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Local zoologist encourages Colorow students to do what they love

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By Deborah Swearingen

Students at Colorow Elementary learned about animals of all sorts on Dec. 6 when Dave Johnson visited the school.

Johnson, a zoologist at the Denver Zoo, conservationist and self-proclaimed “animal nerd,” shared his experiences working with animals in Colorado and across the world, and showed photos and treasures from his travels.

The animal lover, who moved to Colorado to work at the zoo in 1998, also is an author who has written several animal-related books for children. His books focus on the protection and passion it takes to save a species from extinction.

When he speaks to students, Johnson aims to explain the concept of conservation and to inspire kids to love animals, too. But above all, Johnson hopes to encourage kids to explore their passions.

“I was into animals even before I was in kindergarten,” he said. “I like to tell the kids that you can do a job that you love.

“If you’re into stuff — if you’re into cars, if you’re into planes, if you’re into dancing, if you’re into sports — you can do those things and be happy in your work. And then it’s never like you have to go to work.”

The younger elementary school students listened to Johnson’s talk first, and most of his photos with elephants, rhinos and hippos — he works on the pachyderm team at the zoo — incited giggles, gasps and wide-eyed stares.

Throughout the presentation, Johnson asked the kids questions and passed out bracelets and T-shirts to each one who answered a question correctly.

Some youngsters struggled more than others when asked to explain what an endangered animal is. But first-grader Sophia Selko proved she had a firm grasp of the concept.

“Some elephants are so endangered people literally have to stand around them and guard them,” she said matter-of-factly.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.