New Year Resolutions?

The end of another year and it has been a challenging one in many parts of the world, not least with continuing war in Ukraine and the awful escalated Israel-Palestine conflict. At the same time the global threats to biodiversity and impending effects of climate change and seemingly weak response from world governments, don’t give much cause for optimism. We’ve also seen the power of ‘nature’ with flooding, landslides, powerful storms etc. – and there is stronger evidence to suggest these weather patterns are linked to human impacts on our planet (climate change especially).

Recently however, I have been heartened to see and be involved with the ‘Tree for Every Child’ initiative of the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust that I currently Chair. It was great to help plant trees at Glassie Farm above Aberfeldy. Glenlyon Primary school had already planted some trees. Then in December, I joined pupils from St Madoes Primary in planting fruit trees in their village. Hopefully these young people will see their trees grow over the years (and get free fruit).

In November, it was good to get a big ‘fix’ of optimism by working with the latest group of students on the Durrell Conservation Academy DESMAN course in Jersey. As usual it was a fun few days covering theory and practice of environmental/conservation education and learning about the work of these inspiring people. The group this time were from Bangladesh, Colombia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Oman, Philippines, Saudia Arabia, Singapore and UK.

Meanwhile, a new group of zookeepers and volunteer keepers began their work on the BIAZA – Sparsholt College DMZAA and CMZAAV online course and its great to be an assessor on year 1 once again.

So as Christmas comes and goes and we celebrate the arrival of 2024, what new resolutions should we have…. be happy, be positive, be optimistic and look forward to continuing to enjoy nature around us and celebrate those that are helping and making a difference.

Just one tree…

As the beautiful Autumn season arrives the felling of one tree – the Sycamore Gap at Hadrian’s Wall – filled news headlines and sparked anger, outrage and outcry. This senseless act should be a reminder that people are disconnected with nature and natural systems. At the same time many people care… but perhaps the sentimental affection for one tree is misplaced or needs some additional focus?

The Sycamore was ‘special’ because it stood alone as a feature of the landscape (possibly deliberately planted as such). There are many ‘special trees’. For me, and associated with the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust ‘Perthshire big tree country’, the ancient Birnham Oak is special (and incidentally has some ancient sycamores near by). However, it is not alone, it exists in woodland on the banks of the River Tay, and further along is Neil Gow’s oak revered as the place the 18th century fiddler composed and played.

A tree is a ‘unit’ of a woodland or forest, a habitat. The outcry should be levelled at destruction of these habitats for human development (roads, rail eg HS2, building development, monoculture etc). Connection to nature can be ’emotional’ and ‘spiritual’, at the same time there is need for a regard to ecology and what is appropriate planting and management. However, encouraging more people to enjoy and access the countryside responsibly, hopefully re-builds connection and support for trees and ‘added value’ they give us.

Our connection to nature can also be promoted and enhanced through well designed and carefully thought out ‘experiences’ in wildlife parks. At Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park near Ipswich there is a new ‘rare breeds farm’ area, through the native woodland – where some pigs can be seen – and to the fields (with rare breed pigs, goats, sheep, Suffolk punch horses, Highland cattle).

It was an honour to be asked to speak at the UK’s first KEEPERFEST event held at Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park in early September. The event included talks from Jim Doherty, Adam Henson, Nick Baker and a host of ‘industry experts’, as well as practical workshops and stands.

The event nicely complimented the work that ABWAK have been doing for many years in helping keepers to network and develop their skills.

Over the summer I also wrote a short-course on Environmental Education for learndirect and this is available for people to study online as a validated 3 module short-course: https://www.learndirect.com/course/level-3-award-environmental-educator

Training for the future of planet Earth

There are many challenges facing our planet and the environment. Fortunately there are environment, conservation and nature champions making a difference and new generations of inspiring conservationists. I’m honoured to play a small part in training and supporting people and giving them ideas for sharing their passion and enthusiasm for nature with others.

This April I spent a few days with the latest participants on the Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate [DESMAN] in Jersey.

The Spring 2023 DESMAN group from 11 countries – Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mauritius, & Seychelles

“Teaching” conservation education theory and practice in a very short space of time is a challenge too, so my approach is largely one of mixing ‘lecture’ with example and active participation – and demonstrating through presentation techniques how everyone can contribute to conservation communication and action.

The latest DESMAN group have just completed their 12 week course and through the carefully constructed programme by Durrell Conservation Academy leave equipped to play a greater role in conservation back in their home countries and elsewhere. Each group is different but have shared goals, ambitions and aims appropriate to the context within which they work and I always enjoy the new perspectives and points of view they bring, alongside inspiration from their dedication and optimism that change is possible.

Durrell Conservation Academy, Les Noyers, Jersey

Apart from working with the students, visiting the Zoo and the island, I am always grateful to be part of this course delivery not least having been inspired by Gerald Durrell all those years ago – and actually attending the opening of the training centre (academy) in 1984.

Opening slide to my presentation at ABWAK 2023, Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Ever since I first began working in zoos I have been involved with ABWAK, the Association of British and Irish Wild Animal Keepers, and I enjoyed being a speaker at the Annual Symposium held at Yorkshire Wildlife Park in March. My talk focused on the ‘business of talking’ in zoos and the fact that many keeper talks can be improved by focusing more on specific outcomes, using stories and editing out excessive “facts”, especially in this day and age where most visitors carry all the basic info in their pockets via smartphone and internet search.

At this time I am also busy working with the BIAZA approved Sparsholt College Zookeeper and Aquarist Apprenticeship students who are doing the module on Customer Care, Visitor Experience & Learning which I lead and wrote the assignments for. This is their last module in the c.2 year apprenticeship and so soon they will undertake the end point assessment.

After my years of experience it is still great to be training the future generation of keepers, through the apprenticeship, my continued involvement in Sparsholt’s DMZAA and CMZAAV, and through ABWAK and running workshops.

On Safari in Sharjah, UAE

Sharjah Safari is the world’s largest safari park outside of Africa and it has been an honour to play a small part in the educational development of this amazing Park which has just celebrated a year of operation.

eland in one of the reserves

Initial plans for the safari park were put into action around 8 years ago. I first heard about it a couple of years later and after putting forward thoughts on education and staff training in 2018-19, I became directly involved in 2021 and have just been out to Sharjah again for a couple of weeks to help review education work so far and encourage continued development.

this baobab is an amazing lifelike ‘model’; there are over 100 live baobabs on site

The park is part of the vision of HH Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah, who wants to protect the different environments of the Emirate, raise awareness and engage people in their local environment, culture and history of links with Africa. The design and construction was a huge undertaking overseen via the ruler’s office, the Environment and Protected and Areas Authority [EPAA], a team of ex pat staff, many of whom had been working with EPAA already and the expertise of zoo design consultancy company Maguari-One .

I have visited safari style zoos in Europe, USA, Asia and Australia and been to Africa (many countries) and led a safari in East Africa so my expectations for this development were flavoured by this. Sharjah Safari is the closest to a ‘real safari’ that I have seen and is truly a great achievement for all involved. Covering 8 sq km it is truly massive and divided into different habitat/geographic zones. The 100,000+ trees (many acacia) and landscape make it a realistic representation. The high standards of animal care and presentation of animals is also very natural and only in a few areas do you see fencing etc.

African boma

In 2021 I helped create the Sharjah Safari education strategy and was involved in supporting development of the education team and initial training of the team of Emirati guides and staff, but the park was still being completed and animals not yet settled in. Now this month it was great to see everything, animals out on the ‘plains’ and in the reserves and to be taken on safari. It is to the credit of the organisation that the safari park is not a “commercial theme park” and whilst visitors are catered for well, the safari experience is akin to the real thing, as you go on a driven tour in dedicated vehicles with a guide.

some of the Emirati education team at one of my training workshops

This visit I was pleased to see the education team have done lots of activities in year one, despite many challenges, and the guides are beginning to develop their abilities. A schools programme has also got underway very successfully and will expand. With the team we reviewed the strategy and areas of responsibility and discussed exciting plans for continued development. I was also pleased to work with some of the Emirati staff, including a few from other EPAA visitor centres.

SICFAB conference hosted in Sharjah Safari

At the same time on this visit I was delighted to be an invited guest at the annual Sharjah International Conservation Forum for Arabia’s Biodiversity joining guests who work across Arabia, and with the topic of ‘Genetics & Conservation’ the forum was led by former colleagues from RZSS in Scotland 🙂

Into Africa – Birds of Africa aviary (one small part of this huge aviary)

Sharjah Safari includes representation of key African ‘zones’ – Sahel, Savannah, Serengeti, Kalahari, Ngorongoro and others that include giraffe (Moremi) and elephant (Niger Valley). The “Into Africa” first zone of the park includes a huge aviary, a representation of Madagascar and Aldabra, the Zanzibar village and a traditional African boma (farm), a view over part of the Sahel and an amphitheatre animal demonstration, and all this is accessible on foot with a basic ‘Bronze’ ticket (£9 ad/£3.40 ch). Silver or Gold tickets are required for the main safari drive around and special areas (and give access to Into Africa). The Silver ticket is safari by truck and a stop at the Safari Camp half way through. Gold is by a smaller ‘typical’ real safari luxury vehicle and includes a stop in the Serengeti zone as well (Silver: £27 ad/£11 ch; Gold £62.50 ad / £27 ch). Overall the experience can be 4 hours.

Serengeti area – spot the lion

This February the weather included some rain before I arrived and an average temperature in week one of 24-26 C and in week two 29-33C. So it was nice to be hot but comfortable. The hottest months June, July and August can see temperatures of 45C+ at this time the park is closed. The irrigation systems and natural gravel bed mean the environment copes and animals have shade, water and appropriate care. The elephants that are here, for example, come from an arid area and are used to hot dry conditions but also have showers, shade and food supply through the summer. A calf was born recently.

A great herd of elephants – their area is huge, shown here is one tiny part as viewed from safari vehicle

Sharjah Safari shows that a really good visitor experience and good animal ‘exhibit’ and welfare can be created in the Middle East, given a large budget but careful consideration of the environment and design. The exciting challenge ahead is embedding the educational opportunities into the staff training, visitor experience, raising awareness, supporting conservation and behaviour change. I will be watching to see how this amazing place matures over the years to come.

waterbuck…. this picture could so easily have been taken in the wild

Thanks to the Sharjah Safari team, EPAA and all those involved.

Plant a Tree & Sow a Seed for Conservation

Happy New Year.

Bookings now being taken for all my talks and workshops in 2023 – see Talks and Services section of the website for a range of options. (Available across the UK and abroad).

Another year has passed and we look forward to the next. 2022 was one of many contrasts, from heat wave to big freeze, the passing of the Queen, and prime minister to prime minister (and again). Of course the dreadful invasion of Ukraine by Putin will scar the year’s memory.

Thankfully there were some good things in 2022 – some reported in previous blogs. I was very happy to return to Durrell Conservation Academy, Jersey, in November to work with a new group of Diploma in Endangered Species Management (DESMAN) students from around the world. Participants this time were from Brazil, Montserrat, St Lucia, Indonesia, Colombia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Seychelles, Philippines, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea.

The 2nd DESMAN group in Jersey this year

The enthusiasm and commitment of these students is always great and we had fun exploring theory and practice of conservation education. The weather (for me) was good, some rain showers, but generally mild, whereas the DESMAN group said it was too cold 🙂 Back in their home countries they will make a difference in a wide diversity of projects and conservation initiatives.

PKCT Patron Cameron McNeish & Discovery, Learning & Engagement Officer, Catherine Leatherland demonstrate the ground prep for tree-planting with Kinloch Rannoch Primary pupils

In December I had the honour of becoming the Chair of the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust and was delighted to take part in a tree-planting with pupils from Kinloch Rannoch Primary School. The young trees (whips) donated by the Woodland Trust and also marking the celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee and now in her memory as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy, are part of our ‘Tree for Every Child in Perthshire‘ project. It was great to see the pupils enthusiasm as they all planted a tree in their local park. Great to think these trees will be there for their children to play around in years to come.

We are often faced with ‘negative’ and bad news stories, so the simple act of planting a tree is a positive conservation action that can make a difference, help in mitigation of climate change, encourage biodiversity and wildlife, as well as contribute to the community. Sowing wildflower meadows, having areas set aside in gardens etc are also to be encouraged.

With PKCT we are particularly focused upon people’s access and enjoyment of trees and the countryside, and Perthshire is a great area to get out and explore. I look forward to many days out and about across the county, the rest of Scotland and further afield in 2023.

Changing Times & Challenges

Autumn has been stunning at home in Perthshire, Scotland and I have enjoyed seeing the trees and colours change as the weeks passed by through October especially. Being a Trustee of the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust (PKCT) I encourage others to experience and explore this wonderful region and enjoy the great outdoors (at any time of year).

It was good to help represent PKCT on the ‘stand’ at Scotland The Big Picture conference held in Perth, featuring many case studies of rewilding and connectedness to nature. Whilst we have some wonderful wild outdoor spaces, its also important to acknowledge the landscapes that are artificially maintained, eg grouse moors and river systems where trees have been ‘taken out’ and of course there is now a good open discussion about the animal species that need to be in our habitats – beavers are back, white-tailed eagles, kites and ospreys are back… but what about lynx? wolf? bear? and others.

Acharn Falls, near Loch Tay, Kenmore, Perthshire, Scotland

Autumn is always a time of change in nature and the beauty we see soon fades into the grey and more monochrome winter to come. I’m reminded that this time last year I was in the United Arab Emirates – where these seasons have no bearing, and I am thankful to be resident here, to experience all the seasonal changes, whilst able to visit other places with different climate and conditions.

COP27 in Egypt brings world attention to climate change once more, after what for the UK was an incredibly hot summer and may be the hottest year on record. However, the challenge of climate change is one that politicians and some companies still don’t recognise as critical to our future requiring action day on day, not just when media focus on a gathering to discuss it .. again! Autumn may well be very different in one or two generations time unless action is taken now.

Talking of politics… what on earth is happening? The UK is going through prime ministers and ministers like its just a game and this is no entertaining ‘game of thrones’ for the rest of us, it has had serious economic impact. The change we are facing is not one we expected even after the disaster of Brexit and challenge of covid or impact of the war in Ukraine. Many people, businesses and zoos face crippling rises in bills whilst other multi-nationals profits soar. Capitalism is broken and in its current incarnation is not a model for freedom and democracy.

ZooStephen activity has been ongoing but facing challenges too. In the last few months I have been doing a bit ‘extra’ on my voluntary work as a Trustee with both PKCT and the Dudley & West Midlands Zoological Society. It is an honour and privilege to be able to support and help these charities in their work and share some of my knowledge and expertise from the past 35 years working in conservation education.

Dudley Zoo Education Centre, Charlie the macaw & inset – native species sign (bug hotel)

I was also honoured to be asked to do a guest blog for Wild Welfare with my thoughts on education. Primarily I focused on the fact ‘traditional’ fact-based learning is not the approach we need to improve welfare and conservation, its more about emotional engagement https://wildwelfare.org/education-animal-welfare/

Sparsholt College has some great ‘zoo’ teaching resources

Meanwhile a new group of Apprentice Zookeepers began their course with Sparsholt College and I spent a morning with them in early October giving them an overview of zoo history, aims and objectives to welcome them to the course and profession. I continue to act as an assessor on the national zookeeper course DMZAA, and particularly being assessor for the Certificate version created for volunteer zookeepers.

This is indeed a time of change and challenge. It is uncertain what 2023 and beyond will have in store.

Discovery & Learning in and for Nature in the 21st Century

Children today have a different outlook, expectations and lived experience than when I grew up through the 1960s and 70s. In some ways it was simpler – no mobile phones, computers or social media for a start, let alone just 3 TV channels – and even then not available 24 hours a day. However, I also remember the 70s oil crisis and ‘rationing’ of power, rise and fall of governments (although nothing like the political mess we have today), strikes and inflation.

It is too easy in a world of constant news and social media to dwell on the bad things, as much as they are of serious concern, thankfully nature is still all around us.  Despite some serious issues with exploitation of natural resources, climate change and human population growth, children (and all of us) can still enjoy the wonder of a dandelion, a tree, wildflowers, a blackbird, frogspawn and much more. 

Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park [JWFP], Ipswich, Suffolk, offers engagement with life from farm, local and international species as well as opportunity to consider our relationship with nature. Farming with rare breeds and traditional methods reconnects people to where their food comes from and how careful stewardship of the land supports future generations and continuation of nature.

Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park

Working with the team at JFWP we have created a new ‘Share the Good Life’ Discovery & Learning programme offering a diversity of workshops for all ages and abilities. Using the unique resources of the Park – primarily the animal collection and skilled team of staff – the programme enables groups to have a focused visit, supporting learning needs, but also encouraging enjoyment and experience of nature.

Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park also has daily talks and activities for visitors and it was wonderful to provide enhanced presentation and communication training for the team over a week spent at the Park. Being a farm park and wildlife centre means the range of species and stories for public engagement is diverse, from rare breed sheep and goats to butterflies and lemurs. The connection between all is inspiring and exciting people about nature and our relationship with life on earth.

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme – Orangutan Haven

On the other side of the world in Sumatra, Indonesia, an amazing new facility, Orangutan Haven, is nearing completion. The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme [SOCP] with partners Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari [YEL] and PanEco funding have created a fantastic home for a number of orangutans that cannot be returned to the wild due to the injuries and trauma they have suffered.  See sumatranorangutan.org

Orangutan Haven provides a wonderful unique opportunity for public engagement and education and a window into the wider work of SOCP. The 48 hectare site in the forest but not far from the city of Medan, includes island habitats for the orangutans, some aviaries, an eco-farm and visitor facilities. I have helped them to create an education masterplan and supported the training and development of staff. The Haven will attract a diverse audience, but importantly this includes local rural and urban, subsistence and business, school and family, as well as some international visitors.

We talk a lot about behaviour change and conservation, especially in ‘western’ zoos’ programmes, and this is good but sometimes abstract. However, what makes the work of Orangutan Haven so exciting is that this is aiming to address things there ‘on the ground’ in the home habitat of the focus species with consideration to the actual needs and day to day lives of the local people and the big picture of forest conservation.

Osprey, Loch of the Lowes, Perthshire (female on post left, fledging chick on nest)

Back home in the UK, I was lucky to see the fledging of one of the osprey chicks at Loch of the Lowes this year and its been another great summer walking the hills, woods and coast. However, the summer has seen record temperatures and perhaps at last recognition that climate change is happening and could have serious implications. The risk of wild fires is high and made worse by the trend for disposable bbqs and at the same time, whilst its great people are getting out into the countryside, responsible use of and access to the outdoors is something people need reminding of or educating about.

As a Trustee of the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust it has been very encouraging to see our new Discovery, Learning and Engagement activities get underway after funding from the Gannochy Trust and support funds from Forteviot Trust. From youth engagement activity to a free nature discovery pop up in Perth.

PKCT engagement activity in Perth

It would be great if the wonder and enjoyment of nature as seen by a child can be nurtured and retained through teenage years and adulthood, building a positive relationship with the world around us.

DURRELL’S ARMY & JIMMY’S FARM

After a couple of years (due to covid issues) it was a pleasure to return to Jersey and the Durrell Conservation Academy and teach in person on the Spring 2022 DESMAN course.

Spring 2022 DESMAN participants having fun in the ‘Discovery Centre’

I am always inspired and enthused by the wonderful participants on this 12 week diploma course and it is an honour to work with them, and teach for a few days at the Academy that I saw opened by HRH Princess Royal with Gerry & Lee Durrell, as the International Training Centre in 1984. This year the group comprised participants from: Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Monserrat, Nigeria & Scotland and for some of the time joined by a couple of Jersey Zoo education staff too.

“Learning by doing” is largely the approach I take (although lecture is part of the delivery), and the students all engage well – for some they get pushed out of their comfort zone but building confidence in new areas.

The garden at the Academy provides a great place for outdoor learning when the weather is nice 🙂
Acting as a means of communication / meeting a cockroach 🙂

The DESMAN graduates have significant impact in the field in their careers and are part of ‘Durrell’s Army’ enacting conservation and saving endangered species and places. My workshop is designed to help them develop their communication skills and recognise the value of education as a conservation tool with a variety of audiences. A lot of examples are packed into a few days, including looking at public engagement in Jersey Zoo and case studies from around the world. My aim is to inspire, excite and enthuse through active education, enabling them to apply ideas in their own practice in future.

Saddleback pig – created from the few surviving Essex & Wessex saddleback pigs in 1960s

Not long after being in Jersey I headed to Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park near Ipswich. The park is a working farm with rare breeds as well as having a growing wildlife park featuring a diversity of species. Rare Breeds of farm animals represent the ‘traditional’ stock and as the name suggests are ‘rare’ – largely because commercial farming has concentrated upon a few core varieties. Jimmy’s has a wonderful restaurant serving quality ‘home grown’ free range meat and promoting sustainable agriculture and good welfare.

Jim Doherty bought the derelict farm in 2002 and this featured in a BBC TV documentary and he has done various TV programmes since. The wildlife park aspects began in 2016 and now the site is attracting around 200,000 visitors a year!

The excellent staff team at Jimmy’s provide a great visitor experience and I’m pleased to be helping them redevelop their educational activities – talks for the public and a new school’s (formal education) programme.

Being a farm and wildlife park presents great opportunities for engaging a diverse audience – and of course there is a big appeal to young children. However, the expanding wildlife park (includes tapir, macaque, camel, lemur, & zebra) and wonderful woodland area, provide potential with the farm for a meaningful consideration of our relationship to nature both local and global.

I look forward to returning to Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park soon to support staff training and review the strategy and programme I have worked on for them.

Giving A Presentation :)

After 35 years working in conservation education I still enjoy giving presentations and helping others with techniques to improve theirs. In the modern age of Tik-Tok, Instagram and YouTube many have greater skills and effectiveness than me in those media. However, the face to face and “real” presentation is still a very important aspect of sharing our work and especially engaging with visitors.

It was an honour to be the first speaker on day 2 of the 2022 ABWAK Symposium attended by over 200 people and held at West Midlands Safari Park in early March. My talk “Arabian Giraffes and Indonesian Ambassadors” was an opportunity to share the great work of Sharjah Safari and Orangutan Haven whilst discussing the importance of public engagement and education in zoos.

Keepers are increasingly involved in direct visitor engagement and ‘education’ activity. I was therefore delighted to be asked back to Longleat Safari Park to run ‘Presentation and Communication Training’ for small groups of keepers and safari tour guides. Many of the staff there interact with guests on site, give talks and tours and of course some are ‘famous’ through appearances on ‘Animal Park’ on TV.

I was pleased to work with some who had been at Longleat several years as well as those who joined in the past 12 months. Through a day of activities and information, participants are encouraged to understand what the desired outcomes are and ways that they can enhance their communication skills to be most effective. I particularly enjoy using a diversity of techniques from acting to tongue twisters and it usually gets a smile or two from participants. The philosophy of learning by doing is central to the approach, and it is known that ‘doing something’ is more memorable and likely to have impact.

Seeing animals for real is core to the zoo and aquarium experience. Our exposure to TV and media may bring wildlife stories to our living rooms but this is largely passive. However, the zoo visit can also be passive, and so needs to have focused opportunities and interaction. The role of all staff, from the entrance to the shop, is important in contributing to the message and story. Keepers are a critical part of the experience and our visitors look to them for information and engagement.

The professionalisation of keepers in the UK and Ireland has been promoted by ABWAK throughout its 48 year history and it’s good to see that public engagement is now considered core to many keeper jobs. There are various routes into the profession, and a variety of courses and qualifications. For many years I have been involved in the Diploma in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals (DMZAA) and its volunteer-keeper version CMZAAV, run by Sparsholt College for BIAZA. In the ‘modern’ (and covid) world we can effectively utilise online systems to support learning, so it was good to be guest speaker on a webinar for DMZAA / CMZAAV students, giving them background on zoos and education and pointers on successful assignments.

Giving a presentation is and should be something we enjoy and in so doing we can contribute to sharing our passion, enthusiasm and excitement for wildlife, nature, wild places and conservation.

2022 – Africa in Arabia & More

A belated Happy New Year and Year of the Tiger. Here’s hoping that 2022 is a healthy and successful one.

After the impact of covid-mitigation measures and various factors affecting delivery of projects over the last two years, it’s great to see the year kick off with some good news. It is wonderful to report that on February 17th Sharjah Safari opened. This amazing huge safari park (8km2) brings Africa to Arabia and has taken nearly 7 years to create. The park utilises the natural environment at Al Bridi Reserve, Al Dhaid, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, which has many acacia trees and gravel beds with natural aquafers. Further trees have been planted and suitable environments for the animals created.

Well done and congratulations to the team involved in creating this remarkable project – primarily the team from Sharjah’s Environment and Protected Areas Authority, EPAA (includes many staff members from Europe, southern Africa and elsewhere with great wildlife experience) and design team Maguari-One Zoo Consultants. The park fulfills the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi.

I was fortunate to have a very small part in this massive project, helping the education team develop their strategy and plans, whilst also assisting the training of Emirati staff to guide visitors. I look forward to visiting again at some point in future now the Park is open. If you are planning to go to UAE and visit this unique attraction, be aware ticket numbers are limited and the Park will be closed in the hottest months of the year.

(pictures from Sharjah Safari)

Meanwhile IN CHINA, Chimelong Group with whom I have worked since 2018 but covid has prevented further visits are opening their multi-million, world’s largest (370,000 m2), new Marine Science Centre and Leisure Complex at Zhuhai next to Ocean Kingdom. I saw the building in construction – it is truly immense, and the photo makes it look like something from Star Trek. It’s a very ambitious project aiming to link marine education and science with wow visitor experience and featuring many marine species.

However, SOME CLOSING NEWS

Sadly at the same time, Bristol Zoological Society have now announced the official closing date for Bristol Zoo, Clifton, as September 3rd. This historic site – the oldest zoo in the world not in a capital city, opened in 1836 – will partly be developed into a residential site, with some of the gardens remaining. Sadly many staff jobs have gone already and some animals will no longer be kept. The money raised will go to expansion of sister site ‘Wild Place’ to be the ‘new Bristol Zoo’ in South Gloucestershire. I spent a large part of my career at Bristol Zoo (1989-2003) helping develop the education department and involved in various exhibit design projects, so this is personally sad news too. As I write this further sad news comes from the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) in Gloucestershire that has now closed its doors. Jemima Parry-Jones’s work will continue with birds at a new site not open to the public.

LOOKING FORWARD – I am happy to be preparing for a variety of events in the next weeks, from ABWAK to Staff Training at Longleat and DESMAN22 at Durrell in Jersey, as well as further voluntary work in my Trustee roles with Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust and Dudley & West Midlands Zoological Society.