As the dedicated diamond buyer for Borsheims, it’s not surprising that Heather Ingraham travels all over the world. She even went to the Falkland Islands recently—but not to inspect precious gems—to look at penguins.
Ingraham, 38, credits her job for inspiring her dedication to animal conservation. It all started with a Zoofari fundraiser for the Henry Doorly Zoo at her work in 2011.
Zoo ambassadors were walking around Borsheim’s luxury salon with animals (penguins, snakes, and bullfrogs). “I was having an amazing time speaking with the keepers, learning about the animals, and one of the keepers at one point told me that I could be doing this, too,” she says.
Since that encounter, Ingraham began volunteering at the zoo almost every Saturday. She gives presentations to the public, assists keepers, and feeds birds, snakes, and rodents.
Her devotion to animal welfare doesn’t stop there. Ingraham also volunteers with Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, an organization that receives injured and abandoned wildlife from the public.
She even keeps some of those animals in her home, including bats.
“I’m really involved with the bats in the winter,” says Ingraham, who kept 40 bats over the past winter. “They’re supposed to be hibernating. There’re not enough bugs out for them to eat, so we can’t release them.”
If a bat gets in your home during any time of the year, she urges you not to harm it. Call the Nebraska Humane Society instead for a free removal. She says the nocturnal creatures are highly effective pollinators that keep the mosquito population in check to prevent the spread of West Nile virus.
Volunteers like Ingraham keep the bats at home in small containers, feeding them so they gain sufficient weight to hibernate. When the weather warms in spring, they release 200-400 bats at a public event held outside Joslyn Art Museum.
On top of that, she is a Nebraska Humane Society foster parent. Her colleagues call her the “critter foster parent” for taking in all the animals that are not dogs and cats—i.e, rats, gerbils, etc.
Penguins, however, are Ingraham’s obsession.
“I love all birds. I’ve seen close to 600 species of birds,” she says. “It’s just that…penguins hold a special place in my heart. They’re just so comical. They are very devoted parents, and they’re just so different from each other.”
Ingraham has seen penguins in South Africa, Chile, and the Galápagos Islands. Her goal is to see every species of penguin in the wild. She’s currently seen seven. (The nonprofit organization BirdLife International says there are 18 penguin species.)
The Falkland Islands are a popular summer nesting ground for penguins, so Ingraham traveled there in February to take a land-based trip, which allows visitors to see the birds up close. That’s about all the trip entailed. Just watching penguins. No guided tours or other activities.
It was a dream come true for Ingraham. “I saw thousands and thousands of penguins,” she says. “I was surprised at how close I was able to get up to them.”
Lest you think it sounds like a cold trip, the Falklands get very little snow. “They’re actually just kind of in grassy areas,” she says of the flightless birds. “You would see a penguin next to a sheep.” Sheep farming is a popular industry on the British territory in the south Atlantic Ocean.
Some of the diamond buyer’s philanthropic work has also benefited her employer. In fact, as a result of her participating in a baby rhino rescue in South Africa in 2016, Ingraham helped design Borsheims’ Kalahari Dream Diamond Rhino Pendant (an 18-carat gold necklace with a rough diamond selling for $550) with a portion of proceeds going to help Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary in South Africa where she had volunteered.
Ingraham has many other plans for the future. She’ll be working with bats in Malawi this summer, and besides seeing the rest of the penguin species, she hopes to hug a whale in Mexico, go on a mountain gorilla trek in Rwanda, and work with wallabies in Australia.
“With my involvement at the zoo and volunteering, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming,” she says. “But I want to do everything I possibly can. I want to live a life of education, adventure, and generosity.”
This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.