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Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

Nature’s wildheart: Teen naturalist kindles love for the environment

Provided by Elyse Chiou
As lead naturalist, junior Elyse Chiou’s role is to give feedback to other naturalists. Zoo naturalists talk to guests about the zoo’s message of conservation.

Whether it’s through conservation or education, she wants to help people and animals.

And still being in elementary, she begs her parents to go to the Houston Zoo.

Inspired by the Houston Zoo naturalist volunteers since she was 7 years old, junior Elyse Chiou blossomed from a youthful zoo camper to a lead naturalist.

“As a kid, I always had a really big love for animals and my parents would send me to the zoo, which has a camp for elementary schoolers during the summer,” Chiou said. “In the program, there were teen volunteers at the time, and I always thought, ‘when I get older, I want to be like them and have the same impact on the campers.’”

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When Chiou turned 14, she got accepted into the Houston Zoo’s Zoo Crew Program. From there, she became a Teen Naturalist, advising junior campers, just as she once was before.

“Especially in a leadership position, I really like being able to help other people grow, seeing their passion for helping the environment and animals and being able to talk to guests,” Chiou said.

As a lead naturalist, Chiou mentors other naturalists in the program to go out on the grounds. The Houston Zoo has stations for the volunteers to story-tell at different exhibits, assisting people to empathize with the animals.

“We help get the message across of what the zoo does for the animals to protect them in the wild and what you can do here at home,” Chiou said. “Knowing that as humans, we also share our world with thousands of different animal and plant species, I think that we are responsible for helping to maintain it and harming it as minimally as possible.”

Chiou also had some trouble opening up to interacting with the community. Despite these challenges, she gained confidence by embodying “people and teamwork skills” after inquiring about visitors’ certain interests, from discussing gorilla conservation to highlighting the significance of microplastics in oceans during her first year in the Zoo Crew.

Elyse Chiou and junior Emma Xiao feed animals around the Houston Zoo. Chiou says interacting and learning about zoo animals is one the perks of being part of the Zoo Crew. (Provided by Elyse Chiou)

“I think a lot of it is coming out of my shell and becoming more confident because I think before, I was a lot shy of a person and hated public speaking, but this position really forces you to learn how to do it,” Chiou said.

During the past summer, Chiou obtained a new position in the Teen Leadership Council. While interacting with peers from various backgrounds, Chiou found connected with them on their common passion for animals and the environment.

“I got to have a new role mentoring the first-year Zoo Crew and I learned how to connect with individuals from a leadership perspective,” Chiou said. “Outside of learning how to talk to strangers, I also made new friendships and relationships.”

Chiou has also developed an interest in learning about migration patterns and bird collisions as a member of the Bird-Saving Campaign Committee.

“Specifically, we’ve worked with a lot of conservation partners here in Texas, like Texas Conservation Alliance,” Chiou said. “I’ve been able to hear them talk about what they do specifically to help the environment and apply that to my own life.”

In the future, Chiou wants to study biomedical sciences, an intersection between the health of people, animals and the environment, and learn real-world applications, such as single-use plastics or recycling electronics.

“As a kid, I always bounced between wanting to become a vet or doctor, but I think that studying this would be a way to get the best of both worlds,” Chiou said.

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  • H

    Hanh NguyenApr 16, 2024 at 11:32 pm

    Great reporting Ashley!

  • I

    Irene ZhengApr 16, 2024 at 8:59 am

    Such a cool story!

  • E

    Emma XiaoApr 14, 2024 at 6:03 pm

    Go Elyse!!!