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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

For the love of elephants and dolphins: In lieu of birthday presents, Emma Agee, 10, requests $10 donations to Wildlife Conservation Society

Emma Agee, who turned 10 in Spokane on Jan. 25, lists elephants and dolphins as tops among her favorite animals. She’s loved them since kindergarten, so instead of a birthday party or gifts this year, she asked her parents if she could somehow help wildlife.

That led to a GoFundMe, asking family and friends to donate $10 to the Wildlife Conservation Society in her honor instead of her receiving physical gifts. The fundraiser started near her birthday and will continue this month. Emma became inspired after a weekend trip Jan. 22-23 to Portland, said her mom, Alyssa Agee.

“She went to visit the Oregon Zoo in Portland and saw the elephants there, and just out of the blue, she said, ‘Mom, this is what I really want to do for my birthday. I want to donate money to help the wildlife – how can we do that ? – instead of getting presents,’ and that’s what sparked this whole thing,” Agee said.

Emma has a future planned around animals, especially to support them being in more natural habitats. “I’ve been interested in animals for pretty long, and I’m planning right now to start a zoo when I’m older,” Emma said.

She’ll get to see more wildlife during a family vacation to the Central Park Zoo, including elephants.

Long before the fundraiser, her parents Bryan and Alyssa Agee had told Emma to plan for a family tradition, that at the double-digit age, she gets to go with just Mom and Dad on a trip. Her two younger brothers stay home until one of them gets a similar trip for the double-digit year.

The family is paying their costs to go to New York later in February. Emma hopes to report back with photos to donors about how the zoo animals are doing. All of the GoFundMe dollars raised will go to the society, she said.

Emma has a $500 goal for the fundraiser.

The Central Park Zoo, a 6.5-acre site, is part of an integrated system of four zoos and one aquarium managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Emma, who is in fourth grade at the private Windsong School, read the annual report for the wildlife society, her mom said.

Alyssa Agee said the family also researched the nonprofit, and they know a portion of the society’s funds goes to the zoos in Central Park and Brooklyn, and to the region’s aquarium. However, a majority of the society’s budget is used globally for conservation efforts and protection of endangered species, she said.

The agency also uses funding for programs to support elephants’ habitat, her mom added.

“For Emma, it’s a great combination of the two. She wanted to be able to go see the actual zoo. One of the conversations we have quite often as a family is what are the benefits of a zoo but also how do we make sure that a zoo is a good place for animals to be?

“Emma wanted to find a zoo that we could support and that we felt good about their treatment of animals.”

Emma agreed. “I was worried if the enclosures are big enough. In many zoos, they are kind of cooped up, and they’re not in full habitats that they’re supposed to be living in in the wild.”

The family wanted to ensure that the funds go primarily to their programs to take care of the animals and global conservation efforts. Alyssa Agee said that from work in the nonprofit sector, she watches how much funding goes toward administration work.

“So we’re pretty happy that in their annual report, their admin budget is only about 10% of their overall budget, which is pretty decent for a NPO of that size.”

Her daughter’s love of dolphins was part of an earlier plan, before New York, because Emma wanted to see Winter, the bottlenose dolphin brought to Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium at 2 months. After she had become entangled in a crab trap line, the dolphin lost her tail.

Winter became famous after receiving a prosthetic tail replacement and lived 16 years until her death in November from a gastrointestinal abnormality.

The 2011 film “Dolphin Tale,” starring Harry Connick Jr. and Ashley Judd, is based on Winter’s story, as was the 2014 sequel “Dolphin Tale 2.” Winter appeared in both films as herself.

Hearing the news about Winter, the family decided to travel to New York instead to see elephants.

“It is a little sad that we just missed visiting Winter,” Alyssa Agee said. “That’s a rescue facility, as well, so Emma cares about rescuing animals, that’s for sure.”

Emma and her parents plan to spend time visiting the zoo and aquarium in New York.

“I think it’s important that you know where you put your dollars, and since we’re asking our friends and family to donate to this cause, we want to make sure it’s a worthy endeavor – so personal visibility – we’re going to take pictures of Emma at the zoo, and we get to report back to anyone who donated to the fundraiser.”