Zoo education is an important part of the whole zoological park experience. Naturally, everyone’s #1 focus is seeing rare animals and endangered species, appreciating their beauty, their quirks and their antics. Parents can read the signs and relay facts to their children about various creatures. However, zoo directors say that their facilities are meant to educate visitors about habitat destruction, how personal choices affect animal populations and about conservation efforts. With donations, activism and active participation, countless species can be rescued from the brink of extinction.
A London Zoo has recently received two awards for its zoo education programs. In 2004, the United Kingdom’s Chester Zoo won the Sandford Award (run by The Council for Environmental Education). Judges called the Chester zoological park “an excellent resource” and said that “nothing could compare to seeing live, wild animals at close quarters.” In 2009, the zoo won this same award again. Zoo head of Discovery and Learning, Stephen McKeown, explained: “The awards take into account our whole approach to conservation education, including taught educational discovery programs for schools, interactive materials, award-winning signage at animal enclosures around the zoo and extensive library facilities. What makes us different from a normal classroom is the environment we occupy and the 7,000 animals within it. Seeing and handling things from live snakes to snake skins and exploring the x-rays of animals opens up a whole new world that more and more students are now taking advantage of.” The Chester Zoo is just one of many parks offering unprecedented access to exotic animals.
Many opportunities are available for zoo education at the Houston Zoo. As their mission statement plainly says: “By promoting connections with the natural world through diverse learning experiences, we strive to empower others to inquire, act and conserve.” Teachers and students can visit the zoo for free and enjoy a number of special activities, including an Adventure Class (where students touch animals and artifacts in a hands-on lab simulation), Eco-Tracks (where students watch a 30-minute video and take a self-guided tour) or Critter Encounters (where students watch a factual 20-minute presentation). There are also overnight adventures, which include dinner, continental breakfast, interactive activities, petting zoos, guided walks and two park admissions for $45. Kids ages 10-12 can attend Zoo Keeper Camp to learn about the day-to-day activities of animal caregivers for $425. Other “Zoofari” camp events allow children to build their own large-scale animal zoo, learn how species adapt to new environments and partner up with conservationists.
The Melbourne Zoo offers overnight camp activities, conservation classes, teaching opportunities and school programs in their zoo education division. Younger kids will learn about animal habitats, cycles of life and animal similarities/differences, while other kids learn about carnivore evolution, animal exhibit design, meerkat psychology and survival behavior. Sleepovers and full day programs at the zoo allow students an immersive study of biological topics. Conservation study topics include Investing in Nesting, the Orangutan Browse Plantation Project, Conservation Connection, Trees/Paws/Claws, Web Spinners, Planning for Parrots, Bags for Burramys and Biodiversity in Your School. There’s no limit to what you can learn during a full day at an Australian zoo!
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