For us as a company the concept of conservation education is a hugely important part of the conservation umbrella, and the one on which we like to focus the majority of our energy. We believe that the animals themselves are our biggest aid to educating people about their conservation because people take more notice of the animals as living beings, when confronted with them in the flesh.
This is a view which seems to be shared and mirrored by the WAZA conservation strategy (which, along with the EAZA Conservation Education Standards are consulted during the production and updating of our conservation policies) who state that:
“It is widely held that animals in zoos and aquariums are ambassadors for animals in the wild and assist in communicating key messages to society on the conservation of biodiversity… This promotes emotional learning and by creating an emotional connection to wildlife research has found that visitors ae more likely to support and donate to wildlife conservation, to change their behaviour and, perhaps, even become stewards and champions for conservation. ”
Wingham Wildlife Park is in a unique position due to its size and intimate nature, that we are able to use more than just educational signage around the park and on the animal exhibits to convey this message. Our staff are trained to spend part of their working day by engaging the visitors to the park and giving impromptu talks about the animals in their care and the conservation issues which they face.
We are making a conscious effort to ensure that we have a separated and easily identifiable strategy for each of the parks. However, the fact that we also own Wingham Wildlife Park puts us in a fairly unique position of being able to trial the two ways in which the parks will deliver their educational strategies. Perhaps there is an opportunity for us to further the field of conservation education through studies carried out by us on the 2 approaches. WWP is an intimate venue where a true love and care for these animals can be fostered in our visitors. The World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy sees this kind of research as an essential part of their conservation research vision, with “type 2” of their research definitions being research which:
“Has the purpose of gathering new knowledge to serve the institution’s conservation mission. This covers research that may assess visitor attitudes and preferences, and how their interest in and attitudes towards conservation and sustainability may be improved, and benefit efficient approaches to communicating conservation goals and environmental education. ”
This education will be carried out in the park in a number of ways beyond these impromptu one on one talks by the animal enclosures:
For a park such as ourselves who may not have the budget for a full education and conservation department and able to run a large variety of workshops and tours etc. the most effective way to get across our messages, and to be able to do so in the most effective and abundant manner is through the use of signs. This is especially the case as we have found that these signs can come in a wide range of sizes and applications to cover the widest range of topics, spread to the largest audience possible.
- Standard Information signs on enclosures — Each enclosure has on it an information sign which tells people the name of the species (both common and scientific), their size, habitat, distribution, group life, breeding, feeding habits, conservation status and threats.
- Further information signs — A further addition to our enclosure signage is the concept of further information signs. These may run alongside our usual species information signs if they are on a related topic (such as our Penguin enclosure which has a separate sign about penguin threats and conservation) or may replace the enclosure sign. These signs may cover a wide range of topics including conservation, use of that species in popular media, habitat, interesting facts or related species.
Children’s Interactive Books
Wingham Wildlife Park Animal Welfare (registered charity) produced a book based upon a character set which they call the Conservation Warriors. This is a fairly simple but fun book full of activities which children can carry out at home, or which they can enjoy whilst visiting either Sandwich Wildlife Park or Wingham Wildlife Park as it has been tailored to work with both sites.
Once again, our partnership with Wingham Wildlife Park Animal Welfare, puts us in a unique and important position where the seeming show of numbers and associations can help to foster an interest in animals and conservation amongst children, who are receiving this message from various angles. We hope that in this way we can try to follow one of the major recommendations which the World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy makes:
“Consider developing partnerships with academic institutions and/or other zoos and aquariums with research resources, and take a leadership role in developing the next generation of conservation biologists, including creating opportunities for children to aim for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. ”
Alongside our living exhibits we also employ an inanimate object type of exhibit for getting people to connect more with the natural world as a whole. This is the use of museum exhibits in our park to try and tie the animals in our collection to the stark reality of threats such of poaching and the encroachment on to their land by palm oil farmers. In particular it helps to make a more impactful impression by being made up of items sourced from seizures by Her Majesties Customs and Excise.
The main focus and angle of this exhibit is to target the holiday market. A huge proportion of the items seized by customs are not being smuggled in to the country maliciously, but by mistake. When many people see certain skins and other materials for sale in and around airports, it is a common assumption that they can be purchased and braught back like any other product. This exhibit is designed to make people think about their choices during a responsible holiday abroad.
Managed Breeding Programmes
Signs and museum exhibits alone however aren’t enough and our conservation strategy needs to rely on the idea of combining a number of different approaches. As such we need to ensure that at least a proportion of our animal species are not only ambassadors for the natural world but have some direct conservation value themselves. The best way to ensure this is to take part in managed breeding programmes (preferably in association with EAZA). Whilst species such as the lesser galago are already part of our collection and falling in to such a category, within the EAZA framework we are able to participate in up to 5 of these studbooks, and plan to continue to do so.
Conservation Directed Research
As is also a way for us to fulfil our licensing requirements from a research perspective, it also plays in important part in our conservation strategy, pulling from the World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy which states that one of the key responsibilities which zoos and aquariums must accept is that we should:
“Support conservation-directed social and biological research. ”
This is something which we have already started to actively involve ourselves in at the start of 2018 with things such as biological samples (in this case faeces) being provided for PhD level research. Most of our research attention will come from students studying at a degree level or higher. One area in which this will be helped is through an education tie (facilitated by Wingham Wildlife Park), with Hadlow College.
What are we planning for the future?
The educational signage which goes hand in hand with the conservation message at our park is already in place, however especially those signs which are in the further information category need to continue to be improved upon and increased in number. Furthermore in regard to printed media, we will be working with Sandwich Wildlife Park and Wingham Wildlife Park Animal Welfare to expand upon and further improve the interactive children book, “Conservation Warriors”.
The final and biggest way in which we are planning to further contribute to conservation in the future is through financial contributions made through fund raising efforts to field conservation projects. There are some very exciting projects being carried out in Uganda by the Population Sustainability Network which have a direct impact on a wide variety of animal species and habitats, thus making them easily recognisable and relevant to most collections. The most important aspect of these projects is that they were made possible thanks to the financial contributions by Wingham Wildlife Park Animal Welfare (WWPAW). As such, due to our dedication to and expertise in those specific projects and existing ties, these will be the projects we will move forward to support financially.
However, much of our conservation work will start to fully come in to its own once we open to the public and are able to spread our conservation message and raise meaningful levels of funds (although this has already begun with promotion through social media pages of a give as you live page which allows people to raise funds for WWPAW by shopping online).