Tag Archives: Conservation

Doing a DESMAN – Durrell 2019

Conservation depends on people to succeed in the long term. Some of the people that can make a real difference are the attendees of the Durrell Endangered Species Management course [DESMAN] at the Durrell Academy, Jersey.

It was an honour and privilege to be invited to Jersey again this year to run my workshop on Conservation Education Principles and Practice for the 2019 DESMAN students.

The participants came from across the globe: Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Indonesia (Sumatra), Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Rodrigues, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, St.Lucia, & Tanzania; and were a great group to work with. Full of energy, enthusiasm and willingness to learn and engage.

Conservation education is FUN and is also fundamental to our understanding of nature and for enabling real connection and action for conservation. There are global, regional, national and local issues and contexts to consider, and so its great when participants can reflect upon what works/will be appropriate for their own setting and context. Whilst it is also great to be able to conduct my workshop in English for all these nationalities – although some aspects don’t require verbal language to understand 🙂

The ‘acting’ skills of the group were used to good effect in non-verbal communication exercises. It was also good to look at how Durrell currently communicate to their visitors at Jersey Zoo and for the students to examine and evaluate this. For example, the public talks and education service.

looking at “education resources” and teaching methods

Communicating conservation, engaging with all audiences, and instilling a wonder and enjoyment of nature all contribute to successful conservation activity the world over, and I was delighted with the feedback from the group, and hope they will make a difference in their future work.

The teaching method was very good, I appreciate it and it inspired me a lot.”
“… your way of teaching involving small activities is really good and I can use some of those activities with school children visiting my place of work back home”
“This is the most enjoyable and memorable workshop ever”


An Englishman Abroad – EAZA, Sweden

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.

nearly 200 delegates from 34 countries, EAZA Education Conference, Skansen, Stockholm

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.

The Conservation Education Family

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, Guangzhou & Zhuhai, China – education development

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.

Never too old – everyone can make a difference

Its great to work with diverse audiences, and to share my passion for the natural world and conservation. At a talk given for approx 150 members of U3A (University of the Third Age), I was asked do I “give such talks to inspire and enable young people, as everyone here is ‘old'”.  My response is yes, but also everyone is important and has a role to play in behaviour change and sustainable living – and grandparents and retirees are very important role models and people who have influence and impact. Education is for all and life-long.

It’s interesting to reflect that in general, all young children are excited by and curious about nature around them. Even with all the technological gadgets and games, children still find joy and wonder in seeing live animals and playing outdoors. At some point however, and often in those difficult “teenage years”, it seems the relationship with nature changes for many, and they loose the awe and wonder at the world around them – such as how wonderful and amazing a tree is; the diversity of animals and plants etc.  Then this interest is often rekindled when they become parents, and lost again as the child grows… and returns as a grandparent.

It may be ‘natural’ to have this up and down relationship with the world, but the risk and challenge is that our impact on life and the world around us, particularly in those periods we ‘loose the connection’ can be extreme as we get sucked into consumerism and stress of modern life.  The fact that companies still spend millions on advertising (often for things we don’t need or to make us buy one brand over another), shows that adults have power and can through their choices have impact affecting others. So in conservation education work and our wish to ‘change the world’ it is appropriate and desirable to focus on adults and rekindle that connection to nature and turn it to positive action that makes a difference.

 

Confidence and Fun

“When you have confidence you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun you can do amazing things.” (Joe Namath, former American football star and actor).

I enjoy communicating and I have great fun when I teach and help others to develop skills for presentations and talks. It is especially satisfying when you can help those who believe they can’t do it or are really not confident to do it. Sometimes it is about ‘pushing’ and almost ‘forcing’ but the context and environment needs to be supportive and understanding. So it was a pleasure, at the end of June, to engage with a diverse group of keepers and the education team at Drayton Manor Zoo in a workshop to support their engagement with visitors.

Some of the group were very confident and “up for it”, whereas others were clearly uncomfortable and not keen because of lack of confidence and experience. However, step one achieved – they were there. Step two engagement and activities for a few hours. Step three – as part of a group giving a presentation to each other – success! Next steps are to practice, work with colleagues, and engage with visitors.

My presentation and communication workshop is adapted to suit each group and situation and so it was great to have a really positive response from the Drayton Manor Zoo staff no matter what their initial feeling or experience, and that confidence was built and will develop further within the team.

The zoo is at an exciting time in its history and has long term development plans, which are great to hear about. And of course, with the added attraction of the theme park and ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ the potential for public engagement with a diverse audience within the zoo at Drayton Manor is significant.

 

Following my day at Drayton Manor it was a pleasure to return to Longleat where I conducted similar training over a year ago. I returned to visit the park but primarily to attend the ABWAK Symposium.  The staff team at Longleat were brilliant and their confidence in both visitor and conference delegate engagement was superb. Here is another collection that has very large visitor numbers and a diverse visitor experience. The ‘safari’ and ‘animal adventure’ have come a long way in the park’s 50 years+ and its very exciting to see the latest news that Longleat is to house a couple of wombats and 6 southern koala, from Cleland Wildlife Park in South Australia, in a new facility (opening in 2019).

Drayton Manor and Longleat are very different but both ‘zoos’ to watch and to visit, and both have very large audiences from diverse backgrounds, thereby having potential to take conservation and conservation education to the masses – and to have fun too!

Inspiration & Optimism – DESMAN 2018

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.)

Ready for work?

It’s easy to find a job… at least to find them advertised, thanks to the internet. A new batch of students hits the job market each year, whilst the ‘retirement’ age extends and people need to stay in work/keep looking for work until they’re older. So the competition for jobs is now therefore greater than ever. 

This week – just as the UK was being blanketed in snow – I had the pleasure of running a couple of careers workshops for 1st year degree students at Warwickshire College – Moreton Morrell. Whilst some of the group have aspirations to become self-employed veterinary physiotherapists and others to enter other aspects of animal care, the skills of ‘selling yourself’, developing a CV and coping with interviews are all relevant and needed. It was also useful for them to hear the career backgrounds and case studies of myself and others working in this field. 

Whilst these and other students are now being better prepared for the opportunities that may arise, it’s also important for employers to think about their systems and procedures. Are they missing out on really good people by rigidly applying profiling to interview selection. What if the person hasn’t got the stated qualification? Or has experience in another field that may have similar skills? Will they automatically be rejected? There is skill in recruitment and selection and it is hoped the good employers have some flexibility in their systems and are keen to support and encourage suitable applicants from diverse backgrounds, qualifications and experiences.

After 30 years+ (which includes recruiting many people) I am really pleased to share my experience and answer questions to help others in their endeavours and career pathways.

Zoo Education Programme Development

The Zoo is a great educational resource – for schools, colleges, uniform groups, general visitors… However, it takes planning and preparation to maximise the effectiveness of the resource for different users and learner needs.

In the UK (and Europe) it is a requirement of licensing for zoos to contribute to conservation through education and membership of the national and international associations, BIAZA and EAZA requires zoos to meet, and ideally exceed, education standards they set.

Through my career it has been a pleasure to have been involved in helping zoos and the community with improving standards and developing new and effective educational engagement. Recently I have been delighted to be working with Belfast Zoo to help them develop new strategy and programmes to exceed the standards and set new levels of educational delivery and achievement.

We now have a new education strategy, and through this winter period work is underway on a new education programme. The Zoo, situated to the north of the city on ‘cave hill’ is a wonderful site, they have a good mix of species and has great potential to act as a centre of excellence for Northern Ireland.

Conservation Education & Communication – Training at Durrell

The Durrell Conservation Academy in Jersey has been involved in the training of hundreds of conservationists from around the world and its flagship programme is the Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate – DESMAN. It was an honour to be asked to run the Conservation Education training aspect of this year’s course.

The participants this year were from Rwanda, Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, St. Lucia, Borneo, Indonesia, Brazil, China & UK, and their four month residential course is validated by DICE, University of Kent. So it was great to play a small part in the delivery and development of the participants learning & engagement in conservation.

For the few days I was at Durrell, I created a workshop on Conservation Education Theory & Practice, covering aspects of learning theory and lots of practical activity in communication and presentation skills. The students were great to work with, and it is a privilege to have met them and been involved in their development, and I was delighted to read their feedback, for example:

“It is very interesting session; the funny way you do the education is good. I think that it helps a lot to share examples of education in conservation. Personally I have got many tips from the sessions and many things to apply back home.”

“Great enthusiasm, some great ideas; kept us interested. Gave me new skills. Very relevant to my career. Useful contact to have”.

For conservation to succeed it is essential that the people and communities around conservation projects are fully engaged and informed; and its not always easy, so we covered using different techniques for different audiences and building the students confidence in this area.  I look forward to hearing of their work in the field in years to come.