Tag Archives: training

ON TOP OF THE WORLD – UAE 2021

As the world met in Glasgow for COP26, and largely failed to make a big impact on the global climate crisis, I was in the heat of the United Arab Emirates. It was impressive, but likewise shocking from an environmental point of view, to see the modern city of Dubai from the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The city pretty much didn’t exist 40 years ago and is still rapidly growing.

However, it was great to also go out into the mountains by Wadi Shawka in Sharjah Emirate, and enjoy an early morning hike (before it got too hot). Some wonderful plants here adapted to the arid conditions.

In the mountains by Wadi Shawka, Sharjah, UAE

This was not a holiday trip. It was my second visit this year to Sharjah Emirate and work with the Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) www.epaashj.ae on their very exciting new project, Sharjah Safari. This new innovative safari park has been 6 years in the creation and is nearing being ready to open. It will be the largest safari park out of Africa and in large part ‘mimic’ the African safari experience with guests guided in vehicles around on ‘game drives’.

Sharjah Safari will be a high quality experience with excellent animal welfare. Full details will be available once the Park is open, but for now it is largely ‘under wraps’. My role, which we first discussed back in 2019, was to advise and support the development of education at the Park and play a role in the training of staff. It was challenging to some extent with the heat, language and cultural differences, but exciting to work with an international team, and a large number of Sharjah Emirate ladies who will be the face of the visitor experience and education delivery.

Such great feedback on ZooStephen workshop, (1=not much to 3 = very much)

I look forward to being able to see the Park once it is operational and see the staff at work after their detailed training programme, and I’m sure Sharjah Safari will be on many people’s ‘wish list’ for visiting once you hear about it in more detail and see images. However, due to the heat it will be closed in high summer, so best time to visit is likely to be October to March/April.

In The Beginning…

My zoo career began in Spring 1987 when I got a lucky break and a job as a Zoo Education Officer based on my enthusiasm and general knowledge – I was not qualified in biology or teaching at that time. Today, it is much more difficult to get that first, (and second), break and get into the profession. So I was really pleased to be part of the launch of the new Zookeeper and Aquarist Apprenticeship programme at Sparsholt College this August.

The 24 month Apprenticeship programme gives participants a structured and supported way of learning the practice of zookeeping /being an aquarist both in work and with ‘college’ sessions.

The course induction at Sparsholt involved Jo Judge, CEO of BIAZA outlining the importance of zoos and the role of BIAZA and outgoing course coordinator Penny, outlining the course and welcoming all the students. Penny had pretty much created the programme and coordinated the ‘subject experts’ that will deliver aspects of the work to be undertaken.

My role on the induction was to inspire and excite the new apprentices about the profession they are entering into and introduce the role of zoos, giving a historical perspective and some thoughts on the modern ‘keeper’. I also took the opportunity to talk about ABWAK, the UK & Irish Zookeepers association.

As Sparsholt has its own licenced zoo collection some time was spent outdoors looking at the centre, and undertaking a brief “browse identification” exercise. And students also got enrolled onto the college computer network to gain access to the online portfolio system that will be their record-keeping mechanism throughout the apprenticeship.

The group were great to work with at the start of their careers. All much younger than the 34 years I have worked in zoos! and most very recently enrolled in the profession. I wish the apprentices all the best for the course and their work, and look forward to further contact in future.

NEW beginnings don’t just come at the start of a career. As I write this I am about to travel to the UAE and do some on site work with the EPAA, on their amazing new Sharjah Safari with whom I have a consultancy contract. Its been a while in the planning, I started discussions with them back in April 2019, and of course covid got in the way and delayed things more, but I’m looking forward to seeing the site for real, meeting and working with team.

Real People, Real Engagement… and more to come

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.

Normal Life ? Reopening

What is normal? The pandemic and associated restrictions and mitigation over the past 14 months have changed ‘normal life’ such that some things will not return to the way they once were. This is no bad thing for some aspects, but operations in the education and tourism sector, including zoos and aquariums, has been especially challenged. Reopening has begun across many areas.

Bluebells at Kinclaven Woods, Perthshire, Scotland, end of May 2021

ZooStephen operations have been significantly affected and limited during this time. However, it has been opportunity to enjoy nature at home and on the doorstep. Also a chance to reflect upon what is important, to support others in their training and awareness, in encouraging access to the countryside (eg. as a Trustee of the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust), and consider ideas for new developments.

The conservation work of zoos, which includes education, is directly funded from the operation of the zoo. In areas such as the UK where no state funding is provided, this conservation work has been funded by zoo generated income – largely from visitors. Limited resources have to be focused to ensure animal welfare, and so the education and conservation role has seen reduced support. Innovation such as online delivery and resources have helped – but do raise the question of how these are paid for and is it sustainable?

The USP of the zoo and aquarium is real, live animals. Seeing these through a screen and with an online ‘podcast’ or presentation enables access for many, but is missing the ‘real’ experience. So it is great that zoos and aquariums are now open again, and staff are beginning to get used to visitors sharing the sights, sounds and smells of the collection once more. Engaging people with conservation through education and activity on site is still challenging and social distancing, indoor mask wearing etc have to be accounted for in delivery and effectiveness.

The new normal is yet to be established. On site education programmes will adapt, which is great. However, we need to see how effective different methods are through evaluation exercises and thereby inform the establishment of the ‘new normal’ for education and conservation.

Delivering online lessons/training does work and ZooStephen has done some of this in 2020-21, however, I’m looking forward to real in person engagement again. The online approach is something to continue but to use appropriately and ensure its effective for the desired outcomes.

One of the workshops developed this year and delivered for FdSc students at Plumpton College

Connecting people to nature begins at home and in their local environment, whilst encouraging an understanding and awareness of the national, regional and global impact we have. Zoos and aquariums can be great conduits for this ‘big picture’ so it is hoped that reopening provides new opportunities to engage and inform, to inspire and excite and get people to continue to enjoy and respect nature, and ultimately to make a difference.

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 🙂

Optimism in the face of adversity?

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.

DESMAN 2020 Participants, Jersey

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.

Hermitage Waterfall, Big Tree Country near Dunkeld, Perthshire

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’

Happy New Year… new opportunities.

Happy New Year, welcome 2020 (and soon to be Year of the Rat). ZooStephen is looking forward to more exciting, inspiring and educational activity in the year ahead – get in touch if I can help you with training workshops (eg presentation skills), lectures/talks, education programmes, interpretation, strategic review etc. Zoos (of all types and sizes), aquaria, museums, colleges, social/community groups etc

e: zoostephen@outlook.com

2019 concluded with another visit to Chimelong Safari Park & Birds Park, Guangzhou, China, and the great news that they have successfully achieved membership of WAZA, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the first in mainland China to do this. It has taken a lot of work by the team, developing new operational practices with animals, following international standards for education and overall continuous improvement and commitment to conservation and welfare.

Introduction to Reptiles and Amphibians class

Education at the parks is multi-dimensional and focused on diverse audiences, from pre-school to all school grades and of course general visitors across the generations. Work on setting desired outcomes and beginning to measure effectiveness has commenced and direct links to the school curriculum are in-built into the on site and outreach programmes.

I look forward to visiting Chimelong every few months in 2020 and helping them with the programme of continuous development and improvement and sharing this within and outwith China.

ZooStephen will also be involved in other activities through the year, continuing with DMZAA work at Sparsholt College and working (voluntarily) as a Trustee at Dudley Zoo & Castle. Meanwhile, I will still have some availability and flexibility for new work, as well as enjoying the great outdoors and especially my home country, Scotland.

Climate Change & China

To contact ZooStephen about training, advice, workshops etc email zoostephen@outlook.com

This summer has seen a lot of emphasis placed upon the environment in media and campaigns – whether this results in actual action (by politicians especially) is yet to be seen, but hopefully it indicates a wind of change.

ZooStephen has featured climate change in education activity for a number of years, however, this July, I completed the United Nations Climate Change Learning Partnership training course to equip me with even better understanding of the issues and potential to assist educational development in this field.

However, knowing about it is not enough – it’s important to encourage action that both mitigates and reduces climate emissions. The recent fires in Amazonia are but a small indication of how big a problem this is. It can be disheartening and overwhelming, so focus on what you can do and the more people who do that the more impact we have.

The impact of millions of people acting in particular ways can have a huge positive or negative effect. I’ve now worked with Chimelong Group in Guangzhou, China for over a year. Whilst their ‘zoos’ are very good, developing conservation and education is still relatively new – but I am excited by the prospect of being able to assist in delivering stories and messages to the tens of millions of people that visit the Chimelong sites. In time, there is opportunity to connect messages to actions, and promote more sustainable living and regaining harmony with nature. So climate change, plastic waste, resource use and wildlife conservation are all topics for behaviour change messages and activity.

Giving a talk (about chimpanzee behaviour) to visitors at Chimelong Safari, China

It was exciting and fun to get the opportunity in August to give a presentation on chimpanzee behaviour (including acting like a chimp, and chimp vocalisation) to thousands of visitors at Chimelong Safari as part of the Africa Discovery Show and a new programme of science communication. Definitely a ‘practice what you preach’ moment as well, given that in the evening I had around 50 keepers for a training session on giving such talks! And I was delighted that the next day the keeper presentation reflected ‘zoostephen’ training very well.

Training keepers at Chimelong Safari, Guangzhou, China, on presentation skills in the Africa Discovery Show arena

zoostephen@outlook.com

Graduation Time & Thanks

Summer has arrived, and with it comes the end of term and graduation for students across the country. Over the years, I have been involved with a number of FE/HE colleges and universities, in teaching, advising, assessing, speaking and doing workshops for.

Moreton Morrell College

In June I was pleased to revisit Moreton Morrell College, Warwickshire College Group, to complete my term as their Industry Advisor and to provide further feedback and advice and sit in on a viva exam on a Foundation Degree course.

It’s great when a student is able to talk through their dissertation project and answer questions about it – especially since a lot of work in the Animal Care industry does involve speaking to others and answering ‘random’ questions.

For many years I have also, and continue to be, involved with the DMZAA course operated for BIAZA by Sparsholt College. The Diploma in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals, continues to be the leading ‘zookeeper qualification’ in the UK (and a few overseas sites), with over 1000 graduates with DMZAA (and its previous incarnation, ANCMZA). A good background and detail in the role and work of zoos and specialist areas with some taxa specific options provides a great “grounding” for zoo staff (and recently also volunteer keepers), combined with their in-work experience, that supports day to day work and career progression and development.

Andy Beer with Lynn Whitnall, Paradise Wildlife Park, at the DMZAA Assessor’s meeting in March

The success of DMZAA is in part the diversity of staff in zoos that are and have been involved in both writing and assessing the course, and to the students that engage with it each year. However, a very large part of the credit for DMZAA (ANCMZA) should go to Andy Beer, Sparsholt College, who has led the development and implementation of it from the start, and who officially retires this July.

Andy is known across the UK & Irish zoo community and abroad, and his drive, dedication and enthusiasm as well as commitment of time and effort, has supported the professionalism of zookeeping in the UK & Ireland and enabled some transfer of this to the Middle East, Latvia and France. Thank you Andy for all that you have done for zookeepers and zoos. It’s appreciated.

He will of course not ‘fully retire’ and will no doubt continue to support zoos and staff training and development. Thankfully DMZAA continues, and passes to his colleague Penny, and this national standard recognised keeper qualification will continue to be awarded and achieved by keepers to come. I look forward to marking more assignments each month 🙂

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”