My name is Kim Savino, and I am a teacher at an elementary school in Schaumburg, Illinois. I am currently enrolled in a graduate school program at Miami University, which is also affiliated with Brookfield Zoological Society and Project Dragonfly. The focus of my studies revolves around saving the monarch butterfly and doing everything I can to keep this invertebrate from becoming an endangered species. I plan to share what I learn through ongoing research and observations out in the field, within my own community to start, while spreading the word to neighboring communities, one city at a time. I hope to be able to share my knowledge and understanding, with people of all ages, giving presentations and hosting seminars throughout the United States, motivating others to be a part of the solution. This is a lifetime endeavor. It is my goal to ensure that this royal beauty continues to soar, completing its northern and southern migrations, as it has in years past.
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StartSeeingMonarchs.org officially came into existence in 2014, but unofficially I've been in training for this moment since I was a little girl.
While I’d like to think that I had a perfectly normal childhood, I’m really not sure if that’s how others would view it. As a kid, I spent a great deal of time sitting in the grass, searching for four-leaf clovers, picking the flowers that grew among the clover and making chains that went on forever. I climbed trees and walked along the river, spending a great deal of time on the wrong side of the fence. I couldn’t understand what purpose the fence served, as I felt there was so much to see and learn, down by the river’s edge. I spent many a weekend going to Lincoln Park Zoo with my dad, sitting in the grass and looking at my butterfly book, as I searched the pages to identify the butterflies that were in the gardens. I became a pro at catching butterflies with my fingers; I enjoyed observing them closely and then watching them fly away as I gently released them. When we’d go on vacation to my grandparents’ cabin in Minocqua, Wisconsin, my brother and I would jump out of the car and go in search of baby frogs in the grassy area, down by the lake. We’d take a leisurely romp through the forest, turning over every dead log we found, searching for salamanders and snakes. We were perfectly normal...or so I thought.
Fast forward to September of 2002…While in my first year of teaching, I came across an article in Creative Classroom (a publication for elementary school educators) that forever changed the way in which I teach. Little did I know that by taking the time to apply for the grant that I had placed on the corner of my desk, I would begin a journey of a different kind...something I was completely unprepared for.
On a cold, October evening, I came home from school with a throbbing headache…the worst I had ever experienced. As I lay on the couch with all of the lights turned off, I felt helpless; even the deafening silence that enveloped the room was paralyzing. If a pin had dropped, it would have been too loud. Just as I had succumbed to an early evening nap, something I never did, as there was always too much to do, the phone started to ring off the wall. I must have levitated three feet off the couch. I wanted to scream, to rip my head off of my body and make the excruciating, piercing pain go away. The phone finally stopped ringing, only to start back up, five seconds later. I slowly walked over to the phone, said, “Hello,” and laid back down on the couch, with the phone a good distance from my ear. The person on the other end talked for what seemed like forever about I don’t know what. To be honest, I didn’t really care. I was just thankful that the ringing had stopped. As incoherent as I was, somehow, I managed to catch, "...and you’re one of three winners out of over 2,000 applicants.” “I’m sorry...can you please repeat everything that you’ve just said” I asked the lady on the other end. Sounding like a total lunatic, I explained that I hadn’t been listening to a word that she had uttered, as I had a migraine headache and couldn’t focus. She was very apologetic and told me that she would call back the next day, but briefly explained that I had won the grant that I had applied for in September. For a brief moment, all pain disappeared. I couldn’t believe the news.
On November 22, 2002, I was flown to New York to accept the grant which would be the beginning of the school’s Traveling Zoo. When asked what the driving force was behind my grant proposal and how it was that I came up with the idea for such a program, I told a story from childhood, which I can recall vividly, to this day. It goes something like this...
When I was eleven years old, my family and I were vacationing in Minocqua, Wisconsin, where my grandparents had a cabin in the woods. One lazy afternoon, my dad and I decided to go down the road to scout out a milkweed patch that we had often drove past, but never taken the time to observe. Prepared with our insect containers and butterfly nets in hand, we were up to our necks in milkweed for the afternoon, and we couldn’t have been more content. This wasn’t our first romp with caterpillars and butterflies, by any means, but you never would have known it, had you seen us. By the end of the afternoon, we had collected nearly 100 Monarch caterpillars of various sizes. Since it was our final day of vacation, we decided to bring the caterpillars back to Chicago, making sure that we had plenty of milkweed to last the ride home. (It’s important to note that at that time, Monarchs were everywhere. No matter where we went or what we did, Monarchs were present. They were so common that they just became part of what one expected to see. They were kind of the backdrop or wallpaper for all of nature. I guess you might say that we took the Monarch for granted, never thinking for a second that forty years from that point in time, the Monarch would be fighting for its life.)
After the long, seemingly endless drive home, the first thing I did was check to make sure that all of the caterpillars were okay. We set the habitats up on the dining room table – isn’t that where everyone puts caterpillars? – and I went down the street to the vacant lot to get some fresh milkweed. Every day, it was my job to clean out the feces and get fresh milkweed. It wasn’t a job, though, it was my pleasure.
Several days went by before our first caterpillar made its chrysalis. Each and every day, we awoke to find several more chrysalises. We were never around to see any of the caterpillars make their chrysalises, as it seemed that they liked to do this when no one was watching. “What now?” I asked my dad. “Just watch.” As chrysalises continued to be spun, my dad hung them from our dining room curtains. Again, normal dining room behavior, right? “What now?” I asked. “Just watch.” A good two weeks passed by before I started to notice that the chrysalises were changing color. “What’s happening, dad? Are the Monarchs’ okay?” “They’re fine,” he assured me. “Just watch.” This time, however, my dad said that I should make sure to check back every hour or so. And so, I did. That afternoon turned out to be one of the most memorable days of my life. As the newly hatched Monarchs slipped out of their chrysalises and climbed to the top of the curtains, I couldn’t help but think that they looked like little, helpless babies. However, that all changed in the blink of an eye, as they soon had their crumpled, wet wings all pumped up, flapping rhythmically to dry out. Within minutes, the helpless-looking butterflies had changed to the powerful, majestic beauty that I had come to know and love. I had never seen anything so alluring in my life. “What now?” I asked, once again. Only this time, I was met with “Go open the three front doors, and I’ll open the back door.” Within minutes, the butterflies instinctively knew what to do. Our dining room was filled with the flapping wings of butterflies, as they sensed the smells of the great outdoors. It wasn’t long before they each flew out of our house. Where they were headed, I wasn’t quite sure at the time, but still, I was in awe. It was a humbling moment that made me realize at such a young age, that there was so much more about life that I didn’t understand. The Monarch definitely grabbed a hold of me, that day, and has stayed with me throughout my life. Such a small little creature provided an experience that made me want to know more and ultimately became the driving force behind the idea of having a zoo in our school.
Two weeks after accepting the grant for the zoo, I purchased our first animal, a parrot named Gracie, and 13 years later, our zoo continues to thrive. This past summer, however, I decided to go back to school, entering an advanced inquiry program in biological science at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. I decided that I didn’t have enough on my plate and thought that writing fifteen page research papers sounded like a good time. In all seriousness, when I heard about this program, it peaked my interest from the start. One would have thought I won the lottery, when I received my letter of acceptance. “Alright! Two-and-a-half years of non-stop research! Can’t wait!” Upon learning that I would be completing research and observations specifically related to an area of my own personal interest in the field of conservation science, there wasn’t a question in my mind as to what the subject would be. I knew. The memories of plentiful Monarchs throughout my childhood are just that...memories. Very few Monarchs pass through my garden, and when I walk through the forest preserves, I’m lucky if I see one or two Monarchs flutter by.
So, here we are, standing strong, after thirteen years of running our school’s zoo, an endeavor for which the Monarch butterfly is primarily responsible for helping to bring to life. With information being brought to the forefront daily, about the plight of the Monarch butterfly and the declining populations throughout the United States, I’ve made it my mission to do everything that I can to save this remarkable invertebrate. I plan to do whatever it takes to ensure that the Monarch continues to thrive. I refuse to let my smile become extinct, and hope that you’ll decide to join me in this effort.
Now that you know why I’m so passionate about the Monarch butterfly, it’s time to identify the reasons as to why you should care, and why the mission to save the Monarch from becoming extinct should be something that you care about, as well.
The Monarchs' dwindling population is a sign that all is not right with the world. Butterflies are on the decline due to humans reducing the number of pollinators by destroying their habitats and migratory nectar through the misuse of herbicides and pesticides. Habitat loss, deforestation, and climate change are also major contributing factors.
Monarchs pollinate a wide variety of flowers and plants along their migratory paths that might otherwise not get pollinated. The Monarchs pass over areas where lack of pollinators are a major issue.
Protecting the Monarch butterfly saves other pollinators who share the same habitat, which ultimately keeps the foods (fruits and vegetables) we love within our reach. All living things are connected: when we lose one species, it affects another.
There are steps we can take now to protect the Monarchs' future. When we start seeing Monarchs, we’ll know that we’re on the right track to building a better world for future generations to enjoy. People and nature must learn to peacefully co-exist, for one cannot survive without the other.