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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
July saw my first face to face engagements for over a year!
ZooStephen Communication and Presentation Skills workshop was run at Woburn Safari Park in July for members of staff from different departments that had joined since April 2021. This full day workshop was designed to give a range of background to zoos, practical communication skills and consideration of customer care issues.
The group were great and we enjoyed activities from story-telling to tongue-twisters and most importantly the day helped build confidence in speaking to others. Covid restrictions had just been lifted in England, however, we maintained comfortable social distancing and optional mask wearing in the session. It was so much better than via online systems and great to properly interact and react to the group’s needs.
Being invited to be the keynote speaker, and run a workshop, at the first UK Animal Care Technician’s conference was the other highlight of July. This had been delayed for a year, so UKACT2020 became UKACT2021 and thanks to the hard work of Joe Cooke and team at Halesowen College, West Midlands, and the attendees from all over the UK, it was a great success.
It was wonderful to be able to speak on ‘education and collaboration’ to a room full of people, to react and receive reaction. My workshop on demonstration and presentation skills was to give a flavour of how technicians can better be prepared for and to support student learning and activities. With good weather we were also able to enjoy lunch outside and spend time looking at the animal collection at the college.
Animal Care Technicians in colleges are responsible for a diversity of animals, whose main role is to assist the training and development of those who wish to pursue a career in animal care. The animal collections in some colleges are licensed zoos, and species kept range from rabbits and goats to iguanas and lemurs. There are also good collections of invertebrates and some aquatics.
Zookeepers have had ABWAK (Association of British and Wild Animal Keepers) to help their networking, training and development, for nearly 50 years, UKACT is providing a great network, using a facebook group and now this first, day long, conference for the animal care technicians.
Fingers crossed with the roll out of vaccines and appropriate mitigation the worst of the Covid situation is over. However, I am mindful of the disparity in vaccine provision across the world. However, I am very pleased to have just taken on two international projects, more will be shared in due course – these are with the Environment & Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; and with Orangutan Haven (SOCP and YEL) in Medan, Indonesia.
The world has a virus. Normal life is suspended… but nature continues.
These are very difficult times for many people. The efforts to control the spread of covid-19 ‘locking-down’ communities and countries has meant physical isolation and separation, not just from each other but also from nature. In some respects, nature is pleased with this – the levels of air pollution are down, spring breeding is less disturbed etc.
ZooStephen, like most self-employed service providers has almost shut down with huge loss of business and income – hopefully temporary; I have been able to continue some remote/online activity. One of my favourite training events, teaching on the Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate (DESMAN) at the Durrell Academy in Jersey at the start of April was not possible. However, I was pleased to create a suite of online material, resources and video to enable the participants to undertake the ‘Education Theory & Practice’ module without my physical presence.
It was lovely to receive some feedback that even in this modified version, it was “amazing” “enjoyed” and a “favourite” part of the 12 week DESMAN course. The participants represent projects and activity from across the world including Madagascar, Indonesia, St Lucia and Brazil. Although I didn’t get to interact with them, I always feel more optimistic for the future of conservation when I work with these amazing people, who will make a real difference for nature, the environment and their communities in the years to come.
Back home, in Scotland, I am missing going out into the wider countryside and walking in the trees, mountains, coasts… at least I live in a semi-rural area and can enjoy the immediate surroundings of my village. It has in some ways been good to see local people also discovering the local environment for their occasional exercise – obviously maintaining social/physical distancing. Perhaps, once this crisis is abated there will be a new ‘normal’ and people will appreciate each other and the environment more.
At this time I am also really pleased to have just become a Trustee of the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust www.pkct.org . I hope to help encourage and promote engagement in the countryside across my home county, from Big Tree Country to the Cateran Trail and more. I am optimistic that in Scotland, we will value our environment more and improve our relationship to nature & recognise its importance for health and well being. I also hope we will be supportive of a more sustainable and ecological lifestyle – that may be a challenge, but this is a great opportunity to try.
At the Birnham Oak, at least 600 years old, the last remnant of the ancient forest featured by Shakespeare in ‘Macbeth’
Every two years the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria [EAZA] have an education conference, and this March it was hosted by Skansen, Stockholm, Sweden.
I have used the EAZA Education Standards in my work with Chimelong Group, in China, as a way of benchmarking and auditing their work, as well as in further developing their already good educational activities to an internationally recognised standard.
It was great to be able to attend the EAZA Education Conference and to both give a presentation upon my work in China, and a poster highlighting the use of ‘animal shows/performances’ as an educational tool. It was also good to challenge pre-conceived ideas some have about China, and to indicate how important it is that we engage and work to develop conservation education in China.
Skansen in Stockholm is a zoo – primarily for nordic animals, but also some tropical species and a new Baltic Sea Science Center – opening very soon. However, Skansen is also a historical museum, featuring many houses from across Sweden, showing different cultures and styles over the years.
The conference was attended by nearly 200 delegates from 34 countries – and it was great to meet up with old friends and make some new ones too. The networking of ‘educators’ is quite a loud occasion – we all like to talk 🙂 and also a very cooperative and supportive one. We learn from each other and share ideas and thoughts, and with the EAZA standards, which will be adapted to be world standards, we also have a mechanism for developing a professional and strong conservation education programme that is of merit and significance. I am hopeful that Chimelong zoos will lead the way on developing and implementing such standards in China.
Being a conservation educator can be challenging, sometimes it can seem a lonely path, especially in today’s highly developed and consumerist society trying to raise awareness, raise questions, challenge behaviour etc. And then being a conservation educator in a zoo or aquarium comes with further challenges, including some in other conservation groups that dislike the whole concept of zoos. Thankfully, educators are happy to share, to work together for common goals, and to support each other. In the zoo and aquarium community we are lucky to have the International Zoo Educators Association (www.izea.net)
The IZE family is global and every two years meets for a conference to share, exchange ideas, and learn from one another. The 2018 IZE conference was held in October, in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. It was wonderful to see participants from all the continents (except Antarctica of course) and to hear speakers who were from Guatemala to Vietnam. I was especially pleased to be at this conference, having been the editor of five issues of the IZE’s journal (2013-17), but also because 4 of my new colleagues from Chimelong Group, China, were also able to attend.
For me, this was also a return to the UAE after just over 20 years, having stayed in the ‘old’ Al Ain Zoo whilst volunteering at the National Avian Research Center and visiting friends. The new zoo features the amazing Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre, and a great new safari drive through. The SZDLC is noted as being the/or one of the first ‘sustainable’ building developments in UAE. Visiting the Emirates again, and in this era of environmental consciousness, it was striking to see so much development in the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and wonder how sustainable this ‘progress’ is, not least with the lack of much evidence of use of renewable energy.
Apart from visiting the Zoo (and an extra day visiting the wonderful Arabia’s Wildlife Centre and Wasit Wetland Centre in Sharjah), we also got to climb a sand dune, eat some wonderful food, try real Arabian coffee and of course eat dates and ‘experience’ the heat (around 37 degrees outdoors).
The IZE meeting is always a meeting of cultures and ideas, and this year was no different, and so it was great to experience Arabian hospitality whilst having opportunity to talk to people from China, USA, Brazil, Korea etc… Whilst some of the conference was sharing “this is what we have done”, it also enabled consideration of such case studies for application in different situations, and there were presentations ‘asking questions’ and reporting on positive outcomes from campaigns and activities. This year, as in previous meetings, thanks to IZE Institutional Members and the host’s support, a number of “sponsored” delegates attended and brought some great practice and ideas from the field to our attention.
The next IZE conference is in San Diego, USA, in 2020.
Chimelong Group are the leading zoological organisation in China, currently operating 3 zoos: Chimelong Safari and Chimelong Birds Park in Guangzhou City and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai (a couple of hours drive south, near Macau). The Group also manages theme parks/resorts and hotels with the animal attractions.
I’m excited and pleased to be working for them, helping develop education strategy and programmes. They already do some wonderful work and have some great people. The potential for conservation education and having an influence on people’s understanding of science and action for sustainability, is immense; not least with the millions of visitors to the zoos coming as tourists from other parts of China, as well as locally.
There are challenges of course, but to a large extent these can be seen as opportunities. The fact the organisation has a desire to strive for excellence and both improvement and development, are great platforms to work with. A bonus is that they are very successful and committing resources to enable activity and a quality visitor experience.
Many “in the west” are quick to criticise or jump to conclusions as soon as you say China or Asia, whereas the reality here is that, yes there is room for change and improvement, but it is gradually being addressed and high standards achieved and aimed for. Indeed, many “western” zoos need to, and can do the same.
The worldwide appeal of zoos in all their forms (over 10% of world population visiting a zoo each year) is something, if utilised and developed, can be a huge force for conservation, and education engagement. It’s great to be working in this field of activity. making a small contribution to a big effort.
There is hope for the future. Conservation is often depicted as a battle and struggle, full of responding to ‘bad news’ and events – which undoubtedly it is. However, we should also be optimistic and celebrate the good news and success stories too. No conservation project, no matter how well conceived, planned and intentioned, will fully succeed unless it has the support of the people. Thankfully there are some amazing, inspiring and dedicated people around the world, working to conserve, protect and develop our understanding of nature. Some of these people are the participants in the Durrell Conservation Academy DESMAN course.
It was an honour and privilege to be invited to speak and lead a few days workshops for the DESMAN in Jersey once again; the third year I have done this. My education and communication ‘course’ was well received and I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with this year’s students who came from: Armenia, Brazil, Canada, China (Hong Kong), India, Nigeria, Samoa, St. Lucia, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, & UAE.
Whilst, I was able to inspire and enthuse the participants and demonstrate a diversity of communication and education techniques, I was also inspired and enthused by them too. It’s always good to meet people who are committed to, are doing and will do, great work and to be a small part of their development and conservation activity. Their feedback was also very much appreciated, with some great comments, such as: “thank you for making it so fun, informative and inspiring”; “I got many new experiences about new techniques of education and awareness programmes – very useful”; and “inspired me to do more in the field of conservation education and community conservation”.
It was of course also great to return to Jersey Zoo, HQ of Durrell and enjoy time in the Zoo – not least the brilliant bat flight enclosure – which in itself has a great community and recycling story in its construction. We also enjoyed reviewing and critiquing the education for visitors, by observing talks, signs and discussing education programmes. One of the great aspects of the DESMAN is that the diversity of participants may have specific field projects and focus, but they get to understand endangered species management in general and the multi-faceted approach needed for conservation to succeed – including through education and communication.
I am optimistic that this year’s DESMAN participants, along with previous students, WILL go MAD and Make A Difference!
Thanks to Durrell Conservation Academy and to the participants and staff. (Links on social media twitter: @ZooStephen and featured on @Durrell_Academy and on facebook.)
Whether you’re a student on a recognised course, volunteer, or a well experienced employed person, training and continuedprofessionaldevelopment are an essential aspect in any career. In the work of zoos there are various opportunities but some challenges for those wishing to enter the profession and to gain the necessary experience, knowledge and skills, or for those wishing to further develop and keep up to date.
I have been working with Sparsholt College for several years, most notably on the DMZAA zookeepers course, having written one of the units and acting as an assessor. However, I have also been working with animal care students connecting them to the work of zoos. In March I was pleased to help organise and run a day visit for students to Dudley Zoo, with a particular focus upon enclosure design. Dudley Zoo have been very welcoming and accommodating and recognise the value of tailor-made workshops and activities for the students in giving them meaningful experience.
At Dudley we were delighted to see the new snow leopard enclosure (extension) and hear about plans for other developments; to meet staff for Q&A – including education presentation, keeper work, and meet the curator. Through such activity the students not only develop their learning but understand more the profession some of them wish to join and contribute to.
Zoos have many skilled and qualified staff that can support each other and those wishing to join the profession, but there are barriers making it more challenging – not least the ‘you don’t have relevant experience’ or ‘you’re not well connected to zoo work’. Internships are offered by some, but are out of reach of many who can’t afford it. Apprenticeships are another option but of course highly sought after and competitive.
Meanwhile, zoos themselves are subject to external review and licensing by their local authority (in an Act overseen through APHA of Defra). Local Authority staff are charged with organising and overseeing the zoo inspection regime, supported by Secretary of State’s inspectors (vets and zoo professionals). Standardisation and training for zoo inspection is limited – partly due to resources and geography given that authorities across the country have zoos to inspect and costs of running and/or sending staff on training are subject to budget issues. However, it was great to be part of delivering a day of Zoo Licensing Training held at Sparsholt College in March.
The delegates received training and presentations from current chair of the Zoos Expert Committee, vet and zoo inspector Anna Meredith, and zoo inspector, vet and former zoo manager, Jon Cracknell and myself. Additionally we looked at a few of the enclosures at the Sparsholt College Animal Management Centre (which is a licenced zoo). The opportunity to discuss what the ZLA requires, interpretation of terminology, what conditions must be placed on licenses and gain a better understanding of both the process and timeframe for zoo inspections, was welcomed by all. It is hoped that more LA staff and zoo inspectors will undergo regular CPD activity to ensure good management of the Act and good standards in our zoos.