Sharing Insights from 2015 Asian Zoo Educators Conference

January 22, 2016  

Biodiversity – Embrace it! Share it! Celebrate it!

Authored by Rachel Lowry (IZE President) and Isabel Li (President-elect)

The Seoul Human Resource Centre was bustling with energy, enthusiasm and a desire to reflect and learn during December 7 to 12th 2015, as zoo and aquarium educators from across the Asian region shared their educational practices and aspirations on behalf of their institutions.

The conference began with a warm welcome from the conference host, Mr Chun-hun Song, Director of Seoul Grand Park, who expressed his concern for the accelerating loss of species and habitats, and the need for the AZEC to develop a broad-scale network throughout Asia to help address this problem.

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IZE President Rachel Lowry gave a keynote address, reminding delegates that zoo and aquarium educators are influencers, and that good zoos run good education programs. She shared insights into zoo education programs from around the world that have proven to influence pro-environmental attitudes, knowledge and behaviours, and reminded participants in the value of educators collaborating with environmental psychologists, marketeers and social scientists.

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The theme of the conference called on zoo and aquarium educators to embrace biodiversity, and the presentations that followed highlighted that zoos and aquariums from across the Asian regions are certainly rising to this challenge. Over the course of 5 days, conference participants were exposed to a wide range of educational programs with highlights including:

  • The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium’s efforts to raise awareness of marine pollution through clever interpretive techniques and a ‘Garbage Ocean Q and A’;
  • Hong Kong’s Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden’s night safari walks designed to help connect the community to their local species;
  • Seoul Zoo’s human-centered approach to educational programs that inspire students to create butterfly friendly gardens and help bee species through fun interactive seed bombs;
  • Taipei Zoo’s efforts to raise awareness of the plight of Eurasian Otter and Leopard Cats through short videos that help share the individual stories of animals within their care;
  • Dusit Zoo’s campaign to tackle the wildlife pet trade through their ‘slow lorries, the journey towards loneliness’ program which aims to create public empathy for animals held as pets;
  • The Eco-Education and Resource Centre’s (Hong Kong) ‘Big Fish Amazing Race Program’ which encourages citizen science through a fun competition that motivates the community to help build up the local database of reef fish;
  • Action for Animals and the Korean Animal Rights Advocates’ presentations reminding zoos that a strong and positive commitment towards providing positive animal welfare is an essential foundation for all zoo education programs;
  • The Korean Debate Coaching Committee’s efforts to invite students to Seoul Zoo to debate the role of zoos through a structured debating program. The initiative helped to promote interest and a deeper understanding of the important role of zoos and animal welfare;
  • National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea’s sharing of the educational roles of marine aquariums and a case study on the evaluation of a marine aquarium summer camp experience.
  • Hong Kong Ocean Park’s Blue Matters campaign which promoted a new approach to program design and highlighted shifts in attitudes towards sustainable seafood thanks to a commitment to program evaluation and ongoing refinement.

The final presentation of the conference was delivered by Hiroyuki Takahashi who is the Chair of the Japanese Zoos and Aquariums Educators (JZAE), an educator at Chiba Zoological Park and the incoming IZE Regional Representative for North and South Asia. Hiro reminded conference delegates that the best programs are those delivered through fun and interactive experiences and shared Chiba’s successful attempts to engage college students with biodiversity.

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Overall, the conference highlighted the incredible talent across the Asian Zoo Educators group and it was clear that the Asian region are committed to growing their network and education impact top help strengthen the important role of zoos and aquariums in fighting wildlife extinction.

It was incredibly heartening to see the level of support and interest in further collaborating with IZE from all conference participants, and it was a great privilege for IZE to have been invited to have had such great representation at the conference. Many sincere thanks to the wonderful hosts at Seoul Grand Park.

To find out more about the Asian Zoo Educators Conference 2015 visit www.azec2015.com