Fiesta event highlights San Antonio Zoo’s wildlife conservation efforts in Latin America

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Families visiting the San Antonio Zoo this weekend were greeted by mariachis in the courtyard and papel picado hung from trees as part of a two-day Fiesta event to celebrate Latin American animals, culture and food.

The festivities included Fiesta favorites – like a stand with chicken on a stick – in addition to Mexican folk dance performances and presentations on animals native to South and Central America, including the squirrel monkey and tamandua, a type of anteater.

Animal festival was one of the few festivities that closed this year’s 10-day Fiesta celebrations. The event, now in its 10th year, also serves as a way for the zoo, a certified nonprofit, to highlight its conservation efforts in Latin America.

“Zoos and aquariums, when you look back to their origins, served as places of entertainment,” said Danté Fenolio, who oversees the zoo’s conservation and research center. “People came to the zoo for entertainment and they paid for it. “

“But over time and with the loss of many native species and ecosystems around the world, many zoos have intensified,” Fenolio said. “They took that money and redirected it to conservation.

Fenolio, who began traveling in Latin America as a teenager, helped the zoo launch these efforts just over eight years ago. To date, the zoo has donated around $ 16 million to conservation efforts around the world, including around $ 150,000 in Peru, Fenolio said.

Last year, after COVID-19 halted international travel and devastated Peru’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, the zoo once again stepped up. He has started sending food, medicine and other essentials to indigenous communities in Peru with whom he has partnerships.

“It’s like hearing that members of his family are starving,” Fenolio said, referring to the friendships he made in Peru after working there for more than 30 years. “It meant a lot to me.”

A close-up of the anaconda, one of the animals of Latin America, is taken at a Fiesta Sunday event highlighting the San Antonio Zoo’s conservation efforts in Latin America and educating guests about the native animals from Latin America.

Ronald Cortes / Contributor /

Fenolio said the zoo’s research and conservation efforts focus on partnering with local communities, rather than “coming in with an imperialist stance, telling them how it should be done.”

For example, the zoo partners with local artists in Peru’s Upper Amazon Basin and sells their artwork and woodcarvings in the zoo’s gift shop, providing the communities there with a continuous income stream that does not involve timber harvesting or oil extraction.

Fenolio also travels frequently to Peru, providing locals with recommendations for the conservation and management of threatened species and ecosystems.

“An unfortunate aspect of many conservation efforts is this idea of ​​superimposing Western belief systems on indigenous communities,” Fenolio said. “That’s why these things have failed in the past.”

“The goal of this project is to help keep the strands of the rainforest healthy by supporting indigenous communities,” Fenolio said. “We want to be conservation partners.

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