Politics is a natural fit for conservationists says Andy Hall, BIAZA’s communications and public affairs manager who asks why zoos and aquariums are not more involved in influencing policy?
The role of politics and the work of informing politicians & policy makers (public affairs) has not traditionally been a major component to the everyday work of zoos and aquariums. Over the course of the terrible coronavirus pandemic the way decisions of our politicians directly affected all of our lives every day and public affairs became apparent on a daily basis.
BIAZA transformed over the pandemic. The working groups and committees were paused as zoos and aquariums focussed on the existential threat at hand and our focus turned to politics. As I joined BIAZA at the very beginning of the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to help this transition.
BIAZA along with organisations such as ALVA, ASVA and NFAN were thrusted into the inboxes of politicians and officials. Over the pandemic and beyond BIAZA has held hundreds of meetings with officials and politicians across the five BIAZA nations. Subsequently we won significant support from Governments, including at times exemptions from lockdowns, early easing of restrictions for zoos and financial aid that helped over 60 zoos/aquariums survive the financial devastation of the pandemic.
With the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind us, getting involved in politics is more important than ever. It was public affairs work that allowed BIAZA to meet with the Minister for zoos within hours of erroneous reports of an UK elephant ban and allowed us to clarify the situation. It’s public affairs that means we have a voice at the table as the Kept Animal Bill and Animal Sentience Bill are discussed. And work in this area will allow us to shape zoo standards across multiple nations.
It is fair to say that public affairs is an underexplored aspect to the work of zoos and aquariums. Coming from a background of environmental-campaigning it is remarkable to me that so very few public affairs professionals work across zoos and aquariums.
Yet politics is a natural fit for conservationists. It is policy which enables field work to go ahead, it is policy which can change the underlying causes of population declines. Victories in their area can make a big difference to the future of species - think of marine protected zones, international trade agreements and climate change treaties.
The potential is massive. There are over 400 zoo licence holders across the BIAZA territories, each having their own elected representative. BIAZA organisations are often leaders in their own communities and have an outsized impact on a local, regional, national and international scale. In 2019 BIAZA zoos received >35 million visits, that is more than double which watched Sir David Attenborough’s seminal Blue Planet II which itself set in motion serious changes in policy regarding single use plastic. BIAZA zoos and aquariums are world leaders in science, in conservation, education and animal welfare – we should be utilising this incredible expertise to influence policies.
In an extinction crisis the public are looking to zoos and aquariums to lead the way. As organisations with conservation at our heart this must include shaping policy to the benefit of wildlife everywhere. Even the smallest organisations can make a difference by forging relationships with their local politicians and being fully engaged with decisions on their local patch. The opportunities are huge – I ask each BIAZA organisation to look seriously at how they can expand the time and energy dedicated to political engagement.
By Andy Hall,
Communications and public affairs manager at BIAZA
All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions.
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