Local Zoo Helps an EagleAntonio Catanzarite, Eagle Scout, formerly of Troop 276 July 24, 2021
Like many Boy Scouts, the challenge of finding an Eagle Scout Project was daunting and stressful for me. It was the only thing standing between me and the Eagle Scout rank--the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America and an honor I had been chasing for 7 years. To make matters worse, I had to complete my project during the 2020 pandemic and I needed to reach a fast-approaching deadline to qualify for my rank. Needless to say, I was scared of the challenge that lay before me and had no idea what I was going to do. However, if Scouting had taught me anything, it was that I could not give up after coming so far.
While getting my Family Management Merit Badge signed off, my counselor gave me a lead. She said that her troop recently partnered with the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens to clean a nearby nature trail. In addition, the Living Desert still had several projects to be completed. Shortly after, I got in contact with Dr. James Danoff-Burg, the Director of Conservation, for a potential project. As it turns out, the Living Desert can always use a few more hands and I was given a variety of projects that I could direct. I decided to lead a desert tortoise project where my team would restore ten tortoise rearing pens.
Several years ago, the Living Desert created several outdoor enclosures to host desert tortoises while simultaneously studying an upper respiratory disease that was infecting the species. Over time, the enclosures were worn by the elements and were no longer in use. It was my job to restore them. Together, Dr. James and I devised a plan of action. Although we were challenged by hurdles caused by the pandemic, the Living Desert and I were able to adjust to the circumstances.
I reached out to volunteers to set up a sign-up sheet. My team included my Troop 276, the local AmeriCorps group, and volunteers from the local Mormon Church. Each of these groups were eager to volunteer time to benefit their local community and work alongside Scouts. With my plans completed, I led them on a crisp, weekend morning in March. With our masks on, I split the 30 volunteers into 10 groups that I could easily manage. We all removed brush and trash that had overrun the enclosures for the next few hours. In the end, my team and I completed roughly 100 hours of work in a single morning and the tortoise pens were ready to return to studying our local endangered species.
Current Life Scouts: I highly recommend partnering with the Living Desert for your Eagle Project. The Coachella Valley is a rich, natural environment which always appreciates a helping hand from its caring citizens. If I had known the Living Desert was patiently waiting for me to guide those hands through one of their projects, I would have jumped on the opportunity even sooner.