Monday, 9 January 2017

Enrichment in zoos – why get involved?

By Mark Kingston Jones

Well the initial response is 'duh, because it is awesome, why wouldn’t you?!' 

But some people are not big fans of the ‘Z’ word, only a couple of weeks ago I went to a big event and was told that the ‘Zoo’ word was not welcome there. For many people working in zoos and conservation, myself included, in an ideal world we would not need zoos. Unfortunately, the facts are very clear, habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate, and wild species are getting decimated. In this world there are a lot of hugely positive things that good zoos can achieve. Just one example is the species living in the wild today that would be long extinct, were it not for captive breeding and reintroduction programmes. Some of these species are housed at the great collections we work with, like European bison at Port Lympne Reserve and Pere David's deer at Longleat Safari Park.

Still there are many that do not agree with the conservation justification of zoos, and that is ok because you don’t need to in order to buy into our workshops. The simple fact is, these animals are in captivity and we want to do absolutely everything in our power to give them the best welfare, the best life, that we can. Now this is something that the animal keepers and caregivers are already working hard to do on a daily basis and we are very lucky to work with some incredible keepers. As with everything in life though, time is limited and resources are stretched and this is where we come in, or more precisely you, because we make use of your team’s time and energy, and your company's money to help fix this – seriously! Importantly though we make sure to pay it back by giving you and your team the chance to see first-hand what you have achieved and what is possible. You get to be a part of the solution, which gives an incredible sense of satisfaction when seeing the end results, and on the journey there you get to test and develop your own team dynamics, it is win-win!

People who work with animals get to experience this feel good factor all the time. Through the keeper courses that we run through SHAPE we see this all the time. People who have worked with animals for years and years, positively gushing over something they have created being utilised in the way they hoped – or in many cases differently to the way we expected but in an amazing way. If you have a pet at home and you make something for them to interact with, or a new piece of furniture for them to rest on, and they use it, take that feeling and multiply it by the satisfaction of seeing a wild animal do the same thing. We want our clients to experience that feeling and because they do not work with these animals everyday it is so much more powerful.

Some people can get really emotional when they see the items being used by the animals; we had one lady crying as she was so happy at their response to something she had made. It is an extreme response but it does highlight that it really is a powerful end to what is essentially the group's hard work, which they completed together! And in a world where we are increasingly disconnected from wildlife and nature it is a wonderful thing to bring a bit of that connection back. How many of you watched the incredible footage in Planet Earth II and marvelled at the amazing range of behaviours animals show? Well, we want to show you some of those behaviours first hand. And how many of you were screaming at the little hawksbill turtles heading the wrong way up the beach, wishing you could do something (and you can by the way if you have not seen this amazing follow up footage)? Well we want to help you do something too, give something back to nature and reap the rewards in seeing the outcome.

If you are still not convinced by the Z word, then we do understand, but we work in many captive settings and there are many fantastic animal sanctuaries that are equally keen for your help, from ex-pet monkeys enjoying their retirement in the woodlands of Lakeview Monkey Sanctuary, to horses and donkeys being kept in sanctuary, we really can work with all of them, and we would love to give you the chance to work with them too. 

Stay tuned for a new package we are producing which will allow to you do even more for some of the amazing animals we work with!

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