'Life in the Dark' zoo researcher works to protect San Antonio's water supply

Dr. Dante Fenolio is SA Zoo's top conservationist, researcher

SAN ANTONIO – In a little-seen section away from the crowds at the San Antonio Zoo, Dr. Dante Fenolio pops the lid on tanks containing the best indicators of San Antonio's drinking water supply's health. 

Fenolio is the top conservationist and researcher at the zoo. It's a position that didn't exist up until a few years ago, when zoo officials decided to do more than just show animals to the public. They also wanted to protect the animals and their environment. 

In Fenolio's many work travels around the world, he also managed to write a book that sheds light on creatures few have ever seen.

"Life in the Dark" is a virtual dictionary of animals that are deeply hidden in the earth's waters.

"There is no bigger compliment that I could possibly receive than to know that I am getting kids excited about biology, wild life, wild things. It puts a giant smile on my face," Fenolio said.

He is also receiving acclaim from the conservation world for shedding light on the wide variety of creatures that depend on high-quality water to survive.

Fenolio studies microscopic specimens of shrimp, salamanders with no eyes and other water-dependent specimens from the Edwards Aquifer. This is a case where size matters, since the smallest of them can tell the biggest story when it comes to aquifer. 

"There is nothing better to tell us than the quality of those animals because they can't get out," Fenolio said.

Fenolio travels to the far corners of the earth and below its waters. He is also part of a research team of biologists who are monitoring changes in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP oil spill. While Fenolio is still gather information using various scientific methods, he feels sure some shifts have already been noticeable in the creatures living in the Gulf. The research results will help Gulf and human life going forward.

"The goal is not to punish anyone for what happened, but we need to know when these things happen, what's going to happen the next time it happens, and unfortunately there will be a next time," Fenolio said.

It's clear Fenolio loves his work even though it takes him away from his family for many months out of the year.

His book, which was released by John Hopkins University Press, is available in at least one San Antonio Zoo gift shop. 

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