Tag Archives: education

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.

 

Durrell’s Army and Academy Workshop

I was delighted to be involved in delivery of a conservation education short course and DESMAN at the wonderful Durrell Academy based at Durrell Wildlife Park in Jersey last weekend.

With participants from India, Brazil, Mauritius, Madagascar, Tanzania, Nigeria, Congo Republic, Seychelles, St. Lucia, and the UK, the course benefited enormously from the wealth of experiences and backgrounds each person brought with them and it made my job of facilitating learning and sharing of educational practice very enjoyable.
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Utilising a mix of lecture with discussion, and diversity of activities from role play to storytelling, we covered a wealth of techniques and tips for educational engagement in a diversity of contexts and for a variety of audiences from children to adults.

The Durrell Academy and the Durrell Wildlife Hostel at Les Noyers, right next to the zoo, is a great facility and one that is world-leading, showing what a good zoo can do to make a real and lasting commitment to the conservation of species and habitats on a global scale. I was especially pleased to be ‘teaching’ here as I attended the opening of this centre back in 1984 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the zoo, and it’s so good to see how Gerald Durrell’s vision has come to life.les noyers

durrell academyWith the 12 week DESMAN – Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate – the participants achieve academic recognition, validated by the University of Kent. The course has a high reputation and it is brilliant that scholarships are available.

The wonderful participants are now part of the growing Durrell’s Army of conservationists – most of whom work in the field across the world.

I enjoyed returning on ‘pilgrimage’ again to the zoo, now known as Durrell Wildlife Park and seeing species such as Livingstone’s fruit bat, giant jumping rat, aye aye, Round Island skink, orang utan, and gorilla. It was great to see the wonderful ‘Gerald Durrell Story’ exhibition too which opened last year. I was also lucky to see the red-billed chough not only in the zoo but at the release site on the Jersey coast – part of a cooperative project to restore Jersey’s natural habitat. Conservation at home as well as globally.

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durrell gorilla