LIKE BIRDS OF A FEATHER, LET’S CONSERVE TOGETHER – IZEA JEP 15-29th July 2019. Parque das Aves
Recently, I had an amazing opportunity to learn from the education team at Parque das Aves, an avian zoo in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. I’m from Australia, and I had never been to South America, and never really been to a non-English speaking country before (and I wasn’t even a huge fan of birds!). I thought about applying for an ‘easier’ institution, perhaps somewhere closer – rather than the exact opposite side of the planet – or at least an institution in a country I had visited before. But when I researched the available institutions, I loved the conservation education philosophy that Parque das Aves talked about, and I decided to push myself way out of my comfort zone and just go for it…Then I was accepted, and I started to question every decision I had made up to this point! What was I thinking? I can’t go to Brazil on my own, how would I even get there? How would I pay for it? How could I leave my family, my job, and my animals for that long?! I don’t even like birds?! Many of my family and friends thought I was crazy – going to a completely foreign country not exactly known for its safety, where I don’t speak the language, and didn’t know how things worked or exactly what I would be doing – and truth be told I thought I was a little crazy too! But, nothing ventured nothing gained, so I reassured myself (and everyone else) that it was a good idea, an amazing opportunity, I do actually like birds, and I made it work. And boy am I glad I did! It was an incredible experience. The IZEA linked me with a contact at Parque das Aves and they made everything super easy, keeping in contact and letting me know how everything would work and what I would be doing. They helped me organise accommodation, picked me up from the airport and took very good care of me for my entire stay (Brazilian food is amazing by the way, and I may have put on weight with how well they fed me!). But best of all, I got to meet people and learn things I otherwise never would have had the chance to.
I Arrived in Foz do Iguacu nearly 48 hours after leaving home, after four long flights. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and had no idea what to expect, but I was met at the airport by one of the educators from Parque das Aves, and taken to the zoo for lunch and a short tour. Then it was back to the managers apartment to sleep for the next 12 hours. Over the next two weeks I got a small (but eye opening) glimpse into their range of conservation education programs. I got to see how they run their holiday programs – with fun, educational activities introducing children to all the different aspects of work in a zoo. Their public education programs – teaching visitors about the different kinds of Aves (birds), Papagaio (parrots), and Borbolletas (Butterflies), the issues of illegal parrot trafficking, habitat loss, and climate change affecting the Atlantic Rainforest, and giving people tangible actions that they can do to help protect the Rainforest and its’ inhabitants. I joined in on the ongoing ‘Guardians of the Rainforest’ club with children who attend regular activities to learn more about the Atlantic Rainforest and how they can protect it. And best of all I was able to witness their philosophy in action – situated in the Atlantic Rainforest, where around 80% of Brazilians live, many people are unaware of the importance of the Rainforest (or even that it ISN’T the Amazon). So, the zoo recently changed its focus to be exclusively on the Atlantic Rainforest, increasing public awareness about it and the birds and animals living there, both with locals and visitors. I absolutely fell in love with this hyper focus philosophy to protect what is visible, tangible, and ‘ours’! While Parque das Aves is a smaller zoo than my own, and I am used to delivering a wider range of educational programs, the overall philosophy of the whole zoo has inspired me to change the way that I educate and potentially the focus of many of our education programs as a whole.
I know that working in zoo education is incredibly important, and always rewarding, but it can also be really hard, and even draining. Dealing with people who fight against zoos, people who don’t care about (or are even actively fighting against) the environment and conservation, even just knowing and seeing environmental crises all around us, we can sometimes feel like what we are doing just isn’t enough. But coming to a different country, a different zoo, we learn that there are so many others fighting the same fight, and working to teach the same message that we are. What we do may sometimes feel small and insignificant, but if you put all of us together, we are making a really big difference across the globe. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have participated in the JEP this year and so thankful to Parque das Aves for hosting me and sharing their knowledge and experience with me. It is so amazing to be a part of this global movement to educate people about the environment and how we can protect it. (And maybe I even love birds now too!)
Lesson #1: Laughter has no language!
No matter the country, no matter the language, kids are kids! I wasn’t sure how I’d go interacting when I didn’t share their language, but it turns out they still just want to muck around and have fun! And if you can manage even a couple of words in their language, they are so excited you tried, they don’t care how badly you pronounce it! And I was very thankful for that!
Lesson #2: Love the Little Brown Ones!
One of the best lessons I learned is that every country has their charismatic animals, and their ‘little brown ones’. In Brazil everyone knows and loves Araras (Macaws), while few people know about the Macuco (Solitary Tinamou). I think that in zoos and aquariums we often showcase the charismatic animals, perhaps hoping for a ‘trickle-down effect’ – hook people with the animals they know and love, then hope they will inadvertently like the little brown ones simply because they like animals in general. But I don’t think this is good enough. The team at Parque das Aves taught me that it is important to celebrate and showcase their little brown ones just as much as the charismatic ones, and I absolutely love that!
Lesson #3: Everyone has something to teach, if we are willing to learn.
Travelling to a completely different country, that I have never been to, and that I don’t share a language with was nerve wracking and very difficult, but also extremely rewarding! I decided to push myself right out of my comfort zone with this experience and it did not disappoint. I opened myself up to new people, new experiences, and new lessons. And the best part was, it wasn’t just the educators I learned from. As always, I also learned from the kids! They taught me about new animals, new food, and a different way of living and experiencing life. And for that I will be forever grateful!
Lesson #4: We’re all looking towards the same future!
One of the best things I will take away from this experience, is the knowledge that we are all in this together! While working in zoo education is always rewarding, and fun, it can sometimes be really hard. From dealing with people who fight against zoos, people who don’t care about (or are even actively fighting against) conservation, to just knowing and seeing environmental crises all around us, we can sometimes feel like what we are doing just isn’t enough. But coming to a different country, a different zoo, we learn that there are so many others fighting the same fight, and working to teach the same message. What we do may sometimes feel small and insignificant, but if you put all of us together, we are making a really big difference across the globe. And I am so lucky to be a part of that!