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Brookfield zoo keepers Dawn Sohr and Amy Coons came to the Earth Day wine tasting at Craft Chicago to show their support for the Lincoln Park chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers. Proceeds of the benefit help the group purchase and protect acres of rainforest in the Guanacaste, Costa Rica Conservation Area.

Chicago zookeepers toast the rainforest on Earth Day

by Megan Dawson
Apr 23, 2014


Megan Dawson/MEDILL

Marisa Elizalde, a keeper of African animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo, has been organizing the Earth Day wine tasting fundraising for the past four years.


Megan Dawson/MEDILL

A Craft Chicago wine connoisseur pours a single ounce of wine for each participant to taste on Earth Day 2014 in Lincoln Park.

Animal experts from Chicago area zoos toasted Earth Day at a wine tasting fundraiser on Tuesday to help protect animals and land in threatened ecosystems. The proceeds from the tasting will purchase and protect acres of rainforest in the Guanacaste of Costa Rica.
The Lincoln Park Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers hosted the wine tasting at Craft Chicago in Lincoln Park on Tuesday and invited other zookeepers as well as conservation-minded members of the public to join.

“I thought it would be a nice thing to do for a fundraiser,” said Marisa Elizalde, the Lincoln Park chapter liaison and organizer of the tasting for the past four years. “Who doesn’t like wine?”

Each year the Lincoln Park chapter uses the proceeds from the Earth Day wine tasting to purchase and protect land through Save Nature’s Adopt an Acre program. This year, over $500 raised will help the zookeepers purchase and protect acres of rainforest in the Guanacaste of Costa Rica. In previous years, the group has purchased acres of land in Brazil, Cost Rica, Panama and Namibia through the program.

“We partner up to help critical habitats all over the world, saving everything from birds to reptiles to mammals,” said Elizalde, who works with African animals at Lincoln Park Zoo including rhinos, giraffes, meerkats and hippos.

“Save Nature recognized us at a conference last year as a group that has donated a lot of money to their cause from the zookeeper community,” said Anthony Nielsen, lead keeper of the lion house and seal pool at Lincoln Park Zoo and president of the Lincoln Park group. “We have formed a great partnership with them,” Nielsen said.

For $25, attendees enjoyed an hour-long tasting of five different wines selected by one of Craft’s wine connoisseurs. From Cava to Cabernet, guests wafted the aromas of each libation and paired it to a meal to compliment the notes and flavors.

“I think it’s really fascinating, I’ve never been to this kind of event,” said Dawn Sohr, a visiting keeper from Brookfield Zoo. “We’ve been learning a lot about different things wine growers are doing to be more green or to be more in touch with the earth, and it’s really neat seeing how the wine tastes after doing all that work,” Sohr said.

After five rounds of tasting, the guests were free to pour a more generous helping of their favorite wine and mingle. Craft staff served crackers, cheese and grapes for the Earth Day bunch, which happily chatted and joked among each other.

Amy Coons, who works with primates at Brookfield Zoo, enjoyed the Cava sparkling wine the most but said the entire selection was diverse and very tasty. “I love it,” Coons said. “We are learning a lot about how to pair wines and food, and which one is served with which course.”

“I think the wines are really good tonight,” Nielsen said. “I enjoyed the red wines more than the white, but I usually end up purchasing a couple bottles to take home.”

Although there are currently only six members of the chapter at Lincoln Park Zoo, there are 2,800 members internationally of all levels of zoo staff from directors, curators and veterinarians to animal health technicians, volunteers and students.

The organization works to educate zoo staff members about the most modern and current techniques of captive exotic animal care, provide a resource for animal care professionals and promote zoos and aquariums as cultural establishments, according to the organization’s website.

Next year, the Lincoln Park chapter plans to continue its spirited Earth Day fundraiser with a small tweak, according to Nielsen, a 14-year veteran at Lincoln Park Zoo.

“This year, we actually talked about doing a craft beer to switch it up, so maybe we’ll do a craft beer tasting next year,” Nielsen said.