and protecting the world's threatened plants and animals.
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, written many travel books, including Places I Remember, and has contributed to dozens of guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter and  blogs about travel at  Contact her at
Please follow Places I Remember with Lea Lane, and leave a review on Apple! New travel episodes every Tuesday, wherever you listen to podcasts. 

* Transcript edited for clarity.

Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. Our guest is Paul Baricault, President and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global, a committed conservationist and pioneer tying conservation projects to films, collaborating with leading nonprofits to plant millions of trees and help protect millions of acres for wildlife worldwide. Welcome, Paul.


Paul Baricault  00:45

Thank you very much. It's an honor to be here.


Lea Lane  00:47

Well, it's an honor to have you. And I know you have a big announcement to make. And I know this is World Wildlife Day, or near World Wildlife Wildlife Day on March 3, and the San Diego Zoo has a major global announcement in the world of conservation with the all new brand identity and innovative vision to help tackle wildlife 's largest challenges with the San Diego Zoo wildlife Alliance. Can you please tell us all about this?


Paul Baricault  01:16

Absolutely. This has been a remarkable journey for this organization. San Diego Zoo Global started 100 years ago, 105 years ago to be exact, where we started to really learn the care and conservation of wildlife. Over these past 105 years, we've really grown up as an organization. We've pursued incredible conservation work over these years. And we realized today with everything that is going on in the world, with the evolution of COVID, affecting all of our lives, changing everything we knew about the world that we needed as a conservation organization to step forward and say, now's the time to recommit ourselves, now's the time to be more focused, and our vision and our purpose, and really making sure that when we show up in the field to support conservation work, we're showing up with our partners as the most effective partners as we possibly can be. So the change of our name from San Diego Zoo global to San Diego Zoo wildlife Alliance, is at its core about making sure that we are showing up with our partners and our work first.


Lea Lane  02:16

So what makes an alliance so very critical to come to the efforts you have in conservation?


Paul Baricault  02:24

Well, I think at the core is that there are tons of conservation organizations all over the world, many, many doing very, very good work. And what we realized here at San Diego Zoo wildlife alliance is that we have a unique set of skills that we get to show up in those landscapes with to help wildlife, we have cared for animals for 100 years, we've cared for plants equally, as long as we have the ability to bring that knowledge and skill to bear to support partners in the field, from community leaders to other large conservation organizations. If we are clear on our role, and our role is showing up with a strong amount of animal wildlife care, and knowledge and experience in terms of disease and health, and making sure that we're supporting those outcomes for wildlife, then we can partner with other organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, that might be a real specialist in habitat conservation, our community leadership with the northern rangelands trust in Northern Africa, where we where we can actually all work together and collaborate on outcomes. And that's for us is really making sure that we're prioritizing our role in that space.


Lea Lane  03:33

Can you give us a specific example of how this collaboration would work in the wild?


Paul Baricault  03:39

Absolutely. I think one of my favorite examples is the example in northern Kenya. So in northern Kenya, we partner at a conservation location they're titled, are named Teddy, or the Teddy elephant sanctuary. It is the only community lead elephant sanctuary in all of Africa. And that is really important because the community standing out there in front saying, This matters. We need to protect the elephants around us. We need to protect our landscapes. And they've invited us in to help. So we show up there in a capacity where we're providing all of our veterinary experience, all of our nutrition experience on all of our wildlife care experience, that we're providing that to that community, and really looking at capacity building across the community so that they can care and manage the rotating elephant sanctuary themselves over time.


Lea Lane  04:34

What other people, would you say, are involved in the Alliance?


Paul Baricault  04:38

Well, we are partnered with hundreds of conservation organizations, organizations like Northern rangelands, northern rangelands, trust, they're in northern Kenya, or we partner with Conservation International or the Nature Conservancy all they're around returning, all in service to that local community leadership. So we are an number of partners in that location but around the world, it's it's well over 200 partners around the world.


Lea Lane  05:06

Let me ask you, I've seen stats on the extinction crisis that's going on. Could you give us an idea of how bad it is today?


Paul Baricault  05:15

Yeah, it is. It is. It is not good, I think is the simple answer to it. In a world where climate change continues to be a threat, wildlife trafficking continues to be a threat. You see these emerging diseases, as we just witnessed with COVID continues to be a threat to wildlife. You look at everything that is happening around the world that has having an impact on wildlife. As populations move out of cities and more into the furthest regions of the globe, we're putting an impact and pressure on our forests, we're putting a greater impact on our oceans. So that is putting wildlife at risk all over the globe. And so the extinction crisis is very real. It's a very serious challenge that every conservation organization is trying to impact and drive a result from that can change the outcomes. 


Lea Lane  06:04

What are some of the animals specifically that are in danger of extinction?


Paul Baricault  06:11

Well, the one that I would say that is the closest to our heart is the northern white rhino, the northern white rhino is is a species where there's only two females left on the planet. That's a species where we have been working for years to develop a way to ultimately bring that species back from extinction. And that's one where we pursue work right here on grounds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where I am today, where we get to work with scientists every day to work on how we can bring that species back. We're pioneering artificial insemination technologies today, to try to bring that species back from extinction. We're working with some southern white rhinos, here, we have two newborns as last year that are both artificially inseminated newborns. And so we get to bring these two these two guys to life, as a effort to say one day, we're going to be able to bring back northern white rhino. And on that journey, we start with our wildlife biodiversity bank right here, where we have 12 distinct cell lines of northern white rhino, northern white rhino DNA, that 12 distinct cell lines will actually enable us one day to bring back an entire herd because to us, it's not just about trying to bring back one animal. We're only gonna be successful here if we can bring back an entire herd and reintroduce that herd to their, to their natural landscapes.


Lea Lane  07:38

Right. I remember I was on safari a few years ago in Tanzania, and there was one rhino, and it had 24 hour protection by a whole cadre of people. And our guide was so excited. We saw it far off in the distance. And I think he had never seen it before. And it was so tragic and so beautiful at the same time that they were carrying so much for this for this precious animal. Are the elephants safe? Are the Jaguars? I mean, what what are some of the other animals? I've read the statistics?


Paul Baricault  08:09

Yeah. So so when we look at like elephants, for example, elephants have obviously been under threat of poaching for a number of years, we've seen their populations declining greatly. With the world shutting down with COVID, that has had a huge impact on local conservation efforts. Because many of the local conservation efforts in Africa are dependent on tourism. They're dependent on people coming in to visit. That's what funds a lot of the conservation work there. So when you when you turn off that spigot and Travel Stops, you now are creating a greater threat to the elephant because the poachers are able to come out where there there are not as many Rangers available anymore to do that, especially as the Rangers are following COVID protocols in their own country and staying indoors. So this is something that has been a real challenge for the wildlife conservation community. And it really showcases where ourselves and other large conservation organizations who have continued to fund conservation work out there in the field. We've maintained that this whole time, even though our doors have been closed for five of the last 13 months, we have continued to support our conservation partners in the field because it was essential that we continue to protect the elephants out there in northern Kenya.


Lea Lane  09:23

No, I just read that. Gorillas at the San Diego Zoo had had caught COVID. What is happening in that regard now?


Paul Baricault  09:32

Absolutely. Thank you for that question. The gorillas were found to be positive with the virus that causes COVID 19. Back in early January, when that was identified, we immediately went into a mode of okay, we always suspected that this was going to be a possibility. We've been vigilant for a whole year, this latest strain that has been that more transmittable train that has come to California is the one that looks like that was the one that infected them, we aren't entirely sure exactly what happens. But we believe it might have been asymptomatic team member that might have just transmitted it before they knew that there they were positive with the virus. And shortly thereafter, we went into really looking to say, let's keep a close eye on the team, let's make sure that we're doing everything we can to take care of them. And what has been remarkable is that we just announced this last week that they've emerged healthy from that dynamic from that experience. So they're the troops survived, the troop made it through, we couldn't be happier that our vet teams or healthcare teams here on the ground, have been managing that process constantly. And for us, what it does is it shines a real important light on our work. Because here's a situation where gorillas got it, who were in human care, where we were able to take care of their vet knees, were able to take care of all their health needs through this making sure that they were going to be make it through in the wild, the gorillas don't have that care, they don't have that 24 hour care. So we had, we've been sharing that knowledge of what we gained from this with our partners in Africa with our other partners who are out there working the wild with Gorilla conservation, we had a call just this last week, we were talking about sharing what we learned so that those efforts that are taking place out in the wild, are able to be more effective.


Lea Lane  11:22

Have any of the wild gorillas caught COVID?


Paul Baricault  11:25

There have been no recorded incidents of that happening yet. But truly, that's probably more  the fact that tourism and travel was shut down. So you have less movement of the virus around but but it is something we know that gorillas we know that all apes are at risk of this virus.


Lea Lane  11:41

Well, this is a really terrific and amazing project. how can listeners get involved in the mission? Is there a way?


Paul Baricault  11:49

It's a great question. So first and foremost, we want to engage with all of your listeners to first engage with us on social media and learn about our mission learn come to our website, San Diego Zoo wildlife, or sdz That's where we're showcasing all of our work with our partners. We're showcasing everything that we are committed to in terms of how we are prioritizing our work in the field, following us on social being a member of our alliance, we are encouraging everybody to join our alliance. That's how we're going to be able to turn things around. That's how we're going to be able to work with collaborators in bigger ways. We know the only way through this is to partner with other organizations who have other strengths. The the challenges of wildlife are too great for any one organization to handle alone. So we need to band together and solve them together. And that's what our alliance is all about. So joining the organization as a member, becoming a donor, visiting our San Diego Zoo, or Safari Park in person, all of that are ways that you can support the lions.


Lea Lane  12:50

I just think some of my greatest travel experiences have been regarding animals. And I'm just wondering, I am sure you've had some amazing weather. And I'd like to talk to you a little bit about that since our travelers are interested in all of that. Let's start with Africa, which is the place that people think of first. Can you tell us about the habitats there? I get questions about the difference between parks preserves and the wild. Can you can you elucidate a little bit on that one?


Paul Baricault  13:21

Well, that's an excellent question. Yes, when you look at Africa, or you look at any region in the world where wildlife exists today, it is almost entirely all managed in some way. You have different you have preserved, you have reserves, you as you noted, you have parks, those all have slightly different ways of managing wildlife. But they're, it's all managed in a way. You're managing how people access, you're managing what people are able to do. managing those regions are really at its heart about managing people. It's about managing how people engage with wildlife, how they get to see it, how they might need to live around it. And so this is at the core of that when you when you look at some of those differences, it's the the details are what maybe set them apart. But at the core, it's really about trying to establish a way so that wildlife can continue to thrive all over the world. And it does take us as people finding ways to manage wildlife in a way so that everybody can eat safely enjoy and see wildlife as well as making sure that families and communities can be safe living around wildlife.


Lea Lane  14:29

My favorite experience I think of any I've ever had is the migration experience. Can you elucidate a little about that the wildebeest migration of millions and millions of animals that cross the Mara River and other rivers and it's tell us Have you seen it? Have you seen it?


Paul Baricault  14:49

I have, I saw a number of years ago, there is nothing like it on Earth. We also found that is one of my films and one of my prior days before I joined San Diego Zoo wildlife Alliance It is a magnificent is one of the largest land migrations on the planet. It is extraordinary to see all that wildlife movement all through one region of the world. It really showcases what a thriving ecosystem could look like. One of the things that we are focused on here today is biodiversity. If we lose our biodiversity, we're gonna lose things like that these iconic moments in the world, where we get to see wildlife thriving in spectacular ways. Those will be lost unless we preserve biodiversity. Our work here at San Diego Zoo wildlife alliance is to maintain biodiversity around the globe, in the areas where we're focused on work.


Lea Lane  15:41

Yeah, I think of that very often. It isn't just seeing it, it's, it's experiencing the fear. You see, the animals are very, sometimes wait for days before they cross the river. And then the the brave ones cross, it's a very emotional thing to see it. And you hear it at the sounds are amazing. And it's it's so nice to be able to see it on, on on film, as well, as you know, so few can see it, but everyone can see it through through, you know, social media going online and so forth. Because I don't think I'm trying to think of anything else that's quite as engrossing of all the animal is there, one.


Paul Baricault  16:19

Well, I there, there are so many wildlife movements around the world. And some of them, many of them are driven by water, water, jazz, if you look at the Delta, if you look at the Delta down in Botswana, when when the Delta floods, it is a magnificent bring to life of an entire region. And then it completely drains out. And to see life change and move and shift over that time is simply magnificent. And you see very much right there in the story of the Mara, of how sorry, in the story of the of the Delta, is how life thrives. But it has to move. And the elephant migration is one of the most magnificent elephant migrations and all the planet that's driven entirely by the Okavango Delta, water changes. And it's just it's magnificent to watch. So I've had the honor of getting to see that a couple years ago, and there's just nothing like it.


Lea Lane  17:16

Wow. Have you been to the gorillas of Rwanda, Uganda? 


Paul Baricault  17:23

No, I have not gone. I've gone there and film but I've never actually gone there. And it is extraordinary. The work that is done there.


Lea Lane  17:30

Yeah, I know. It's one of my bucket list. Things I always wanted disappears. There are upland gorillas and lower lowland gorillas, I guess it is a place in Gabon, I think, is the place where you would see the people who can't go higher for altitude problems. There are gorillas, lowland gorillas, as well. But I still want to see that. What's Safari? What type of Safari? Have you taken? I know that I've taken four types. I've been in Landrover, I've been on foot. I've been on a river Safari, and I've been on a night safari, where you see the little animals with the bright shiny eyes. Is there. Is there one you you like best? Or Or do you recommend all four?


Paul Baricault  18:11

Well, I will say going on safari with a conservation organization is I think, a remarkable way to experience wildlife. Because there are many operators out there who can take you in to see things that are extraordinary, but learning about the ecosystem, learning about the wildlife learning, truly, from a conservation perspective, what that could look like, is extraordinary. And those are opportunities that are growing, we're seeing more people before the pandemic caused everything to close down, we saw that global travel really started to take off where people were wanting to see understand how ecosystems work, understand how wildlife is all interdependent out there. So I find any one of those is exceptional. And it's truly it's magnificent to see I've had the honor of traveling all over the world, from Asia to Alaska to to Antarctica. And it is one is these are places that when you visit, you can't believe that you get to see wildlife in the way that that these excursions can get you out there to see. And it's so important for people to learn about wildlife. And there are so many people who can't travel who cannot go there for their work to go pursue conservation work. And that's our role here at San Diego Zoo wildlife alliance is to bring those trips home to showcase people online through webcams and other content where they get to see the wildlife from around the world. Learn about here both on site and online and be inspired to protect the world that that is something that we feel is core to our mission is that interpretive element, that educational element.


Lea Lane  19:45

Yeah, the zoos are amazing in so many ways, for that reason, and for conservation. I've been to many zoos, I know. Some are specializing in gorillas. I have heard the Bronx Zoo is very good for that. I remember For a walrus at the Indianapolis zoo that was alone for a long time, and they finally found a partner and everyone was so happy. This is a real feeling about the animals closeness. The cities very often, you know, showcase these animals, it's very important. And it's wonderful that you don't have to travel all the way to Antarctica. To see penguins. For example, I have been to Antarctica, I saw more penguins in the zoo. When we were there. It was misty. So I didn't get to see as many as I as I did some of the zoos. So it is wonderful to have that opportunity. Let me ask you about the Galapagos. Have you been there?


Paul Baricault  20:36

I have not. 


Lea Lane  20:37

Yeah, I haven't. And I just wondered. That's another area. The animals are very different. They're I know they're having some problems with crowds. Do you know if that's being taken care of a little bit, too, in terms of conservation?


Paul Baricault  20:52

Yeah, we are working on some species there in around the Galapagos Islands, it is something that is a priority region. For us, the Pacific Islands hub is one of our eight conservation hubs that are going to be one of our focal points going forward. And so it is an area that we are looking at saying we have some specialized skills with some species, particularly they're around some iguanas, if we can provide some skill, how can we bring that skill in and support other partners that are going to be focused on population, human population management or wildlife? Protected Areas? All of that is going to be a piece of the puzzle there.


Lea Lane  21:29

Do you have any other favorite areas like Alaska, or is fabulous for animals as well? Is that one of your favorites?


Paul Baricault  21:38

I had the remarkable opportunity to go to Katmai National Park a number of years ago, and got to visit and walk amongst bears, brown bears there who are no further away than six, seven feet away. And to have that experience, where you realize really the power of that animal when you're when you're in by screen. And you're seeing them walk right by you. There's nothing like it on Earth to have that experience. And so I certainly found that to be one of the most magical moments I've ever had in the wild. Because you really understood the scale of nature.


Lea Lane  22:13

Well, the the topic of our podcast is places I remember, would you consider that your favorite memory? Or do you have another one that you would want to share with us?


Paul Baricault  22:23

That would be one of my favorite without a doubt. I've been very fortunate to go around the world and support conservation work across the globe. That certainly would be would be absolutely one of them. I'd say another one that would be particularly special would be a trip that I did to China a number of years ago, and was there at the at the panda reserve. And that's an example of a project actually that we here at San Diego Zoo wildlife Lions have been supporting panda conservation for four decades. And a huge part of our identity has been the panda that has been a visitor here at the San Diego Zoo for a number of years. We that the pair just left here in 2019. We look forward to having the back one day, but it's that relationship and that partnership with with ULONG and our partners there in China that have yielded some remarkable conservation outcomes. So when we think about places to visit, I certainly think of China's being a magnificently beautiful country, a place with incredible commitment to Panda conservation in which that we've been able to support over the years.


Lea Lane  23:28

Wow, thank you very much. Can you tell us again how listeners can get involved in the San Diego Zoo wildlife allowance lions mission?


Paul Baricault  23:36

Absolutely. We welcome everybody to join our alliance by either becoming a member or supporting us through donations are also joining to attend visit either San Diego Zoo or Safari Park. Whenever they get a chance to come to San Diego, we would absolutely welcome that. They can also follow us on all of our social channels, which we would greatly appreciate that as we share not only the ongoings of our conservation work here at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, but also all of our partners and collaborative work around the world.


Lea Lane  24:05

Okay, thank you so very much, Paul, for joining us, and for what you are doing to help animals worldwide. We wish you the best of luck in your mission under your new brand.


Paul Baricault  24:17

Thank you very much, I really appreciate the time. Thanks.


Lea Lane  24:25

Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

The new San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
Why an alliance is critical in saving wildlife
Endangered rhinos and Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
How many people in the alliance
What causes the extinction crisis
Animals in danger of extinction
Lea remembers a rhino in Tanzania
Elephants in danger
Gorillas with covid at San Diego Zoo
No covid with wild gorillas
How can travelers get involved
African habitats
Wildebeest migration on the Serengeti- "nothing like it on earth"
"Life thrives but it has to move"- Botswana
No covid with wild gorillas
Differences between parks, preserves and wild areas; types of safaris
Special zoos
Galapagos -- working on species priorities
Walking among brown bears in Alaska
Pandas in China
How we can help support the alliance