WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach Zoo animal keeper Brooke Sexton is reflecting on the headline-making trek she and fellow zoo employees recently made to promote public awareness of conservation and wild habitat preservation.
Known as an outspoken advocate for wildlife, Sexton is credited as being the person who helped start the trek turned annual tradition, for zookeepers and employees at Palm Beach Zoo.
“The idea was launched in 2015 when Carlton Ward Jr. was speaking at our Conservation Leadership Lecture Series,” said Sexton. “Our CEO Andrew Aiken asked me if I would like to help raise awareness for the Wildlife Corridor by organizing our own trek. Let’s just say he didn’t have to ask twice.”
Inspired by the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, Sexton along with a former zoo employee, Traci Schillinger, scouted out the Ocean to Lake trail. They were ecstatic to find a trek where conservation warrior Carlton Ward Jr. had not been.
“It’s one of the most diverse trails I’ve ever seen. It has everything from sand dunes to scrublands to rivers and heavily forested areas. You see everything from bear and coyote tracks to signs of the elusive Florida panther.”
Forty-three Florida panthers were killed in Florida last year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the wild population count for the Florida panther is between 120 and 180.
“Each year is different and you see different animals. This year was super dry and we saw an alligator on the path which we had not seen before. That was pretty cool.”
The 63-mile, 4-day trek from Lake Okeechobee to Hobe Sound Beach is no easy feat. Sexton says it wouldn’t hurt to walk around with a 25-pound backpack to prepare for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“A lot of people don’t even know this trail exists, so I am happy that I am playing a role in spreading knowledge. It’s not an easy course, it’s for people that are a little bit more experienced, but you can opt to do a day, two days or the entire thing.”
Sexton is happy trek participation has grown over the past two years and is looking forward to more growth in the future.
“Conservation is my life. People leave the trek with a new appreciation for wildlife and a new understanding of what these animals go through. Knowing that I played a role in creating animal ambassadors for saving species means everything to me.”
Anyone interested in joining next year’s Zoo Trek can email firstname.lastname@example.org.