Trunkline Magazine (Louisville Zoo) Trunkline Magazine: September 2017 | Page 19

KIDS FOR CONSERVATION Conservation is Cool — No Butts About It! When kids do great things for the planet, that’s pretty cool, right? When kids from our own commu- nity come up with fantastic ideas and plans, it’s even better! Megan Hodge, Jake Lindeman and Andrew Witak attend school at Oldham County Middle School and they are making amazing things happen. Each year for competition, the students in the engineering & robot- ics group build LEGO ® robots to perform certain tasks based on a different theme. The goal is to come up with and demonstrate innovative solutions to problems. The judges score the students not only on their robot creations, but also on critical- thinking skills, problem-solving abilities and leadership qualities as civic-minded citizens. This past school year, the theme for the competition was “Animal Allies.” This meant the kids had to find a human problem that animals could help solve OR an animal prob- lem that humans could help solve. Laura Rissler, as a zoo keeper with an extensive knowledge of wildlife and challenges that animals face in nature, helped the kids narrow down their ideas. The key, Rissler felt, was to help them come up with something that other competitors wouldn’t think of. The students’ inspiration came from a video they watched that explained the dangers of cigarette butts when eaten by birds. You may have noticed that cigarette butts stick around a long time when they are thrown on the ground — they don’t decompose very well. When birds mistake these cigarette parts for food and eat them, they don’t break down in their diges- tive system. The result is that the birds feel constantly as though their stomachs are full. They stop eat- ing and many starve. This problem "This problem touched them on an emotional level and they were determined that something must be done." to make their idea a reality. Laura Rissler asked them, “If you really want to make something happen, how do you make it happen? If you have a voice, who can help you amplify it?” The students decided that they probably couldn’t change people’s smoking habits, but they could reach out to politicians who could help to educate people about economic ties and also advocate for a more environmentally-friendly product. With trillions of cigarettes smoked worldwide each year, this small change created by a few local students could have a HUGE global impact! As these kids learned from their zoo keeper friend and mentor, Laura Rissler, “You can be an engineer, chemist or any other scientist, and still be a conservationist at the same time. Not everybody will go into an animal career field, but everybody has a responsibility to care for our planet.” These students are sure to have a bright future ahead and also create a brighter future for us all — because wonderful things happen when we truly care about conserva- tion! Want to learn more about how to become a conservation hero? Check out touched Andrew, Megan and Jake on an emotional level and they were determined that something must be done. They felt confident that they could improve upon a design that, in most cases, had not changed since it was first patented in the early 1800’s. After some research and discus- sion, what they came up with is incredible. The three 8th grade kids designed a cigarette filter made from natural materials that are not harm- ful to birds’ stomachs, break down in nature when it rains and filter out more toxins from the smoke that people breathe in. The materi- als used were cornstarch, activated charcoal and cotton. The trio was awarded second place in the state competi- tion. Last April, these students took their “green cigarette” invention to the world championship in St. Louis, where they also won an award! Not only that — but one of the judges happened to be a patent lawyer. Now, there is a patent in the works for their innovative concept! From left: Coach Mark Lindeman, Jake Lindeman, Jake, Andrew and Megan Hodge, Andrew Witak, Coach Ashley Sakie Megan are still working Louisville Zoo Trunkline • Fall 2017 • 19