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Friends for Sharks

Yesterday I learnt lots of amazing things about sharks! For instance did you know that there are 465 species of shark and have up to 40000 teeth in their lifetime?! I learnt that Great Whites grow up to 6m long, weigh up to 2 tonnes, live up to 70 years and can reach speeds of 20mph! Why did I learn these lovely little facts about sharks? I attended an open lecture by a marine conservation cause called ‘Friends for Sharks’. This cause was dreamt up and is run by shark experts and enthusiasts Kathryn Hodgson and Nick Curzon. Both have spent large amounts of time studying and working with sharks and decided that they would like to travel spreading word about these fascinating and misjudged creatures. In their talks they not only give you lots of interesting facts about sharks, Great Whites in particular, but they also spread the word about the plight of sharks and how you can help! They explained how sharks are threatened in several ways, for example: incorrect and sensationalist media, shark fin soup and poaching. All in all sharks are threatened by us! Kathryn and Nick told us some horrendous and quite upsetting statistics about the effect we are having on sharks. Shockingly 11400 sharks are killed per hour! Only 3000 great whites are left in the world, at the most, and they could go extinct in our life time! What can we do to help stop this? EDUCATION. And that’s exactly what Kathryn and Nick are doing with Freinds for Sharks, in an exciting, interesting, and passionate way! They are currently taking their talk on a world tour, the flights for which they are paying for out of their own pockets! So have a look on their website and see if their world tour is coming anywhere near you! If you work somewhere that could benefit from their talks I highly recommend you get in touch as this talk will benefit people of all ages, with a little or a lot of marine knowledge. Or if you are unable to visit a talk but want to help them along please make a donation to them! This will go towards educational resources, essential tour costs (but not flights as previously mentioned) and to support their chosen charities; Project Aware and the Shark Trust. You can get all this info and more at their website: http://www.friendsforsharks.com On top of all this I was also quite personally touched by this talk, persuaded not to ever give up on my dream! Kathryn has been on a long and what seems like a difficult road to get her to the point of starting Friends for Sharks. Things like people telling her to get a ‘normal’ job and struggling through injury. Yet here she is, spreading the word about her passion in life and helping to save these magnificent creatures. She’s even written a book about her journey, which I will definitely be reading! You can find it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/No-Damage-adventure-courage-survival-ebook/dp/B00R2ZF14Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423149350&sr=8-1&keywords=kathryn+hodgson She promised me there would be a paper back soon 😉 I wish Friends for Sharks all the luck in the world for their tour! A truly inspiring venture. 🙂

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Always meet your Idols…

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This week I had the honour of meeting arguably the most influential man in the natural history industry, Sir David Attenborough!

Sir David was visiting Paignton Zoo to film our Bornean Orang-utan Mali and her baby Tatau for a new documentary about tool using animals. The zoo was chosen for it’s natural like enclosure that our animals our kept in; a very rewarding moment for the keepers!

After his day of filming staff were invited to come and meet him! It was incredible to see so many members of staff, of all different ages, all inspired by the same man. I think it is safe to say that there is no other person who has inspired so many different generations of animal lovers.

We were taken in our departments to have our photo taken and any memorabilia signed. It must have been a long day for anyone, let alone if you are 88 years old! Yet Sir David seemed genuinely happy to sit and chat to us all signing countless amounts of books and dvds. He was in his classic linen suit light blue shirt looking very well and sounding just as serene as when on our screens.

It’s safe to say that I became rather emotional and have been teased about this ever since! But hey ho, it’s not everyday you meet your hero and I cry at a good episode of Dancing on Ice!

So who ever said never meet your idols need to meet Sir David Attenborough! A day I will never forget and will always treasure.

Just Steve Backshall and Bill Bailey to go…

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Busy as a Bee!

The last few weeks have been chock-a-block! Full of bug eating, big bangs and bottom wiggling!

I have been incredibly busy with work over the past few weeks but during that time I have been involved in some very exciting educational activities. Firstly, back in July, was the South West Big Bang Fair, held at Exeter University. This event is all about getting children into science! Children from lots of different secondary schools had brought along their science projects to be judged, and some of the ideas were just genius; from particle physics to sustainable building. The rest of the hall was full of scientific organisations with activities aiming to get children into science.
This is where we came in; myself, a presenter from living coasts and 4 Zoo interns went along to show children the wide range of fascinating Zoo careers they could become involved in. Our activities were mainly vet related and included ‘Guess the animal X-ray’, learning how to resuscitate a dog, and practicing cheetah darting skills. We also had lots of animal artefacts to look at and a really interesting sustainable fishing game. We were really pleased with how popular our activities were. By the end of the day we had spoken to around 400 students and all our career booklets had gone! Hopefully we inspired some future keepers, vets, teachers and researchers!

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Next up was the Exeter Summer Dine event. This was a marketing event and involved local attractions and restaurants visiting Exeter town centre to advertise their business, but of course our stall had an environmental twist!
This twist was our bug eating challenge. On the menu for brave shoppers that day were meal worms, crickets and locus! The reason behind this grim sounding challenge is a serious environmental message. As Earth’s population continues to grow, agricultural land continues to expand, destroying habitats as it does so and soon enough we are going to run out of room. Therefore we need to find a sustainable food source that can feed this massive population without causing more damage to our environment. Insects like these really seem to fit that bill; plus they have no calories and are full of protein! 80% of the worlds population already eat insects on a regular basis, only us Europeans are grossed out by the concept. Therefore my aim was to help people get over the fear of eating an insect. My personal favourite is the locus. 😛
Overall the day went very well. Lots of people were really interested and brave, especially young children. However on this occasion I was absolutely shocked at the rudeness of some members of the general public; no thank you is a perfectly suitable answer. The bug eating challenge will always be one of my favourite activities, every reaction is different!

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Finally, over the last few weeks I have been teaching!!! 😀
One of the Zoos education officers sadly left us recently meaning that until the position was filled, formal Zoo teaching sessions would need to be covered. I was so flattered when I was asked to do some of them!
Even though I have taught lessons all day on placement, my first session for the zoo was particularly nerve racking. I think this is because this was my chance; my chance to show I can teach! I read through the session plan over and over and before I new it the children were there ready. The lesson went really well and I loved every single minute of it and was buzzing for the rest of the day!
I have now taught lessons to children from year 1-6 about tropical rainforests, animals around the world, baby animals and will be teaching about African animals next week. My favourite part of any session so far is when talking about peacocks. I get the boys to all stand up holding peacock feathers and to do their best peacock bottom wiggle dance to the girls! The girls are never very impressed but it always gets them giggling. 🙂
These few sessions have been such a fantastic opportunity for me. Firstly they confirmed that this really is what I want to do and I will continue working hard to get there. Secondly I have been given positive for my lessons so far by the class teachers; which means my hard work has not been for nothing, I can do this!

I will be sad when I teach my last session next week. But the last few weeks have definitely continued to motivate me to keep working hard, keep trying to improve what I do, and things might just fall into place!

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Not your average day at the zoo!

This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to an educators day at Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth, Devon). Dartmoor Zoo is a small BIAZA zoo set in beautiful Devonshire countryside. The zoo used to be better known for the mistreatment of its animals. But since it was bought by Benjamin Mee, who successfully refurbished and reopened it in 2007, this little zoo makes for a great day out with a lovely collection of well looked after animals. I was very much looking forward to seeing if the education side of the zoo matched the successful development of the site.
First off we had a short introduction talk, which is where we got our first surprise! A young Rhea, named Zazu, strutted its way into the room. I can only imagine the excitement of children if this happened during a lesson at the zoo!
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Next we were shown the close encounters room. This room had a wide range of reptiles and insects that we could get close to, hold or feel. This would be a fantastic experience for children, especially to face some fears! I think it is essential that children learn about the importance of the not so cute and cuddly animals such as frogs and cockroaches. The only criticism I have of this room is that it is quite small and maybe would not fit a large class or a child in a wheelchair.
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Next we were taken to the dissection room to watch a sheep dissection. This is something that Dartmoor Zoo are clearly proud of, and rightly so. Andy, who is pictured chopping up the sheep, is interesting, humorous and a natural performer. During the dissection I was so engrossed that I very quickly forgot any nerves I had about feeling uncomfortable or queasy. Unfortunately the sound system used to listen to Andy talking from behind the glass is dated and in desperate need of an update. The system completely cut out during our talk and even though a solution was quickly found I fear that if this happened during a talk with children that their attention would be quickly lost. This would be an utter shame because I can safely say I learnt a great deal in the short time we had and it is a truly unique experience.
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We then had a demonstration from the company which Dartmoor zoo use for bush craft sessions, who were entertaining and knowledgeable. They also demonstrated their ability to differentiate their lessons for all ages, when a stray child walked along and decided to join in with the session! I leant some new fire lighting techniques such as short circuiting a torch with wire wool. Unfortunately the group I was in did not do overly well in the fire lighting competitions, but it was all great fun!
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Finally we were taken to see Grow 4 Good’s section of the zoo. Grow for Good is a project that leases land from the zoo for horticultural purposes. What makes this project special is that their volunteers are usually children who are struggling in society, the work they do helps to ‘reduce the likelihood of (these children) becoming marginalized or offending’. What makes it even better is the salad grown is bought by Dartmoor Zoo and sold in the cafe.
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All in all I was incredibly impressed by what the zoo offers for education. The zoo uses its size to it’s advantage, the selling point being that the experience children will have will be personalised and unique! The zoo provides children with experiences I don’t think they would forget in a hurry.
A truly valuable and interesting day. Thank you very much Dartmoor Zoo.