Conservation Center welcomes new baby giraffe and Sacred Heart students

A baby Rothschild giraffe, born in March at the LEO Zoological Conservation Center (LEO ZCC) in Greenwich, has garnered significant media attention, especially after she was named “Sandy Hope” to commemorate those lost in the tragic Newtown shooting.

While previously unknown to many in the region outside of Greenwich, educators and the wildlife conservation community, LEO ZCC has enjoyed a five-year educational relationship with Sacred Heart University through the school’s biology department. As a result, Sacred Heart biology majors have experienced opportunities to visit and work with the zoo’s inhabitants and professional staff through the department’s animal behavior, conservation and other undergraduate classes.

That relationship includes summer internships, job shadowing and class trips to the Conservation Center to study animal behavior and conservation and offers students not only chances to meet these creatures, but also opportunities to learn how to feed and care for their needs, said Sacred Heart biology professor Jennifer Mattei. The nonprofit Conservation Center concentrates its efforts on breeding rare species and educating the public about the need for habitat preservation.

“LEO ZCC, and its director, Marcella Leone, offer our students an extraordinary opportunity to learn how to study animal behavior and gain skills in developing field methods for behavioral observation and data collection in a more controlled setting,” Mattei said. “Students learn early on if they want a career in wildlife conservation and help conserve threatened and endangered species. Several students who have worked at the Conservation Center have gone on to veterinary school, and one SHU alum works full time for Marcella and now helps care for Sandy Hope.”

This summer, Sacred Heart is offering a new course based at LEO ZCC, entitled “Primate Behavior and Conservation: The Importance of Zoos.” This introductory course is open to majors, non-majors and advanced high school students.

“My personal goal, beyond protecting and learning as much as possible about the magnificent animals we’re privileged to care for, is to create as many future conservationists as possible, and raise awareness and funding to support efforts to protect and perpetuate these endangered species,” Leone stresses. “Some people are born animal people and may want to become veterinarians, which is terrific. But there also are numerous other less-traditional choices, such as research, field studies and working for state and government programs and departments such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We want students to be aware of those options as well.”

This year, the Conservation Center is offering “special-cause” programming to benefit Sandy Hook Elementary School. The center’s educational programs are open to other schools besides Sacred Heart

For more information about the Conservation Center and its programs, visit

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