Ben Zino, an outdoor communicator 'going places'
It is not a 25-foot anaconda, but it is definitely a scene reminiscent of watching Marlin Perkins and Stan Brock wrestle a monstrous snake on the Wild Kingdom TV show - at least for those of us old enough to remember that. The scene played out in 1967, more than 30 years before Ben Zino was even born. But if Zino's dream comes true, he might become the next Marlin Perkins.
Zino is a freshman at North Carolina State University and was one of the recipients of the Toyota "Let's Go Places" Award presented at the recent Southeastern Outdoor Press Association annual conference in Florence, South Carolina. Zino received the award based upon his growing YouTube Channel, "The Wild Report," dedicated to promoting appreciation of backyard wildlife, local ecosystems and the conservation of those places.
"A lot of people focus on faraway places and conservation of elephants or lions or even pandas that are certainly lovable," said Zino. "But we have lots of places and wildlife like whitetail deer, or even reptiles and amphibians that live right alongside us that need our protection. I'm trying to promote an appreciation for those species as well."
Zino said as a young child he was fascinated by dinosaurs. That evolved into a fascination for reptiles such as alligators and crocodiles, obviously similar to dinosaurs. When he was eleven years old he entered an essay contest sponsored by National Geographic Magazine. An apparent gifted writer, Zino won that prestigious competition. As a prize he got to go along on a Nat Geo expedition to Montana to do a wildlife film on bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk and other Montana wildlife species.
"That's what really got me into outdoor communication and the sciences as well, which is why I'm majoring in fisheries and wildlife conservation," said Zino. "The dream is to have my own TV show one day. TV is such an excellent tool for reaching a diverse range of people."
Zino says of all the videos on his YouTube Channel, his favorite is the capture of a huge Burmese python in the Florida Everglades. He said his father took him on a three-day adventure to the Everglades as a Christmas present.
"We actually didn't see that much as far as alligators or reptiles because it was a little bit chilly," he said. "We were walking through a swamp and we hadn't seen anything all morning and then I just looked down and right beside us was a huge python. When you look down and see a ten-foot snake by your foot it's a bit surprising to say the least."
Of course Zino knew what had to happen in order to make good TV.
"My Dad doesn't like snakes but I was able to get him to film so I was able to capture that snake and present it for the camera and tell people how they got there and how they're destructive to the ecosystem. It was crazy."
Zino's SEOPA Award isn't the only prestigious award he's received. As a high school senior he was presented with a rare Park Scholarship which offers four years of fully paid tuition at N.C. State including room and board, books, computer and materials, travel, personal expenses and incidentals.
Based on his resume and credentials to-date, it seems clear that as the Toyota Award says, this young man is indeed, "going places."