Committed to sustainable conservation efforts worldwide, the San Diego Wildlife Alliance is an international, non-profit organization that works to protect endangered species.
Devoted to this mission is CEO Paul Baribault, whose organization also is committed to saving two threatened species — the Western Snowy Plover and California Least Tern — in Coronado.
Background with Walt Disney Studios
Baribault said his advocacy for conservation started during his 22-plus years of work at Walt Disney Studios.
While studying political science at Stanford University, Baribault started interning for Buena Vista International to see the business side of theatrical distribution within Walt Disney Studios.
He was hooked.
But in a way, he said he already had been “caught by Disney” as a child — his mom was a research librarian for the animation department at Disney before he was born.
His desire to work for Disney in some way, shape, or form was heightened by his role as an intern, which was experienced during one of Disney’s iconic eras— the release of “Lion King” in 1994.
“What a time to see Disney in the field,” Baribault said. “It was an amazing window of time to be there.”
Planting millions of trees
From intern, Baribault began working at Disney after graduating from Stanford in 1997.
As he worked with Disney leading strategic marketing campaigns, Baribault also got his MBA from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.
Although he began working on the business side, Baribault ended his career with Disney as the vice president and general manager of Disneynature, an independent film studio that specializes in nature documentary films for Walt Disney Studios.
He worked to pair the documentary “Earth” with the planting of millions of trees in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil.
This project sparked his long journey towards working on conservation efforts.
Commissioned by Jane Goodall
At one point, Baribault was put in a room with Jane Goodall, a noted primatologist, to work on a project with a chimpanzee movie.
Goodall looked Baribault in the eyes and said: “you have to do more.”
Commissioned by Goodall, Baribault understood the impact Disneynature had in presenting films that were not just movies, but movies that linked the public to the larger importance of conservation.
“I’ve often said if Jane asked anything of me, I’m going to have to say yes.”-Paul Baribault, CEO of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
“I’ve often said if Jane asked anything of me, I’m going to have to say ‘yes,’” Baribault said.
The zoo’s role in conservation
Flash forward to 2019.
When Baribault became the CEO of the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, he already had a toolbox of conservation knowledge in his back pocket.
“I had no idea I was on this amazing journey of understanding what conservation organizations do well, what they struggle with and what the challenges are with the conservation initiative,” Baribault said.
His business experience with a corporation and efforts with conservation pair perfectly in the role of CEO, he said.
Communicating with the public is one of Baribault’s largest goals.
“Audiences are trying to understand what our role of a zoo is today, and also what the role of a zoo is in conservation…We have an opportunity to answer both of those questions here.”-Paul Baribault, CEO of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
“You know, audiences are trying to understand what our role of a zoo is today, and also what the role of a zoo is in conservation,” Baribault said. “We have an opportunity to answer both of those questions here.”
Protecting threatened species in Coronado
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has eight global conservation hubs around the world, serving to assist in individualized conservation solutions for each strategic region.
The region home to San Diego is called the Southwest hub, which prioritizes local conservation efforts.
Putting that belief into practice, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance created a conservation program for the threatened Western Snowy Plover and endangered California Least Tern, which are both species that are facing habitat loss in San Diego County.
This has resulted in Naval Base Coronado and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton having protected areas for the Plover, which is small shorebird about the size of a sparrow, and the Tern, a natural sea bird.
“The Southwest hub…right here in San Diego is one of the most important hubs for us,” Baribault said. “We do a lot of tremendous work locally, whether it’s Desert Tortoises or the Plovers over on Coronado. We believe as an organization [that] to be a conservation organization, you have to focus on your backyard first.”
To have legitimacy in conservation efforts anywhere else, it is important to first take care of your own home, Baribault said.
Nacho Vilchis, the principle investigator for both the Plover and Tern projects, said that their work over the past 10 years on predator and habitat management on each base is giving both species the best chance to recover on their own.
“Both bases are a godsend to the species because their habitat is not what it used to be, Vilchis said. “Those are the few remaining, isolated, long stretches of beaches in Southern California where these two species can nest.”
The zoo’s support of the Navy
Baribault grew up in a Navy family.
His father was a Naval officer stationed in Washington D.C. and in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor.
Baribault said he grew up appreciating and celebrating the role of the military and what it means to serve.
“When I came down to San Diego I was blown away with the commitment of the larger community and the role that the military plays in the community,” Baribault said. “That’s one of the reasons I put a huge focus here on building up our offerings to the military —what we can do to support families when loved ones are deployed.”
Editor’s Note: The last paragraph of this story has been corrected to delete a word that was inadvertently included during the editing process. We regret the error.