Aug 20

A Legacy of Conservation

Nancy Armitage was once visiting Thailand when a local grifter threw a python around her neck and demanded money to remove it. Nancy, an avid ophiophilist (she had her own snake named Floyd at home, and used to catch venomous snakes for fun), intuited that the snake was relaxed and posed no threat, so she calmly demurred and walked away, leaving the stunned scammer to run after her to get his snake back.

It’s just one of many stories that encapsulates Nancy’s passion for and knowledge of animals, her zest for life experiences and her grace under pressure -- qualities that her husband Dr. Jim Armitage is memorializing in the new Nancy Armitage Lecture Series at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

“Nancy and I talked about setting up a memorial lecture series in her name when she was very ill,” Dr. Armitage says. “She believed that we each have the ability to protect our natural resources and wanted this series to help inspire people to do their parts.”

Nancy, who died in February 2017 after battling pancreatic cancer, hand-selected the first keynote speaker for the series: National Geographic photographer, international speaker and Photo Ark founder Joel Sartore, whose stunning images of animals have been showcased on the walls of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City, The Empire State Building and the United Nations (as well as in a special exhibition last summer right here at the Omaha Zoo). Mr. Sartore’s lecture will kick off the series on Thursday, October 18.

“Joel Sartore’s work brings you face-to-face with the animals, and that’s right where Nancy always loved to be,” Dr. Armitage says, recalling one safari when the matriarch of a passing elephant herd changed course to lock eyes with Nancy, who was sitting in a Land Rover. “Everyone held their breath and later, Nancy said that all she could see in her lateral vision was elephant, which was thrilling to her.”

Because Nancy wanted people of all ages to be inspired toward conservation, the second event in the the series will be geared toward children: the November 3 appearance by The Banana Slug String Band, a Northern California-based troupe that uses music to connect kids to messages about recycling, ocean health and other conservation issues. Cristián Samper, the president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, will be speaking on December 6. Future speakers and dates will be announced in the coming months.

“Nancy Armitage was from Nebraska, but she was truly a citizen of the world,” says Dennis Pate, executive director and CEO of the zoo. “In order to honor that, we have worked with Dr. Armitage to design a lecture series that is uniquely world-class and that features thought-leaders and experts in all areas related to conservation. It’s something really special that’s never been done on this level in Omaha before.”

Tickets for each event in the Nancy Armitage Lecture Series are free, but limited. Registration for Joel Sartore’s presentation will open on September 18, 2018. Registration for each subsequent event will be available the day after the previous event in the series. Please stay tuned to omahazoofoundation.org for information on future speakers and dates.