Volunteering at a zoo opened this legacy donor’s eyes to the wildlife wonders of Africa

Jane Fouser

Jane Fouser

Chicago native Jane Fouser developed her fascination with animals through frequent childhood visits to the Lincoln Park Zoo. She remembers wanting to volunteer there at a young age. After attending college and working in Michigan for several years, Jane returned to Chicago for an additional master's degree and still hoping to volunteer at the zoo.

After beginning her working life as a special education teacher, Jane eventually changed course to pursue a career in financial services. She took a job in a bank, trained in management and enjoyed a successful career as a manager in a financial software company.

Her wish to volunteer at the zoo finally came true after retirement. Jane joined Lincoln Park Zoo's Docent Program and also volunteered with the zoo's epidemiologist, Dr. Dominic Travis. It was here that her passion for Africa ignited. As a docent, she obtained extensive information about the animals, many of which were African species. Volunteering for Dr. Travis, Jane assisted on projects related to chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe National Park and to mountain gorillas with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in Rwanda.

"What a wonderful opportunity to work for Dr. Travis," Jane recalls. "He is a natural teacher, and I learned so much."

It was the early 2000s when the worldwide population of mountain gorillas hovered at about 600. Thanks to AWF's work with partners in the area, the mountain gorilla population now is estimated to be more than 880. Dr. Travis worked to correlate specific health issues for individual mountain gorillas—respiratory, gastrointestinal and so on—with death incidence. This allowed veterinarians to better decide when to intervene with an unhealthy gorilla and when to let nature take its course.

Making the most of her time

It was through these volunteer activities that Jane was also able to participate in the zoo's travel program. She traveled to Kenya and Tanzania with one of the zoo's experienced veterinarians and to Botswana with the senior veterinarian. Since then, she has also visited Uganda (to see mountain gorillas, naturally!), Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

"The animals that I have seen in Africa often exist nowhere else on the Earth, and it was exciting to be able to go from providing project assistance for these incredible animals to actually seeing them in the wild," Jane shares. "I am particularly intrigued when watching species with rich group behaviors, such as the elephants."

While many of her friends are spending their time in Europe or on cruises, Jane has added Madagascar and Mozambique to her wish list. And although Africa is her primary love, she is planning a trip to Patagonia this spring. She has also visited Central America; the Galapagos Islands; Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada, to see polar bears; and the Madeleine Islands to see harp seals.

"I want to make the most of my time while I am physically able and not spend my time on a floating hotel!" she exclaims.

"Africa is the most incredible continent on Earth," Jane says. "I think that anyone who has ever been there can't come back without feeling changed, without understanding that mankind really did start there. There is just something that feels right about Africa."

Jane had been introduced to AWF in the mid-1990s by another zoo volunteer. She attended a presentation given by AWF and, she says, "It clicked." With her zoo experience, her interest in Africa's wildlife had increased, as well as her knowledge of the threats to those animals. With AWF, she discovered an organization that was working to modify those very threats. Jane has been a member ever since.

She has also included AWF in her estate plan.

"I looked at what I worked all of my life to accumulate and where it should go when I no longer needed it," explains Jane, who doesn't have kids or grandkids. "The relatives will get something, but I want what's left to do some good. I want to pay it forward."

She adds: "The animals and people of Africa are unique, and that is why AWF's work is so important. Zoos provide an important conservation message to educate people living in other locations than Africa. However, AWF provides programs to save the animals still in their natural habitats."

You, too, can follow in Jane's footsteps by supporting AWF with a gift in your estate plan. Contact Jessica Moes at 202 939 3322 or legacygifts@awf.org to learn how you can make preserving Africa's wildlife part of your legacy.

Federal Tax ID Number: 52-0781390