Driven by a cross-country opportunity to combine her passions and make a difference, Dr. Cynthia Stringfield embarked on a new chapter in her life when she moved from California to Florida in 2019. Today at ZooTampa, driven by a deep-rooted belief in the power of education, Dr. Stringfield dedicates her work to instilling a sense of wonder and appreciation for wildlife within younger generations, fostering a connection that will shape the future of conservation.
What are your main responsibilities as a zoo veterinarian and conservationist, and how do they relate to children and families visiting the zoo?
Dr. Cynthia Stringfield: I oversee the Animal Health, Conservation and Education aspects of the zoo. I also get to directly care for our zoo animals, in addition to Florida wildlife that may need us, for example Florida panthers and manatees. As a member of the executive team, I am a part of ensuring an overall great guest experience for all our visitors.
As a parent and former educator, I’m proud to be a part of a team that connects children and families with wildlife in fun and immersive ways. It is our goal that they leave wanting to be part of our mission of caring for animals and the planet we all share.
What role does the zoo play in species conservation and endangered animal recovery?
Dr. Cynthia Stringfield: ZooTampa has a comprehensive local and global conservation program called ZT Saves. In Florida, our major focus is on the Florida manatee. The David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center, established in 1991, is the first non-profit and one of only three active critical care centers for sick or injured manatees in the state. We are a leader in Florida manatee conservation.
We also provide care for injured or ill Florida panthers and bears. In our Florida Wilds area, we have comprehensive education programs focused on coexisting with wildlife in our state. We also are part of other native species recovery programs, like the indigo snake and striped newt.
Globally, we are partners with a multitude of conservation organizations connected with the species who live at the zoo; for example, African elephants, rhino, penguin … the list goes on and on.
Finally, as an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited member, something only about 10% of zoos are, we are part of a bigger network of Species Survival Programs focusing on increasing zoo populations of species that are in trouble in the wild.
In what ways does the zoo engage and educate children about conservation?
Dr. Cynthia Stringfield: ZooTampa’s education programs include zoo camps, “Toddler Tuesdays” and field trips for school children, as well as special experiences like our Signature Encounters and Wildlife Connections, individualized experiences with our animals and the professionals that care for them.
We also are one of the few zoos to have a school at the zoo! We have an Early Childhood Education program called “Zoo School” for ages 1-preK children. And, as always, it lifts my heart when I see adults reading the signs to their children, or children interacting with our child-friendly graphics, like our new installation in our Florida Wilds area about the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
Your career move across the country to ZooTampa from Santa Barbara Zoo also marked a shift in your physical closeness to your son (27) and daughter (23). How does this season of motherhood look?
Dr. Cynthia Stringfield: Oh wow, for me, this part was and is still so hard! Parenting has its challenges at all ages but this one involved letting go as I am very close with my children. I knew that part of raising them to be responsible and happy adults involved me backing out at some point, but actually doing it was quite the adjustment!
Because both of my kids decided to attend community college instead of going away to a university, we were all still living together. So, we decided together that instead of my kids leaving home to go to college, I would leave home and pursue an incredible opportunity across the country!
Relating to them as adults, supporting them in their higher education and career goals, and navigating that aspect of life are now my new roles as their mother. It’s a big transition, but I’m excited to see all the hard work I put into raising them now show itself in the adults they have become and the goals they have. I go back every few months, and they come to Florida routinely too!
Do you have any heartwarming stories that demonstrate the impact that your work has had on your son and daughter? Please share!
Dr. Cynthia Stringfield: In addition to working at the Santa Barbara Zoo before coming to ZooTampa, I was a college professor for 15 years in a zoo animal career program at a college with a zoo on campus (Moorpark College). My daughter chose to go to that college and just graduated (and was accepted at UCLA!). She was talking fondly about when as a child, she had to come hang out in my office or classroom or the zoo when we had child care challenges, and that she thinks now she wants to be a college professor.
My son has similar memories as well as from the Los Angeles Zoo where I worked when he was little, and also talks about memories from going to Zoo Camp there. He is now an instructor in an EMT program at a sister community college and works the night shift in the local emergency room while continuing to go to school.
They both care deeply for animals, people and the planet, and I think those experiences helped create that. Juggling motherhood with my career was a challenge, as many of your readers know I’m sure! It means a great deal to me to see now that they would not have wanted it any other way.
Are there any new moms or babies at ZooTampa now?
Dr. Cynthia Stringfield: We have two new red wolf pups that are with the parents and their year-old pups from last year! We also have a new nyala and red duiker (African antelope) and our two newest orangutans that are about 2 years old now and so fun to watch. We have a pregnant rhino that is due any day too!
Originally published in July 2023 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.