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The meaning behind Bowling for Rhinos

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications

Photo: Dennis Dow.

Imagine coming face to face with a giraffe, waking up to a lion pride right outside your bedroom, or watching as a skilled veterinary team heals an injured rhino out in the field. Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy—one of the beneficiaries of the American Association of Zoo Keepers’ (AAZK) upcoming Bowling for Rhinos event—is home to many life-changing experiences that have strengthened the resolve of AAZK members to keep fighting for wildlife.

An injured rhino gets a helping hand thanks to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy field team. Photo: Dennis Dow.

Bowling for Rhinos offers an opportunity for you to join that fight. All funds raised from the event go directly to rhino conservation in four locations: Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (LWC) in Kenya; and Ujung Kulon, Bukit Barisan Selatan, and Way Kambas National Parks in Indonesia through the International Rhino Foundation.

Open to all to attend, this year’s Bowling for Rhinos event is coming up on Sun., Sept. 11, at the University of Washington HUB. Not a big bowler? The event also features a delicious dinner catered by Pecado Bueno, fabulous raffle prizes, the Sunday Night Football game (for avid football fans), and other great games including pool, ping pong and a video game room. Purchase tickets for Bowling for Rhinos (or simply make a donation) at

To help us understand the impact made by supporting this event, we interviewed Woodland Park Zoo keeper Norah Farnham and coordinator of volunteer engagement Julie Ann Barowski about their personal experiences visiting the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, including a recent trip this past spring.

Julie Ann Barowski (left) and Norah Farnham (right) pose with LWC co-founder Anna Merz.

Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ): Why do you visit Lewa?

Julie Ann Barowski (JAB): The animals! Seeing a crash of rhinos run across the savanna, watching an elephant so close that you can hear the sound of it tearing grass from the ground, or even watching a dung beetle struggle to roll its perfectly round ball uphill; there is nothing that compares to being there in Lewa and experiencing the wildlife in person. No matter how many times we go, every trip is different, and we experience and learn something new every day. 
Norah Farnham (NF): The Kenyan people are so warm and welcoming. We have been fortunate enough to make many friends there, and we love returning to visit them.

WPZ: What animals are protected and cared for by Lewa?

JAB: Since its inception in 1990, Lewa’s focus has been on protecting rhinos; this was the vision of Anna Merz who founded Lewa (then called Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary) along with the Craig family. It is home to both black and white rhinos, and because rhinos require so much land to successfully live on, they act as an umbrella species allowing the conservancy to protect a plethora of other wildlife. Roughly 15 percent of the world’s population of endangered Grevy’s zebras lives in the conservancy, and Lewa is home to over 70 other species of mammals including elephants, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs (just to name a few).

WPZ: Why is Lewa’s work important?

JAB: Lewa has a strong focus on community based conservation. They not only provide the security, medical care and other tools needed to protect animals, but they also support local schools, operate clinics, a women’s micro credit program, water conservation projects, and provide a variety of other support to the local community. An estimated 55,000 people directly benefit from Lewa’s development programs. The community is invested in helping protect wildlife because they directly benefit from the conservancy.

WPZ: Have you had any life changing experiences at Lewa?

JAB: Visiting a local school was incredibly humbling. The resources are sparse compared to what we’re used to in the U.S. On top of things we might typically think of schools being in need of such as more desks and more books, they have to consider many other things. For example, when most families don’t have electricity, you have to think about how much homework to assign since the students won’t have a lamp to work by. 
NF: It’s also amazing to think that many of the children we meet left their homes in the dark to walk as many as five miles to get to the school. Still, they are cheerful and eager to meet us and tell us about their dreams for the future. We were also awed by the experience of going on deployment with the rhino rangers at Borana Conservancy. We went to the rangers’ barracks and met and thanked all of them. Then, two got into our vehicle and we drove them to what seemed (to us) to be the middle of nowhere. They assumed their positions with rifles at the ready. As we drove away and left them, I was brought nearly to tears thinking of how they give up so much to help protect rhinos. They would stay awake all night in the spot we left them—in the rain and cold, with no fire, no conversation, nothing. They just need to blend into the landscape and watch for poachers. It’s truly awe inspiring.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

To learn more about how to take conservation action, visit the zoo’s conservation page and visit Woodland Park Zoo! Your time at the zoo is a chance to learn, care and join us in action—plus your zoo admission or membership supports our conservation mission.