I want to begin by saying welcome to our new website! This is the result of lots of discussion and months of hard work from the BIAZA team. It also heralds a new era for BIAZA with a more open forum of communication for our members and non-members alike. Last year we celebrated our 50th anniversary, looking at how far we have come as the professional zoo and aquarium Association of Britain and Ireland and recognising the successes that our member zoos and aquariums have had. As we turn our eyes ahead to the next 50 years, we want to be able to showcase that work to the wider world and the new website is one way in which we endeavour to do this.
Four years ago I took on the position of Director of BIAZA with a clear belief that our zoos and aquariums can be a force for positive change, and that has only increased over the years as I am consistently inspired by the wonderful work our members undertake.
I always knew I wanted to work with animals and in conservation and, given that one of my older brothers was already working within the zoo world when I was completing my first degree, I had had some exposure to this community. However, it was only as I progressed through my career that I began to realise the significant impact that a zoo or aquarium can play within both its immediate community and the wider world.
I am lucky that I have been able to work for some truly inspirational directors who have encouraged me to develop my skills and test my beliefs. I have also worked as both keeper and behavioural researcher within the zoo community before taking on the role of BIAZA Director. During this time I tried to maximise my skills set and understanding of the wider community by taking on a variety of roles; EEP studbook coordinator, EAZA TAG vice chair, BIAZA chair Living Collection Committee to name a few. We have such diversity and individuality within our community that you really need to immerse yourself within it to try to understand it fully, and even then it is complex.
However, our diversity can be a positive thing for the Association. When we work together, different organisations with a common goal, complimenting each other’s strengths, we become a positive force for the betterment of the world around us. Over the last few years we have seen an incredible change in the development of social media and communication technologies. Recently these opportunities have grown to include virtual reality. Without doubt this will be a technology that will bring huge social changes in the ways that we, as a species, communicate and we are already seeing organisations such as Facebook trying to position themselves to gain maximum advantage from this.
How do we, as organisations that promote getting back in touch with nature, use this growing technology effectively to compliment the unique experiences we can provide within our zoos, aquariums, bird parks, or conservation centres? I want to be very clear that for me, as with most of you, it should only ever be a technology that complements our experiences, not replaces them. I recently saw a presentation from a South American zoo, who took virtual reality to a music festival and showcased footage of a release of maned wolves into the wild. I felt that this was a really innovative way to engage and enabled them to tell a different audience an inspiring story of their work! Examples like this demonstrate that there are great opportunities ahead of us.
As I was thinking about this blog, I walked into the zoo to refresh my thoughts. As often happens for me I ended up standing in front of the gorilla enclosure. This silverback is an individual I have now known since he was just a youngster. In front of the enclosure were a group of school children gazing at him while their teacher told them about gorillas. Standing in the midst of this capital city, there was this place of calm where the eyes of small children grow round in awe when faced with this stunning animal. And this is an area where we are truly unique. We work with the groups around us and build our strengths in the local communities, developing zoos and aquariums as significant resources for those people around us, both where our sites are based and where our projects are centred, whether overseas or round the corner. The modern zoo or aquarium is more than simply a conservation centre, but a community centre within the British and Irish culture; a place for families, a place for friends and a positive environment the future of our world.
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