BIAZA member Wild Discovery describes how they continued achieving their education mission, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an unpredictable year, zoos have faced many hardships, none more so than the education departments. With the cancelling of talks, school visits, volunteer programmes, encounters, and experiences it has left many staff at a loss for work. Now more than ever the plight of zoos must be broadcasted, and it is the task of the education departments to raise awareness and support for their collections.
To encourage our message of education through interaction we took to the social media platforms to engage our audience. Throughout the first lockdown in March, the education team launched daily livestreams via their Facebook. Each day we brought a different animal onto the screens of our watchers, through informal talks and Q&A. Our audience were kept up-to-date on the daily running’s of the zoo with some light-hearted banter from the team. We continued to deliver our conservation education message despite the lockdown barriers.
We extended our virtual presence by offering tours and classes to schools. Schools could book private virtual zoo tours with our keepers, offering personal sessions based on their curriculum. These zoom sessions replaced their physical trip to the zoo, offering the children a chance to ask our keepers any weird or wonderful questions. The virtual tours brought a new, exciting activity to the schools during a disappointing time when all other activities were postponed. This feature became so popular we found ourselves broadcasting to people across the UK and even across continents. We were contacted by an international school in Kuwait, if we would brighten the day of their hundreds of pupils who were in 22-hour lockdown. The joy of seeing animals holds no language barrier, which highlights the ideal nature of virtual interactions.
2020 has been taxing for the children, facing isolation from friends, restricted outdoor access, cancelled trips and closed schools. Most disappointingly would have been the inability to visit Santa, grottos and his reindeer. In a difficult year, a little bit of Christmas magic would have a significant impact on improving a child’s mental wellbeing.
Therefore, equipped with some elf costumes, a camera and our star reindeer we produced the Reindeer Virtual Experience. Our education elves and reindeer could zoom right into the classroom of children across the country spreading some Christmas Cheer. Prepared with a Santa-based script about reindeer and personalised messages from the teachers, the virtual calls helped to cement their belief in Father Christmas. Calls lasted 20 minutes and included live Question and Answer sessions with the children. These sessions were also inclusive for disability support groups, organised clubs i.e. rainbows and scouts and family groups.
In addition, we also offered the Virtual Present Surprise. Targeted, but not exclusive to, a slightly older age bracket, this experience offered the children the chance to make Christmas presents for the animals and watch then being ‘opened’ live on zoom. Utilised throughout zoos at Christmas time, cardboard box enrichment items are wrapped and designed as presents are a social media highlight. Using this idea, we outsourced the enrichment making to the children! The education team communicated with the classes on how to make them safely, and target the intended behaviours. The classes then designed the ‘presents’ for their chosen animal and delivered them to the zoo. The children could then share in the moment of watching the animals open their presents via a live zoom call. This experience proved be a successful educational tool, encouraging the planning of multiple lessons for the class by researching their animals, its behaviours, the building process and the zoom call. The animals enjoyed the novel items, creating a fun engagement and improved mental state for themselves, and the children.
Given the unpredictable nature of the Covid pandemic, switching to a virtual platform will be the saving grace of education. Continuing this trend also creates an inclusive experience for people who may not be able to physically or financially visit the zoo. These calls and classes ensure the education team are still delivering on Wild Discovery’s message of ‘bringing the zoo to you!’
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