Friday, 30 December 2016

Who is Team Building with BITE?

By Mark Kingston Jones


 It is a totally unique idea, so how did it come about...

And as many people wonder, did it just fall into our laps? Well Team Building with BITE was founded in 2014 by Chris Hales and myself, Mark Kingston Jones, and it has definitely been more of a snow ball effect over the last 7 years!

I have been in the animal welfare field since my second year at the University of Stirling, where I was studying for a BSc in Psychology. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Professor Hannah Buchanan-Smith who totally changed my outlook on animal welfare and the direction I was heading. She set me up with one of her PhD students as a research assistant in the summer of my first year (yes I am an animal geek and proud), collecting data on the effects that visitors had on polar bears and amur tigers at the RZSS –Edinburgh Zoo.

This experience encouraged me to come up with my craziest idea ever (even more so than letting corporate groups play with power tools and make things for exotic animals). The Lionrover, a remote-control car designed to survive attacks from large cats! I persuaded Adam Gerschel-Clarke, a friend studying product design at Brighton, to design and build this creation. With his incredible ingenuity he succeeded on a minimal budget and we ran it at Blair Drummond Safari Park with their pride of 20 African Lions. This was my major foot in the door of the zoo world and after volunteering at the Safari Park for a year and a half, and running another two research projects I took a job there as an educator and support keeper.

In 2008 I moved down to Kent to work in education and research at John Aspinall’s famous Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks. I had already started to work on the crossover between zoo education and animal welfare in my previous experiences, but it was during my 6 years at the Parks that the ideas really started to develop. I found that the two areas were not mutually exclusive and when applied imaginatively could not only compliment, but significantly enhance each other. I started to develop the idea of people paying to make enrichment items for animals, and importantly I started working with Chris.

Chris has been a keeper at Port Lympne since 1997, and still works there part time over the winter. He actually came to the zoo world through a background in film and media, something which he still uses when he produces the great videos of our events for the teams to keep. Whilst filming and photographing animals, Chris discovered a new passion and managed to persuade the late John Aspinall to give him a job based on his fantastic practical skills. When we met we were both already doing a lot of enrichment work in our own areas but Chris being extremely design oriented and keen to teach others the skills he has learnt over the years, showed me how we could really take the workshops we were doing to the next level.

As zoos often work with limited budgets and keepers do not always get the time they would like to build enrichment for their animals, the workshops were started to create the simple items keepers could use but were not time-effective for them to make. As other zoos do, we achieved this through members of the public and school groups who were visiting the zoos, and it worked well, but we needed money to fund the enrichment ideas we were coming up with, so I developed the idea to transfer to corporates with simple creations. With Chris’s involvement however, we began to take it to a whole other level. We have both managed teams, so recognize the benefits and pitfalls of group dynamics. We have seen the benefits of enrichment building in the workshops we run for students, where groups of strangers, often with no practical background at all, work together to design and build some great devices for animals. Finally we have seen the restorative power of these communal efforts, watching keepers in developing countries through our volunteering for The Shape of Enrichment, seeing people who do not always get along very well together, unite over the creation of a shared item. It was at this point we really started to develop the team building aspect.

In March 2014, we both became self-employed in order to use our combined 30+ years of experience in zoos/animal welfare in order to advance what we do, increase our scope and enhance our connection with SHAPE. We are currently planning our 80th Team Building Workshop, we are discussing collaborations with several other animal collections covering the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland, and we are working on several new packages to enhance the lives of the animals we work with and surpass our client’s wildest dreams.

Want to find out more about some of the incredible collections that we work with? Check out their websites below:

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