Charlotte Coales, coordinator for public engagement with conservation science, discusses how and why she’s introducing ZSL’s world renowned conservation and research to different audiences.
On a day of (rare) sunshine in the summer, visitors flock to ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos, drawn by the promise of seeing some incredible animals from across the world. They’re likely to notice our dedicated zookeepers during feeding times, or our presenters revealing weird and wonderful facts about the iconic species that call ZSL home, but peer behind the scenes and there’s a host of heroes whose work for wildlife you may not have heard of.
From investigating stranded whales around the coast of the UK to tracking pangolins in the forest of Cameroon, our conservationists and scientists are doing incredible work across the world to conserve and better understand animals and their habitats. It’s my job, as coordinator for public engagement with conservation science, to connect these experts with different audiences, helping them to showcase the amazing work they’re doing.
By seeking out opportunities to bring our staff and students together with the public, we’re helping to create a two way dialogue. My role here at ZSL, which takes inspiration from the work happening in the museum and university sectors, places scientists on the front line of public engagement, giving visitors a unique and first-hand insight into their work. Not only does this bring the story of their work to life for our visitors, but it also allows our scientists to consider the wider impact and relevance of their work.
I’ve always had a passion for wildlife, and since I can remember was inspired by the likes of Jack London, David Attenborough and Dian Fossey. After undertaking a Master’s degree in science communication, I worked in a number of communication and education roles in museums before moving into the Discovery and Learning team here at ZSL. It’s the lessons I learnt in places like the Natural History Museum about connecting audiences with the stories and people behind the specimens, that I’m now applying to public engagement work at ZSL.
From science stands onsite at our Zoos during summer evening events, to external events and science festivals like New Scientists Live, there are now plenty of occasions to come face-to-face with ZSL’s conservationists and scientists.
One of our most popular events has been the CSI of the Sea series. Showcasing the work of the Cetaceans Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP), the team that investigate the strandings of whales, dolphins and porpoises around the UK coast, these events allow an audience to experience the post-mortem of a stranded dolphin or porpoise via a live video link to one of the ZSL’s pathology labs. Praised for being “crammed full of information which was presented in such a way that it was made accessible to everyone who is interested in the subject”, the events have been the perfect way to draw attention to a successful and long-running research programme (now in its 26th year!) that has been hidden behind the scenes at ZSL, whilst giving the audiences a fascinating insight into the anatomy and evolution of cetaceans.
Through training, practice and on-going support, public engagement work also gives our conservation scientists confidence in communicating their work to a non-scientific audience, vital skills that can aid them in their discussions with policy makers, funders and stakeholders, ensuring the continued impact of their work. By effectively engaging with public and community audiences, politicians and change-makers, together we really can have a positive impact on wildlife across the world.
Look out for
We’ve got lots of fantastic opportunities coming up this year for you to meet our devoted conservation scientists:
- 9-18 March – Skype a Scientist in British Science Week – Celebrate British Science Week and join the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) online, from the comfort of your classroom or assembly hall, to give your secondary students the opportunity to meet a ZSL scientist.
- 12 March - CSI of the Sea (online event) – Hear from our expert CSIP team as they perform a post mortem on a stranded harbour porpoise and discuss the threat of bycatch on the world’s cetaceans.
- June-July - Zoo Nights 2018 – Look out for announcements of this year’s Zoo Nights events at ZSL London Zoo, where you can visit our science stations to hear from our conservation heroes.
- 2-8 July - Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition – A free festival celebrating the science shaping our future, scientists for ZSL will be on hand to showcase how we’re using technology to monitor species in remote areas.
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