It has been well known for years that zoos across the world attract hundreds of millions of visitors a year. Indeed, the estimate is at least 10% of the world’s population a year visit zoos and aquariums. The opportunity this provides for education, conservation and environmentalism is therefore unparalleled.
Most people think of the zoos of Europe (EAZA) and North America (AZA) and indeed some of them are leading the way and also provide access to large audiences. There is also innovation and great work coming out of Australasia and South America. Africa remains dominated by the ‘wild’ experience, but now also has some good examples of zoo/aquarium activity.
However, where are most of the world’s people? Asia. There have long been zoos and aquariums across this continent and the majority of them have been perceived and labelled as ‘mediocre’ or poor. There are however, some good examples from Hong Kong to Japan. Meanwhile, mainland China – population 1.4 billion! – is not generally thought of in the ‘west’ as having leading zoos and aquariums.
I was delighted to visit and experience for myself a leading light, and rapidly changing and improving zoo in Guangzhou, China – Chimelong Safari & Chimelong Birds Park. The potential and opportunity here is immense with millions of visitors a year and many of them coming from across China, not just local. The standards of animal husbandry and enclosures here, exceed those of many western zoos, and a programme of continuous improvement is active and noticeable. The visitor experience is also of a high standard and education activity is now also underway, alongside engagement in conservation. I have always believed that zoos should be encouraged and supported to improve – and when they demonstrate positive movement, congratulated.
Meeting the staff at Chimelong, despite my lack of Chinese, was a pleasure. Thanks to having a brilliant translator and educator to help me, I was well looked after and able to deliver a ‘training’ talk and discover and discuss the activities underway. The positive direction the organisation is heading to and the action already taken, demonstrate that the potential to educate, influence and encourage behaviour change in millions of people, is real and achievable.
Chimelong is a beautiful place, tropical, and has some great species too – including the only giant panda triplets, but also golden monkey, elephant, koala, snakes, giraffe, waterfowl… etc. The birds park, nearby, has an amazing show/demonstration with flying birds. Well worth a visit.