RMAG Guest Night at the Zoo – ‘Rewilding’ Ourselves with Dr. Scott Sampson

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About 200 RMAG members & guests enjoyed a fabulous evening at the Denver Zoo on June 2nd as part of the AAPG ACE 2015 social program.  As the sun set under cloudless skies, guests wandered the zoo grounds to the low rumble of lounging lions and sharp snorts from a submerged hippo.  We sipped libations and mingled beneath fluttering Nepalese prayer flags in the El Pomar Village while a young elephant entertained us with his stick-juggling antics.  As dusk approached, the red maned wolves became active, trotting around like long-legged, over-sized foxes (even catching an unsuspecting bird who ventured too close!).

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We gathered for our own tasty dinner of wild guinea hen under a large covered cabana at the Conoco Zoo Gardens.  Elmo Brown and Sue Cluff handed out well-deserved RMS 2014 awards over dessert and then we welcomed our keynote speaker, Dr. Scott Sampson to the stage.  “Dr. Scott” is a dinosaur paleontologist (he ‘chases’ carnivorous theropods from Utah to Madagascar), chief curator for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and host/science advisor for the Emmy-nominated PBS children’s series Dinosaur Train.  He is also a passionate advocate for reconnecting ourselves and our children to nature with a recently published book entitled, “How to Raise a Wild Child – The Art & Science of Falling in Love with Nature”.

It seemed appropriate that a lone peacock yowled from the darkness as Scott began his talk on the “Rewilding Revolution – Reconnecting Humanity & Nature in the 21st Century”.  Scott explained the term ‘rewilding’ in more familiar terms (i.e., re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone Nat’l Park) but also in less familiar terms of ‘rewilding’ our urban habitat, ourselves and our children.  He pointed out that kids today spend a fraction of their time outdoors (only 7 minutes/day by one study) compared to the hours of unstructured, outdoor time our generation enjoyed as children.  This is a tragic loss for today’s kids that can lead to depression, loss of creativity, obesity and other learning/physical/emotional challenges.

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How do we fix it?  Well, Scott suggested multiple strategies within our family & community structures.  Besides occasional wilderness experiences (not always easy to do), we can enhance our urban parks and schools with more natural spaces and more native plants & grasses which invite biodiversity (more native critters).  Then we need to carve out unstructured time for our kids to play (get dirty) and observe the wonders of the outdoors (everything from bugs to birds, bushes, and trees).  Let our kids wander (within reason) and let them ask questions (without giving them instant answers).  Let them be curious and adventurous – better to develop a healthy sense of risk before their teenage years!!

Finally, Scott emphasized the importance of context – putting the present world into the context of deep time (i.e., geologic time) and deep space (the universe). So that we and our kids appreciate the continuity & scale of our journey from cosmic dust to microbes to mammals, and our dependence on the natural world. Simply put, we need to re-establish our emotional connection to nature.  Armed with that, our children (and their children) can hope to solve the challenges of a growing population and related strain on our planet, not just to sustain life but to thrive into the future!

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Scott’s inspirational message to his kids on Dinosaur Train is, “Get outside, get into nature and make your own discoveries”.  That message really resonates with me as a geoscientist, explorationist and parent – how about you?

You can get more tips from Scott’s book, “How to Raise a Wild Child”, available in bookstores or from RMAG at the June luncheon.

Many thanks to our awesome corporate sponsor, Conoco Philips and our co-sponsors, PDC, Anschutz and Cirque for their support, and to Carrie & Hannah at RMAG for making this happen.  Hope we can do it again sometime!!

By Jim Emme

Jim Emme is an RMAG Member and Executive VP at Endeavour International Corp.