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Northwest Missouri State University


Alumni Spotlight

    Aug. 31, 2016

    Wild about ecology: Zach Hutchinson working to preserve, educate

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    This story appears in the fall 2016 edition of the Northwest Alumni Magazine. To view a digital copy of the magazine in its entirety, click here.

    Zach Hutchinson ’12 can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t interested in wildlife, and today he’s using his passion for ecology to educate others.

    His interest in wildlife was innate, Hutchinson says, while he grew up watching popular conservationists like Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin and Mark O’Shea on television.

    “They all were really big, and it made wildlife more accessible to a small, Midwest community child who didn’t get to experience those types of things,” he said.

    A native of Ogallala, Nebraska, near the northeast tip of the Colorado border, Hutchinson carried his interests into a career that, in a few years, has allowed him to study ecology further and interact with varieties of species.

    Zach Hutchinson prepares to band a Williamson's Sapsucker as part of his research with Audubon Rockies.
    Zach Hutchinson prepares to band a Williamson's Sapsucker as part of his research with Audubon Rockies. (Submitted photo)

    Presently, he is a community naturalist at Audubon Rockies, in Casper, Wyoming, a regional office of the National Audubon Society that works toward conservation for bird populations.

    Hutchinson works with the community to educate people about restoring bird populations and current issues affecting bird species. Each week, he leads 20 to 30 volunteers to collect data about birds’ migration patterns, productivity and survival.

    “This type of work is important to help reestablish balance and to help educate future generations of what the current balances are and finding better methods,” Hutchinson said. “That’s the thing about science, it’s never perfected. We’re always looking for the next best method and that’s what we’re preparing our youth to do.”

    Hutchinson transferred to Northwest as a sophomore after learning about the new Dean L. Hubbard Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and sharing an excitement about the University’s commitment to the sciences. 

    After completing his bachelor’s degree in biology with a zoology emphasis, he joined Gator Country in Beaumont, Texas, as a zoologist and educator. Hutchinson taught alligator conservation and safety in addition to capturing and removing live alligators.

    During one harrowing removal call, Hutchinson and a partner moved two nine-foot alligators from an eight-foot deep, mud-slicked burrow where they were protecting their nest of eggs. Hutchinson also worked with the largest living alligator in the state on a daily basis.

    “Right out of school I had the opportunity of a lifetime for someone who was always interested in crocodilians,” Hutchinson said, adding he had chances to work with hundreds of alligators, venomous snakes, large constrictors and other species. “So right out of the gate I was doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.”

    When Gator Country attendance slowed in the fall, Hutchinson taught chemistry to at-risk students at a local high school.

    In 2013, Hutchinson seized a new opportunity and became director of education at The Science Zone in Casper. The museum was revamping its education program and Hutchinson saw a new fit with the knowledge he acquired at Northwest.

    Hutchinson helped boost attendance at the museum, and many of the school teachers who brought students there followed him when he transitioned to the Audubon Rockies last year.

    “Having a strong science background from a school like Northwest that is so supportive of the science program, I was prepared in such a way that I could go in and do education,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve always had a somewhat charismatic personality, so that makes it easy when you can have fun with kids and add some emotion and you can connect with them a little bit better.”


    For more information, please contact:

    Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
    mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

    Northwest Missouri State University
    215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468