Today, Thursday 14th November, is International Day of Zoo and Aquarium Educators. On what better way to celebrate this day than to thank our team here at the Isle of Wight Zoo for their tireless work in educating young and old about the animals in our care and the work we do in India, in Madagascar and here, on the island. Our team comprises of Tracy Dove (Education Manager), Ruth Ash, Karen Collier, Jan Gray, Kerrie Hastry and Georgie McCarthy.

As part of this International Day, our team were asked a series of questions including how long they have worked as zoo educators, what their motivation was tho their becoming a zoo educator and was it at the top of their list to advocate for.

How many years have you worked as a zoo educator?
Tracy: 13 years
Kerrie: 3 years
Georgie: 8 years
6 years
Karen: 4 years
Jan: 10 years

What was your previous job before joining the team?
Tracy: Primary Science Teacher
Kerrie: I’ve had a few careers including dancer, pet shop colleague, dog wear designer and my job before this one was as an office manager.
Georgie: Estate Agent
Ruth: Primary School Classroom Teacher
Karen: Previous job was as sub editor before moving to island and now have varied career including massage therapist as well as zoo educator.
I am a qualified special needs teacher and before working at the Zoo I was working in a special Unit with children of all ages, who had been permanently excluded from mainstream education. These children often needed to access education in a different way, like using Nature and the outdoor environment.

What has motivated you to become a zoo educator?
Tracy: Working in this setting gives me a wonderful opportunity to bring awe and wonder for animals and for nature into the lives of those whom I teach. Our mission is to inspire people to care about nature and to empower people to take positive action for the natural world. I can’t think of anything more important!
Kerrie: This is literally my dream job. I’ve always been totally obsessed with animals particularly cats and when visiting other zoos and sanctuaries I would be envious of the tour guides.
Georgie: Isle Of Wight Zoo and its strong ethos about animal welfare/ the natural world/ sharing the wonder and beauty of the animals we care for.
Ruth: I was motivated to become a Zoo Educator quite by chance, through a former colleague in the Teaching Profession.
Karen: Motivation is a love of the animals as well as the challenge of public speaking, something I hadn’t had much experience in doing.
Jan: In my previous job I saw how powerful Nature could be in helping children to learn so the Zoo environment was a great development of this and combined with my own passion for animals. It was a dream come true to be able to work in this way and in this this role.

Could you recall one of your most satisfying moments as a zoo educator?
Tracy: There have been so many! But I think seeing the look of wide-eyed wonder on the face of a child on seeing a real, live tiger for the first time is something I will never tire of.
Kerrie: I remember when I first started being incredibly nervous but then, one day, I noticed the audience actually enjoying my talks and even getting emotional about some of our animals stories. It’s such a privilege to be able to engage with people in this way and ignite the spark that makes them think about nature and our planet. I get so much pleasure when people say to me “wow I didn’t know that”.
Georgie: The best thing for me is when I have a family of very different ages coming to the zoo for a quick morning / afternoon and end up staying the whole day- the best was youngest 5 oldest 85
Ruth: One of my most satisfying moments, always, as a Zoo Educator is to engage an audience, watch as they journey with you in your messaging and feel a shift in their understanding and empowerment when they leave you. For example, to have a family who intends to visit for a mere hour or so then stays with you for every single talk (all eight in one day) to their own huge surprise because they now ‘get’ the Zoo, is a very positive feeling.
Karen: There are many satisfying moments, the main one knowing that you’ve made a connection with visitors who are then able to appreciate work of the zoo.
One of the special moments I can recall was with a young person with complex needs who found it difficult to relate positively to new people and new situations. The support staff were also concerned he might not cope on the Zoo visit …However after a class room session and an outside tour seeing the Zoo animals – all things people thought were maybe too much for him – he was able to articulate with myself, a stranger, and to engage with Nature with awe wonder and a great sense of humour. I also heard later he was able to access more direct learning from the visit. Truly the power of Nature in action.

Could you tell us one sustainable behaviour that is top of your list to advocate for?
Tracy: Checking that the paper and timber products we buy are from sustainable sources is something we can all do easily. Just look for the Forestry Stewardship Council logo. The planet’s forests are critically important for wildlife and also for people, so it is vital that we do everything we can to prevent further deforestation.
Kerrie: I really do think it’s important for us as a society to eat less meat. Livestock farming has such an environmental impact. Livestock farming takes twice as much land as arable farming and contributes hugely to biodiversity loss. I’m not suggesting we all become vegetarian just eat less meat and buy locally produced food as much as possible.
Georgie: Recycle everything including furniture! We need our rainforests!
Ruth: One sustainable behaviour that’s top of my list is stopping creating needless demand in the first place: re-use that so-called ‘single-use’ plastic, donate and buy clothes and other items from charity shops, recycle rubbish to avoid further landfill, walk reasonable distances and leave the car at home.
Karen: The sustainable behaviour I’m most likely to advocate during my talks is buying wood- based products with the FSC mark. It’s something that’s relevant to many of our species suffering habitat loss.
Finally, over recent years it is very apparent that although children are taught a lot about trees, little is taught about the role of trees in the prevention of soil erosion. This links directly with the problems in Madagascar and the conservation work the Zoo helps to support. I make it my mission to talk about this. I also extend it to the importance of trees for us here in the U.K. and for the planet. Therefore, I make it my mission to encourage our visitors to value, care for and plant a tree or trees.