Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Choosing a favorite is hard!

By Chris Hales

When you are busy concentrating on the future, it's easy to forget what has come before. But as we have just completed our 80th workshop it seemed like a great time to take a breather and have a look at what has come before.

Picking a favourite workshop is no easy task. There are so many things to base the decision on; the group, the excitement of the day, the location, the species we worked with, and the keeper reaction to the device being used by one of their animals. But that last one seems like a great place to start.

Many of the items built during our Team Building events are prototypes, but sometimes they work so well that we like to revisit an idea and improve on it. Several years ago, Mark and myself built a feeder for anteaters at Howletts in Kent, and we loved the idea. Suddenly there were huge groups of public watching the anteaters as they used their fantastic tongues to extract the food at the public viewing area. So when we were asked about running an event at Longleat which had the right time period and amount of people, we jumped at the chance to revisit the anteater idea.

The group had a great time creating the device, and at the end of the build we took it to the keepers to be installed in the window of the anteater house. We have several ways of judging whether a workshop is a success, but usually it is the keepers reaction. What you have to remember is that these dedicated individuals are used to seeing their animals interacting with different things, it's not as new or exciting to them. But occasionally we run a workshop where the keepers reaction is priceless, and this was one of those moments. Take a look at the awesome video below, and see if you can spot the keepers in the background trying to film it all with their phones.

So what is my absolute favourite workshop? It really is a hard choice. I'm a carnivore person at heart, and so love anything that gets a great reaction from the meat eaters. From Spectacled Bears enjoying some firehose hammocks, meerkats searching for bugs in some feeders, right through to some incredibly agile fossa checking out a new suspended bed. But surprisingly I have to turn to the primates for my favourite.

Towards the end of 2016 we ran a Team Building event at Port Lympne. We have had a design for a ‘colobus catapult’ in our heads for years, but had never had the opportunity to put it to the test. After several successful workshops with the Port Lympne primate department it seemed like the right time to approach them about our crazy idea when the right sized group approached us. The team did an amazing job of turning our concept into reality, and the colobus interacted brilliantly with the four devices.

 But it was actually the reaction of the participants that really made this my top event. We had laughter, we had tears (of joy!) and we had some incredible comments… “this is the most job satisfaction I have had in years!” Yes, that will do it.

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