EU-ZooS XXI is an innovative new education project, sponsored by the European Commission, designed to involve the general public in designing the communication strategies for zoos. The three-year project is being led by a consortium of zoos and aquaria , involving Zoo Marine Portugal, Zoo Marine Italy, Kolmarden Zoo, Sweden, Niabi Zoo, USA, and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, British Channel Islands. The project will consider how zoos can more effectively communicate a message about biodiversity conservation, with a particular focus on endangered species, invasive species and ecological connectivity. According to Education officer and partner in the project Birgitta Amundin from Kolmården Zoo Sweden,
“As zoo educators we spend much of our time thinking about what we want to say and how we are going to convey a sense of passion and urgency to our zoo visitors. This project provides us with a rare opportunity to listen to what the visitors want to be told and how”.
A vital part of the project will be the facilitation of public participation workshops in each of the four zoos and aquaria in which a cross-section of people will be asked to develop their own ideas of what sort of educational message should be given to zoo visitors and whether this should be through talks, educational packs, exhibits or more interactive experiences. The ideas generated in these workshops will then be put into practice in each of the establishments with pre- and post-evaluations being conducted on their effectiveness at conveying a conservation message. Jamie Copsey from Durrell who will be hosting the first of these workshops in Jersey in October says,
“I’m excited to have the chance to genuinely engage with our zoo visitors and others who may not visit us for whatever reason, to find out how we can more effectively connect what we want to say with what they want to hear- if we are to really begin to change people’s behaviour our messages need to be relevant to their everyday lives. We can talk about deforestation in Indonesia or palm oil plantations, but how relevant are these ideas to the people we so desperately want to connect with? I can’t wait to start really listening to what the ‘lay person’ thinks and feels and how we can better reach out to them through different mediums”.