Tag Archives: education

Covid – an agent of change?

ZooStephen activity has been very restricted in these past months. A time to reflect and consider what is important and think about what future activities may be pursued. Everyone moved to ‘teaching online’ as the new way of delivering education and I created a series of videos supporting a programme of learning for remote delivery and variations of this resource will be available to others.

A buzzword of the times is ‘zoom’, alongside Microsoft Teams and Skype and my workshops and talks are available by online delivery. Whilst effective, there is however, no replacing real experience and learning in the environment itself.

It’s good that zoos, aquariums, wildlife sites, historic places etc are now open /re-opening, but of course it’s a changed world for now, with some of the important educational activities such as talks not being offered to avoid crowd formation.

In 2021 ZooStephen will continue to offer training workshops, advice and support and mentoring for educational activity both online and in person, and continue supporting keeper training through DMZAA at Sparsholt College, as well as other activity. I look forward to the opportunity to help others in developing and delivering conservation education and visitor experience.

Politics, People and Pessimism. Outdoor Opportunity & Optimism – Covid reflections

The world stopped. Earth asked for a reset, for a new way, a new normal. The deadly messenger was named Covid-19. It belonged to nowhere but went everywhere. In places it met with coordinated, planned  resistance but many countries ignored the warnings until it was too late. Knowledge was shared but didn’t result in immediate action and change. However, once the emotions were challenged with death and fear, self interest, science and opinion pushed and government responded… Lockdown!

The global pandemic saw different levels of action and commitment across the world. Some leaders acted swiftly and strong, others delayed and dithered, some even rejected the facts and believed they wouldn’t suffer.

Stay Home – Save Lives. A slogan that was clear and easy to understand. Support for ‘work at home’ and furlough schemes made it easy for some. Others struggled. The self employed found themselves unable to access help, then it came but not for all and not as fairly… whilst welcome, it was constrained and caveats limited its ‘generosity’ based on a calculation from earnings up to April 2019.  And then… many still had to work. The health and emergency services, food sales, transport, zookeepers, farmers and more had to work on… a long list of people still travelling about and having interactions, and the virus spread.

Meanwhile others locked themselves away, isolated, cut off. Some families, especially those with younger children found new connections and relationship, but it came with a cost… exclusion of the extended family. Grandparents and the vulnerable especially were ‘shielded’ but by aiming to keep safe, the cost to normal life and sharing with those who care was high. And the death toll increased.

Strong, timely, focused and clear action resulted in success… in New Zealand and some other countries such as Germany and Japan, and China seemed to get it under control too. Noticeable in their failure however, were Johnson (UK), Trump (USA) and Boslonaro (Brazil) – two of whom are known to have caught the virus. Their own agendas’ influenced policy and action to the detriment of many – and the death toll continued to rise.

In the UK, the devolved governments disagreed to some extent with the Johnson approach, not least after the breaking of lockdown restrictions by their ‘mastermind’ Cummings and his bluffing it through to the dismay of most.

Time goes by… (the story, truth, half truths, and lies, will be told and analysed in times to come).

Be Optimistic? However, one positive from the situation for me and many others – take regular, local, outdoor, socially-distanced, exercise. Being out in nature, and in my local area wasn’t new for me, however I discovered a few more paths, saw a few different people out and had some wonderful wildlife encounters – most notably with hares, deer and red squirrels.

Nature thrived. My garden became a feeding station for at least 2 pairs and 2 broods of blackbirds. One became quite tame, and demanding, waiting at my door for food to be put out and the fledglings were emboldened to come close. Allowing the weeds to grow, and having my wildflower pots, meant a small space became a jungle and insect haven.

Once a little more travel was allowed it was great to revisit Perthshire big tree country and the hills surrounding Perth too. Revisiting the Birnham oak which most likely dates from the 15th century and was certainly there when Shakespeare visited (and features in Macbeth – Birnham wood). It’s amazing to think that it has seen the world population rise from 450 million to near 8 billion, has lived through many regional and global pandemics and has been home to thousands of other organisms.

Birnham Oak

Whatever happens with Covid-19, we know nature will survive and if allowed to, will thrive. We have a great opportunity to re-connect and value what is important, for that I am optimistic. However, the action of politicians in power, and desire for return of ‘economic growth’, together with the selfish behaviour of some – abusing the environment, littering and being uncaring, are causes for pessimism and worry.

The post-covid19 world will be what we make it – the challenge is we need social and behaviour change from government, business and ‘ordinary’ people. Self-interest and nationalism are however, emerging as strong forces that are really difficult to challenge. Trump seeks re-election and US First policy… Johnson sees Brexit and the rise of an independent ‘Britain’ as the future… China sees opportunity and remains controlling, but is also easy to target in western society, and as for Putin and Russia, its hard to say…

An oak tree, a Douglas fir… a hungry blackbird, a ‘March hare’ and grazing deer… that I understand and will continue to enjoy and encourage others to do likewise 🙂

Communicating Conservation

Whilst the UK is in the midst of a general election, its a good opportunity to reflect on what is genuine commitment and well-meaning promises or words and messages designed to deflect, garner support, or even deceive. In conservation behaviour change messaging we need to be wary of over-promising or misleading, however, we too are in the ‘business’ of generating interest and support and “evangelising” for the environment and conservation.

Combining our ‘education’ role with behaviour change outcomes is a cause to be optimistic. It is clear knowledge does not equate to change, however, if we utilise the emotions and personal connections, success is possible. Brilliant TV documentaries like Blue Planet II and the plastics issue, is a good example. It seems the environment IS now an issue within the UK election, with plastics and climate change in many people’s minds.

snow leopard cub (one of 3), RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, Nov 2019

Zoos have contributed to conservation in many ways, some breeding for reintroduction (although far less than many people may think), development of science and skills for both zoo and in situ work etc., but our education role is the clear hope for the future – but likewise needs to move beyond the short school visit lesson to a real development of environmental and nature understanding and direct action, and lifelong learning.

UK zoo & aquarium educators (and those around the world) are passionate, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and skilled, however, they are under-resourced and under-supported in the scheme of things relative to the importance of ‘education’. It has, thankfully, always been the case that zoo & aquarium educators share and learn from one another.

Zoo & Aquarium Educators visiting RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, Nov 2019

Some 30+ years after I attended my first UK zoo educator conference, it was great to meet up with some of the attendees to the 2019 BIAZA Education & Presenter Conference on their extra day visit to Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms, Scotland. Whilst many of the day-to-day challenges are the same as they have always been, it is good that there is more and more focus on engaging people – of all ages, experiences and abilities – in nature and what they can do to address environmental issues, whilst loving the world we live in.

City of Bristol College (South Bristol)

At City of Bristol College earlier this month, it was great to spend a day with students raising their awareness and understanding, as well as helping them with developing skills in communication and preparing for careers in the ‘animal sector’. We need more good, passionate communicators to promote the ways in which the future of life on Earth can be contributed to and developed by individuals and not just dictated by political, commercial and ideological elites.

ZooStephen workshops and training activities are tailored to each college/course or zoo and available across the UK (and abroad) throughout the year. Contact zoostephen@outlook.com

We should never forget the reality of life and the way our society works (or doesn’t) and that, as campaigners such as Greta Thunberg have shown us, there is a need to challenge the ‘establishment’ as it currently exists with its reliance on ‘economic growth’ and consumerism. There is some cause for optimism, but as election campaigning shows us, people can have very fixed ideas, beliefs and opinions and don’t like them questioned or challenged.

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.

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!

Inspiring and Educating Millions Every Year

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.

 

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.)

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.

IZE Journal 2017 – International, National, Local

Through much of my zoo education career I have engaged with and been a member of the International Zoo Educators association (www.izea.net). This network of passionate and dedicated educators across the globe, most of whom are based in zoos and aquariums, freely share ideas and approaches to engaging people in nature and conservation.

 I was honoured to be chosen by IZE to be on the Executive Committee and to be the Journal Editor for the past 5 issues. The latest, my last, 2017 Journal has just been published and will be circulated to members during August. (Past issues are available on the website).

A diversity of projects and activities are reported upon, many of which can be applied in different contexts, from international to national to local.

The evaluation of activity  is also reported and provides evidence of effectiveness, and lessons to apply in future.

Thanks to all contributors to this journal (and the previous ones) and to the excellent team on the IZE Board for their support and assistance in sourcing articles and proof reading. Best wishes to Judy Mann-Lang who takes up the role of Editor for the next issue.

 

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.