As part of ZSL’s ongoing conservation work with Asiatic lions, senior learning manager Rachel Haydon spent a week in India helping to shape Sakkarbaug Zoo’s educational activities around wildlife conservation in the Gir Forest National Park.
In her five-part blog series, Rachel talks us through her incredible trip to see these majestic creatures in the wild, as well as how to best communicate key conservation messages with the local communities in the Gir.
After an amazing week in India, we had to say good bye to our beautiful surroundings. I wish the Wildlife Institute of India, Sakkarbaug Zoo and Gujarat Forest Department staff all the best in their work and can’t wait to see what they develop to engage people further in their conservation efforts. They are very lucky to live with the amazing range of wildlife they have in their ‘backyards’.
There were some reluctant farewells before setting off for the return eight hour car journey back to Ahmedabad before a 3am start to the airport. We luckily had time to have a final dinner together with our amazing Wildlife Institute of India hosts before saying goodnight. I will miss more than just the people - the food was fantastic!
ZSL’s work with the Wildlife Institute of India, Sakkarbaug Zoo and Gujarat Forest Department to safeguard Asiatic lions, is something for us to be very proud of. The people we met and the work they do, the hospitality we were shown and the passion we observed just made us all more motivated to help.
Once back at (the considerably cooler) ZSL London Zoo, the Discovery & Learning (D&L) team welcomed hearing about my experience and seeing the photos of all we saw, not to mention receiving the items they had requested from me for new activities. The D&L team have five exciting new school sessions planned for the innovative learning space in the Land of the Lions exhibit, including storytelling (for 3-5 year olds) which I managed to get the most beautiful traditional Gujarati rug for. The new learning space is a fantastic room in the heart of the exhibit and has windows directly into the Hanuman langur and Asiatic lion enclosures. The lion window even has small holes drilled into it so our curious pride can smell the hands of children!
If I was missing India on my return, it didn’t take long to get back in touch with my colleagues in Gujarat. The new evaluation plan for Sakkarbaug Zoo was the first priority to focus on and Skype calls made it very easy for myself and Cass, our ZSL Evaluation Coordinator, to help staff at Sakkarbaug Zoo and the Wildlife Institute of India plan their next steps. We finalised a general visitor evaluation plan in addition to plans for student and teacher feedback too. This information is invaluable to gauge the success of current education activity at Sakkarbaug Zoo, but also help to build a clearer profile of Zoo visitors and get their ideas about what they would like to see and do. This is going to help Sakkarbaug Zoo plan new activity and exhibits that their visitors will really enjoy.
In March this year, our friends and colleagues from India visited us in London for the opening of our new Land of the Lions exhibit. I was so excited to be a part of the team who got to show them what their help and support has helped us achieve here.
I can’t wait for Land of the Lions at ZSL London Zoo to open to the public at Easter 2016. This will allow us to support a global breeding effort for these lions, and bring the Gir Forest to life for our visitors to experience.
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