A Trek to the Tundra / Post by Katie Billing of Polar Bears International
At 20 years old, I have a vision for my future, and that is following in the footprints of great scientists and zoologists. I aspire to create a difference in the world of conservation. My name is Katie Billing, but my friends, family, professors, and the Internet world know me as Wildlife Katie.
I was born and raised in a small, far west suburb of Chicago along the Fox River Valley. The wildlife around me included white tailed deer, raccoon, opossum, chipmunks, squirrels, coyotes, foxes, several native birds including the red tailed hawk, and a bison farm. I grew up raising baby birds that had fallen out of nests, catching frogs in window wells, healing hummingbirds with broken wings, playing with pet field mice, observing chipmunk behavior from my dad’s deer stand, and spending endless hours watching The Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet.
I dreamed of being like Steve Irwin, traveling the world, while educating people about animals. Little did I know, my dreams would become my reality when I took Steve Irwin’s advice to the heart, “Whatever you want to do in this world it is achievable, the most important thing that I have found that perhaps you could use, is to be passionate, and enthusiastic in the direction that you choose in life, and you’ll be a winner.”
Passion and enthusiasm remain as the two driving forces that inspire me to follow my dreams. I began my journey through conservation leadership with the youth volunteer program at Brookfield Zoo. I find myself today, as a seasonal zoo employee of five years, a dedicated conservation leader, and a passionate zoology student. Brookfield Zoo has changed my life. The zoo provided me with experiences that have since grown into a network of discovery. My summers as a youth volunteer provided me with the opportunity of public speaking, connecting with zoo animals, and inspiring conservation leadership. Today I carry those skills with me as I become an ambassador for wildlife conservation.
In 2008, the zoo chose me to travel to Canada and study polar bears with Polar Bears International Leadership Camp. This experience became the launching pad that ignited my dedication to pursue the bear’s plight. I spent a week in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, living on a tundra buggy and observing wild bears with top scientists in the field. The week ended too soon, but the passion never stopped. I created a personal goal to use my knowledge and research of endangered animals to advocate for biodiversity and empower people to make a difference through conservation leadership. PBI supports my goal and has since provided me with incredible opportunities to connect with Inuit people, polar bear keepers from zoos across the world, companies dedicated to lowering carbon dioxide emissions, leading animal conservation scientists, and meeting young adults inspired by older camp generations.
My latest PBI introduction has been with explore.org, a company with a mission, “To connect people with extraordinary cultures and ideas, to inspire lifelong learning, and to cultivate the spirit of compassionate giving.” After talking with some dedicated employees of explore.org I was asked to join them on a journey back to Churchill, and this time I have the chance to take you with me.
Four years ago, I locked eyes with a bear right outside my window. Looking into those brown eyes, I saw the bear’s soul. I saw the sacrifices the mothers make for their young, the sparring males showing dominance, the beauty of the northern lights, and the desperation to survive the melting ice. I want to share this connection I have made with the great white bears of the Arctic. I want you to join me on this journey and see life through my chunky winter boots. Come embark on an adventure to Churchill to see the majestic white bears everybody is talking about.