Teaching compassion and curiosity for animals

By Cynthia Robertson

Del Cerro-based group offers a wild experience

Put kids with animals, teach something about them, and a sense of compassion and curiosity in the creatures of the world will grow. That is what Zovargo does, a unique educational animal program created by Del Cerro residents Amanda Plante and Larry Miller.

Amanda Plante (right) shows Girl Scout Troop #3793 members how to handle a rosy boa. (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

Plante, a Navy veteran, works with Miller bringing the programs to schools, scout troops, libraries and private events throughout Southern California.

On May 12, Plante and Miller brought some giant hissing cockroaches, a rosy boa snake named Gabe and a couple of white tree frogs to San Carlos-based Girl Scout Troop #3793. Nearly a hundred girls showed up at the Girl Scout Headquarters in Balboa Park for an evening of fun with singing and making s’mores around a fire pit — and for getting face to face with these animals.

The girls were eager and curious to touch and pet the cockroaches. “Don’t worry, you won’t find these cockroaches in your kitchen,” Plante said. “These live only in Madagascar.”

The rosy boa named Gabe also received a lot of loving attention from the girls, who reached out their hands to the snake, allowing it to glide around their arms.

“The rosy boa is a constrictor, which means it squeezes its prey. But we’re too big to be its prey. We’re their friends,” Plante said.

The Zovargo mission

“We aim to touch the heart and teach a love for all animals from bugs to birds, all while helping attendees discover what they can do to help protect animal habitats and become conservation stewards,” Plante said.

Plante and Miller both came up with the name Zovargo by incorporating three words that describe the organization: zo for zoo, var for varsity and go for the movement toward conservation.

Bindi the Bearded Dragon (

All of the animals of Zovargo are ambassadors for their own species, even the giant hissing cockroaches. They have very important jobs to do as nature’s recyclers as they help clean up the forest floor in Madagascar.

The tiny Italian quail showcases the relationships between people and these birds because people raise quail for eggs and meat, much like chickens.

The cute little frogs known as Pacman Frogs are ambassadors for all frogs. Kids fall in love with the little frogs as Plante and Miller explain how important it is to help protect frog habitats. They are also instructed not to touch frogs because their skin is so sensitive.

Plante has always loved animals big and small. Zovargo began from a desire to incorporate all the feathered, furry, scaled, and crawling walks of life into an animal conservation program San Diego.

Edgar the Pacman frog (

“After all, it’s the big, small, and even a little scary creatures that make our planet so great,” she said.

A lifelong love of animals

Plante grew up in the Midwest on a small farm and she always had many different pets surrounded by corn, bean fields, and farms with lots of livestock.

“One of my fondest memories of having animals at a young age was when I received my first two rabbits. I was 8 and they were my world,” said Plante.

Not only did Plante faithfully feed her beloved rabbits, she also began breeding and showing rabbits at the local fair.

Zovargo’s Italian quail, Zeta (

Even when Plante was on active duty in the Navy, she took a part-time job at a pet store just so that she could clean the cages and be around animals. In 2014, she went to “Zoo School” through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and completed a certificate course in Conservation Education.

Miller has also had a long-standing unique relationship with animals. “Coming from a family that would go out of their way for any stray animal; the concepts of care, rescue, and rehabilitation for all animals was ingrained as a core value of mine as a young child,” he said.

As a motivated advocate for conservation, Miller had always hoped for a way to connect with the world and give back to the planet.

“I must admit, I would never have thought I would be doing the work that I do now with Zovargo if it wasn’t for Amanda. As a founding partner of the organization I began working on the concept, design, and support in logistics since the idea was first mentioned and brought to light,” he said.

Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (

Miller works as an IT Solutions Integrator by day and spends all of his spare time in the support of many activities of Zovargo.

“Zovargo is the ideal platform that allows me to combine my skills and devotion to conservation awareness,” Miller said.

For more information about Zovargo, visit

—Cynthia Robertson is a San Diego-based freelance writer. Reach her at






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