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School is well and truly out for the summer. The run up to the summer holidays at the AWCP means only one thing – school tours and field trips! After missing the 2020 field trip season due to the pandemic lockdown, it was great to finally have the local school field trips resumed after Easter this year. The AWCP prides itself in its conservation education and informative tours. This year the program has been further expanded to include outreach sessions at local schools, something the AWCP will now be offering throughout the academic year.

Traditionally, school tours tend to take place from Easter onwards, until the end of the summer term in July. These visits to the zoo are obviously a source of excitement for the children and being immersed in nature has been proven to enhance learning. This year, thanks to the addition of Education Interns, the park has been able to begin expanding their education program for schools beyond the usual 3-4 months of the year.

One of the first education interns to the park is 22-year-old Cara Macleod from Scotland. Cara has just completed degree in Biological Sciences at UCL. Cara will be at the AWCP for a full year. This will give her plenty of time to not only help out with the new educational program at the park, but also to gain full training in animal husbandry and various aspects of zoo keeping such as animal training and welfare. Cara has also begun training in conducting animal behavioural research on some of the animals at the AWCP.

Cara was able to take part in the first ever AWCP Outreach Session at Governor’s Meadow School in June this year. The topic up for discussion was ‘Habitats & Endangered Species’. The AWCP Education team has formulated a programme to cover curriculum topics for Key Stages 2-4, (these are now available to view on the AWCP website). Anna Merrett was the first ever Educational Intern at the AWCP and has sadly now come to the end of her 12 months internship at the AWCP. With a background in education and ecology, Anna has been an invaluable help organising the topics into the relevant Key Stages in readiness for the Outreach Programmes.

9am – The AWCP team arrived at the school just in time for the first classes. The sight of the khaki shorts and AWCP T-shirts caused a buzz of excitement with the children, excited for what was to come. Being offsite and away from the animals was quite unnerving for the team, one of the most challenging parts of Outreach is how to keep the children’s interest when there are no actual animals in tow. The team therefore came prepared with plenty of animal artefacts and even soft toys from the zoo, for the activities they had planned for the children throughout the morning.

The Year 2s were divided into three groups to rotate around the three different activities. The first part would be a slideshow and talk from myself, the Park Manager, where the children learned all about what an endangered species is, why they are endangered, their habitats and also what each person can do to help save animal habitats and species. It was great to see that the children were very enthusiastic about this part of the talk and offered up many suggestions on how we can all help to save animal habitats. At the AWCP we have our ‘Habits for Habitats’ campaign which aims to promote simple changes we can make every day to help save habitats and species around the world. To spice up the classroom time, the children were able to have a close look at some animal artefacts at the end of the session, as feathers, bird nests and snakeskins were passed around the classroom. They even got a close up look at the shed exoskeleton from Charlotte, the Mexican red-knee tarantula!

11 am – After some classroom time, the children went to the sports hall to play the Endangered Species Game with Anna. This game allows the children to visualise rainforest habitat destruction and the impacts this has on the individual species living there. Each child was given a soft toy to represent an animal species in the forest. The gym mats represent the trees and the ‘homes’ of the animals. Each time a mat (or tree) is removed, animals and species are displaced and the habitat becomes smaller and more restricted, resources (fruits and foods) become scarcer. “I think this game was a real success, you could really see the children begin to understand the impacts of habitat destruction as the game went on,” said Anna. “Learning through play is always very effective, especially at this age.”

12pm – Next up was Cara who was introducing the children to the Pharah Footprints, an activity using stencils of endangered species to teach children about the IUCN Red List and the categorisation of endangered species. Each footprint is stencilled in the colour representing the IUCN conservation status of the animal. Cara first explained what each colour represented and the children were able to choose which endangered species footprint to stencil. The area chosen for the stencils was outside of the school dining hall so the children could see their colourful animal prints every day. A non-toxic poster paint is used which will fade over time, further promoting the fact that these conservation statuses can change over time, either positively, as animals are protected and conservation efforts are successful, or negatively as unprotected species define in the wild, demonstrating how crucial conservation action is in helping to save species.

“I found that the children really enjoyed the physical aspect of painting the stencils and getting a bit messy is always fun! It’s great that they will see the footprints every day and be reminded about endangered species and also what they can each do to help save endangered species and their habitats,” said Cara.

2pm – After a short bus ride back to the park, the afternoon was business as usual. “I came to the AWCP as an Education Intern but I also love the animal husbandry side of the job. It has been great learning about all the different animals and why they are here at the AWCP”. Education doesn’t stop at schools. Cara has also been helping out with the ever-popular Lemur Experiences. These experiences have become increasingly popular with locals and tourists alike. Not just a chance to get closer to the animals and help to feed them, the AWCP experiences are a learning experience too. One of the crucial aspects the Keepers try to drive home is responsible tourism and why it is so important to respect wildlife, particularly with regard to posting images online. The wildlife selfie craze is endangering species all over the world, but also, surprisingly close to home. Barbary macaques are persecuted in the wild and poached for tourist photo props in Morocco. Close-contact selfies with macaques from the Upper Rock Nature Reserve in Gibraltar may seem harmless, but they are unwittingly fuelling the illegal wildlife trade. “It’s great to be involved in campaigns like this and actually help to change people’s perceptions of wildlife and hopefully make them think before posting potentially damaging images of wildlife. These experiences are a perfect opportunity to drive the message home, especially as many of our own lemurs were victims of the illegal pet trade,” says Cara.

Lemur experiences are available via advance booking only from www.buytickets.gi or the AWCP website: www.awcp.gi or you can contact the team direct on 20064273.

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Jess Leaper has managed the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park (AWCP) for over 12 years. Having completed her MSc project on the Barbary macaque, she later returned to Gibraltar and was asked to help out at the Wildlife Park. Vowing to somehow improve the enclosures of the primates there before she moved on, she managed that and much more. Now also active locally in sustainability groups and campaigns, raising awareness of Climate Change, particularly in relation to species and habitats.