The Successful Conservation Event from “Script to Screen”
Laurel Colton and Judi Harris
Conservation Committee Co-Chairs, Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Los Angeles, CA
Introduction to Conservation-Related Events at L.A.Zoo
The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) and the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens’ Education Department strongly believe that interactive educational events are great ways to engage zoo and aquarium visitors in conservation conversations. They help the public develop awareness of conservation issues, positive attitudes toward the environment, and a sense of personal responsibility that motivates conservation-related behaviors.
Over the years, L.A. Zoo has held a number of wonderful events in which the docent Conservation Committee has been asked to participate and sometimes plan in collaboration with the Zoo’s Education Department. We list just a few here to give you an idea of the diversity and scope of our events held at the Zoo (On-Site) and at other nearby institutions (Off-Site):
- Ape Awareness Day
- Bird and Bat Walks
- Go Gorilla! Weekend
- Latino Heritage/Ghosts of the Desert (Peninsular Pronghorn)
- Music in the Zoo
- Reptile Awareness Day
- Autry Museum’s Earth Day
- CBS Studios’ Eye on the Environment
- Natural History Museum’s Sustainable Sundays
- Natural History Museum’s Reptile & Amphibian Appreciation Day
- Skirball Cultural Center’s Family Fun with our Feathered Friends
However, our most successful conservation-related event to date has been that which we celebrate one weekend each April for Earth Day and we call it “Celebrating California Wildlife” (CCW). We will use this particular event as a model to illustrate the steps involved in proposing, organizing, and implementing a well-designed, educational, conservation awareness-raising event from start to finish.
This event has repeatedly and effectively shared with the public key conservation messages about local California wildlife in fun and rewarding ways that our visitors have enjoyed. We will present the main features of our CCW event proposal which lays out clear educational themes, goals, and objectives that help unify the event, provide structure, and enhance the event’s focus and effectiveness. The proposal helps us formulate specific messages, design interactive educational activities, and determine staffing needs.
Brief Background on the CCW Event
L.A. Zoo has been celebrating Earth Day in one way or another since 2000. However, CCW began in 2008. The event originated as a “Island Fox Festival”. However, after our female fox died leaving us with only one male, we were compelled to broaden the event to encompass other local California wildlife, and renamed it accordingly: “Celebrating California Wildlife”. The Conservation Committee Co-Chairs and GLAZA decided to increase their support of conservation issues and together they began working to unify Zoo events by emphasizing common conservation themes.
Importance of Clear Educational Themes, Goals, and Objectives for the CCW Event Proposal
Each year, we have worked closely with L.A. Zoo’s Education Department to coordinate CCW. In fact, the Education Department has provided the overarching structure for our CCW event proposals, and we have extended use of these proposals to formulate plans for our other conservation-related events as well. Each proposal lays out a number of themes, goals, and objectives which provide our events with focus and make them more effective. Emphasis is placed on messages conveyed to the public and how these communications will be accomplished.
Each year, our Committee re-evaluates and submits to GLAZA an event proposal for CCW and any other events that will take place. Any improvements or changes from the previous year’s event are included. This proposal serves as our primary guide for planning and executing the event. A copy of the event proposal submitted for our CCW event is available on request as an example for anyone who wants to examine it more carefully. A brief summary of this proposal follows below.
CCW Event Proposal Summary
CCW is a K-EARTH 101 FM radio sponsored expo based in L.A. Zoo’s Keck Plaza with various corporate sponsors, give-away prizes, and promotions. The event highlights six native California animals and botany found at various locations throughout the Zoo, and features activity stations and a self-guided walking tour. An event handout distributed at the Zoo’s main entrance includes a “passport” and stamps are given at all sponsor booths and education stations.
Topic: California Wildlife
Target Audience: Zoo families with children 7-9 years old
Theme: Local wildlife is worth caring about.
- California wildlife is closer than you think.
- California wildlife is unique and special.
- California wildlife should be preserved to share.
Goal: Guests will feel more connected to California wildlife at the L.A. Zoo and in the wild.
- At the end of the event, guests will be able to:
- Name three native California animals that can be found locally.
- Identify one California location where guests can find local animals in the wild
- Tell one thing they can do to help protect our California wildlife and their habitats.
- Use one word to describe feeling more connected to California wildlife.
CCW Event and Station Components:
Because different people learn in different ways, each information station used at CCW presents a different mode of education so that we can better ensure our conservation messages reach the public. All information is provided in English and Spanish on signage and booklets, and we try to have bilingual docents available at each station when possible. Stations located near our featured California species and at the Zoo’s entrance plaza include:
- Interactive educational tools (e.g., games, puzzles, docent talks, dioramas, and biofacts) to demonstrate species’ adaptations, environmental roles, threats to survival, and conservation solutions. The activities used at each CCW station are detailed below in the Station Activities section and are designed to illustrate each featured species’ adaptations, environmental needs, or other fun related information.
- Rewards and prizes are used to reinforce visitors’ experiences. For example, “passports” are stamped at each station or vendor sponsor to encourage patrons to visit all our stations, and prizes supplied by K-EARTH and the Zoo are provided when patrons show their fully-stamped “passports”. Coloring pages and hand stamps serve as fun additional rewards for children.
- Three fun and fast facts (“Did You Knows…”) about our featured species appear on signage at each station to convey information to patrons who prefer to browse our information tables quickly.
- Habitat signage and maps (“Where in the Wild”) show patrons where they can visit local California habitats to find each featured species.
- A self-guided L.A. Zoo tour with map distributed at the Zoo entrance includes botany highlights.
- Impromptu docent talks occur at each station throughout the weekend to inform visitors about our six featured animals and to answer questions.
- Drains to the Ocean Enviroscape: This interactive diorama of an oceanside enviroscape allows volunteers to explain how our habitat belongs to seals and other sea creatures too no matter where we live. The enviroscape habitat is set up to mimic how our rivers and sewage drain to the ocean. Guests can predict and alter what happens with the drainage to help keep the oceans clean.
- A fish toss activity highlights the usefulness of a big bill for a plunge diving bird. Pelican bills of varying sizes are mounted to a Coast Scene Backdrop for a fish toss game. The bigger the bill, the easier it is to get the fish tossed inside.
- A puzzle activity highlights environmental features that keep the tortoise healthy. A large board puzzle has pieces with pictures of things that are good for tortoises and fit together to finish the puzzle, and pieces with pictures of things that are not good for tortoises that do not fit into the puzzle
- Multiple activities highlight the many cool adaptations of a bighorn sheep and how they aid survival. Kid-friendly balance beams on the ground invite guests to imagine themselves as a bighorn sheep. A skull activity allows visitors to match animal pictures to the correct horned skull. A matching game highlights the many special physical adaptations of bighorn sheep: special hooves, developed musculature, large horns, acute eyesight, and cryptic coloration.
- This station compliments activities occurring inside the California Condor Rescue Zone (adjacent building). Biofacts such as feathers and eggshells, and a life-size wingspan made of fabric are displayed along with puppets used to feed chicks, and a micro-trash sandbox. Posters show photos of condors at various stages of life, from chick to adult.
- Visitors can participate in interactive “health checks” of a fake fox, view fox biofacts, and hear docent or keeper talks. The station is staffed by Zoo volunteers and representatives from Friends of the Island Fox, Channel Islands National Park, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
“Did You Knows.” Signage at Each Station:
- “A wonderful bird is a pelican, his bill will hold more than his bellican!” It’s True!
- The brown pelican is the only pelican that can plunge dive for food.
- Air sacs in the pelican’s chest help to cushion the impact from their dive.
- A harbor seal can hold its breath for 20 minutes underwater!
- They can sleep underwater with only their noses exposed – this is called “bottling”.
- While they are excellent swimmers, they are clumsy on land.
- The shell of a desert tortoise is actually a part of its skeleton… outside!
- The desert tortoise is the official state reptile of California!
- Although they’re slow, desert tortoises can walk up to a mile a day.
- These agile mountain climbers walk on only two toes! Now that’s balance!
- The horns of a bighorn sheep can weigh up to 30 lbs. – as much as three bowling balls!
- Lambs can be great climbers within a week after they are born!
- Each Channel Island has its own unique fox.
- Island foxes are among the smallest of all foxes.
- Did you know that island foxes are great at climbing trees.!
- This cool bird is featured on the California state quarter!
- With a wingspan of about 10 feet, the California condor is the largest flying bird in North America.
- No nests! Instead, California condors lay their eggs on rock ledges.
Featured Creatures Talking Points:
Laminated talking points on each featured animal are remind our volunteers about key information to convey to visitors. Talking points at each station give a general overview of the featured animal’s local habitat, special adaptations, interesting behaviors, diet, and conservation status. Some docents choose to review the Zoo’s animal fact sheets prior to our CCW event for additional information.
Involving Outside Organizations
We have also found it valuable to involve outside organizations in events such as CCW. For instance, the Theodore Payne Foundation, the California Fish and Wildlife Service’s Condor Recovery Team, Friends of the Island Fox, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and the Channel Islands National Park (U.S. National Park Service) have all participated in past CCW events. Their collaboration with us has broadened CCW’s scope and has helped us establish partnerships with these other conservation groups.
Staffing the CCW Event
Volunteer recruitment begins approximately one month before the CCW event weekend. Recruitment is managed by a volunteer from the Conservation Committee and/or the Committee Co-Chairs. Time slots are 9:30 AM – 1 PM and 12:30 – 4 PM. A half-hour overlap between these shifts helps ensure that all stations are staffed during shift transitions in case volunteers arrive late. We staff each station with a combination of docents, general volunteers, and student volunteers, however we always make sure there is at least one docent working each animal exhibit station during each shift. A volunteer photographer is sometimes used to take photos and document the weekend. We staff stations at Botany,
Harbor Seal, Brown Pelican, California Condor, Desert Tortoise, and Bighorn Sheep areas. Each station has one volunteer coordinator per shift and two or three additional volunteers who interact with visitors and conduct activities. At Harbor Seals, Brown Pelicans, Desert Tortoise, Bighorn Sheep and Island Fox where live animals are exhibited, we also have a docent speaker who gives impromptu talks to the public as crowds gather during each shift. In addition, two of our zoo docents who work with the Friends of the Island Fox handle staffing of their Island Fox station separately due to involvement of the Channel Islands National Park staff. Similarly, the Theodore Payne Foundation usually handles
their own staffing if possible. Finally, we recruit volunteer “ambassadors” who stand at two critical direction points to help guide visitors to our stations in more remote parts of the Zoo.
Evaluating CCW’s Success
How do we know that our CCW event is a success. Although we cannot administer exit surveys to visitors because past experience has shown that patrons do not want to take time to complete them, patron feedback is key and we pay special attention to what our visitors personally say to us directly about our education stations. Visitors are usually pretty vocal when they like or dislike something, so we do hear from them one way or another. After each event, when we send out our thank you notes to all our volunteers and staff who assisted us, we also ask them to share with us any comments they have heard from visitors and/or their own feedback. We make note of all these observations and report them.
Paul Bronstein, Docent and Event Photographer, L.A. Zoo
Tom Kramer, General Volunteer and Event Photographer, L.A. Zoo
Tom Nord, Docent and Event Photographer, L.A. Zoo