March 1, 2021
The First Gentleman of Wildlife
First Gentleman Marlon Reis Shares How Early Visits to Denver Zoo Fueled His Passion and Advocacy for Animals and Wildlife Conservation
As part of Denver Zoo’s 125th anniversary celebration, we’re inviting distinguished members of our community to share their experiences with the Zoo, and viewpoints on animal care, wildlife conservation and more. Noted animal lover Marlon Reis started advocating for animal welfare and the natural world long before his husband, Governor Jared Polis, took office in 2019. We chatted with the First Gentleman about his passion for animals, how he hopes to influence policy to benefit wildlife, and why he believes zoos inspire future generations of conservation champions.
What draws you to nature and wildlife?
I’m inspired by how plants and animals have worked together to shape the Earth throughout history. It’s extraordinary that nature still has so many secrets and treasures to uncover, and discovery is ongoing. We have to protect that mystery that makes life so worth living.
Why is animal welfare and wildlife conservation so deeply important to you?
I’m a fan of planet Earth and believe we’ve entered a time in human history where we’re the dominant species. We’re also the only species on Earth that really has a choice about the impact we’re going to have on wildlife and the environment. So, I think there’s a degree of accountability when the scales of power are so completely tipped in our favor. It comes down to a couple simple questions: Why wouldn’t we choose the option of treading lightly and doing the least harm we can? Why wouldn’t we work to minimize the negative affects of human industry on other species of animals? When an animal goes extinct, it’s gone forever. That kind of finality demands that we think about the natural world before we build our cars and buildings, or plant our fields for food. We have a responsibility to Earth.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing wildlife locally and globally?
I’m very interested about how we as humans are negatively impacting animals and wildlife, and what motivates the need for conservation. And I think what we’re really talking about are the human-caused factors of climate change and biodiversity loss. A lot of what we do as modern humans touches every aspect of nature; from the products we consume to how we get our energy. We’re constantly expanding—there’s more and more of us—and we need to consider how what we’re doing is fragmenting habitats and causing animals to change the way they live in the environment.
What do you hope to achieve during your time as First Gentleman?
I went into being First Gentleman with the idea that animals should be part of the conversation before any major policy decision is made, whether it’s at the corporate or governance level. What would be incredible for me is to introduce that vocabulary into that conversation, and make it standard to talk about animals and how what we’re doing as people impacts them. It’s our responsibility to think about animals and plan what we do around animals in a way that does as little harm as possible. We need to think about animals as individuals and not renewable in a way. When they’re gone, they’re gone, and animals are part of what makes life so wonderful on the planet.
How did visiting Denver Zoo as a child—and now with your own children—inspire your love for animals?
Zoo visits and my passion for wildlife are inextricable. I had a natural inclination to love animals as a kid, and going to the Zoo made it all real. You could read about animals in a book and then actually go to the Zoo to have a multi-sensory experience. I don’t think there’s any replacement for that. It was absolutely a big part of why I became an advocate.
Why do you think zoos are so important to inspiring future generations to save wildlife?
You naturally care about things that you can see and touch and hear. When things become real to you, it makes it possible to care for them on another level. And the converse is true, too. If you never get a chance to see animals the way you would in a zoo, then it’s much easier to accept it they go extinct. Zoos are probably the first places people go to get exposed to wildlife. Then they carry that passion forward through their entire lives, and share it with their own children and grandchildren.
Denver Zoo is honored to collaborate with First Gentleman Marlon Reis, who is a passionate animal and wildlife advocate, on a series of live virtual events throughout the year. Marlon and the Zoo will take you behind the scenes to meet some of the Zoo’s 3,000 residents, and answer your questions about animal care and wildlife conservation in Colorado and beyond. Be sure to follow Denver Zoo and First Gentleman Marlon Reis on Facebook for the latest updates!
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