“Nurture the Wonder of Children between Continents” The Phoenix Zoo “Junior Zoo Ambassadors”
Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix, Arizona
This program incorporates participation between the Phoenix Zoo, 54 students from the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, selected from six schools in the Phoenix Creighton Elementary School District and students and teachers from six schools in the Kasigau, Tsavo area of Kenya, East Africa.
Our goal is to connect the students from 2 continents so they can inform each other about their worlds and make them aware of conservation issues in their own backyards. This makes them aware that they are not so different in their need to conserve their land and wildlife. Each Creighton School is linked to a Kasigau School and the primary form of communication is for students to write pen pal letters to each other. The Creighton School kids’ letters are based on their monthly zoo visits.
This is an after school program. Students in the Creighton District have early release on Wednesday afternoons. They are picked up at their respective schools by school bus and dropped off at the zoo at 2:30pm, the sessions then last until 5pm when their parents pick them up. Individual grades come on alternate Wednesdays, taught by volunteers with the help of zoo staff and keepers. The Creighton teachers play a big part in reinforcing what is being taught, and help the volunteers in any way they can. Following are some examples of what is taught in each grade level.
4th graders learn about our Arizona Trail, animals, plants, native culture, and conservation. An example: students learned from zoo volunteers on a guided walk about the “Saguaro Community”, how the Saguaro is host to many desert animals, birds and reptiles. Keepers helped with displaying these birds and reptiles to the children. Volunteers explained how Native American Indians harvest the fruits of the cacti and even had a snack break and enjoyed crackers with cactus jelly.
5th graders learn about our Africa Trail, animals, conservation issues, and keeper talks. Examples: the students took escorted visits into the Rhino nighthouse and Elephant barn. Here keepers gave specific talks about the animals both in the wild and zoo environments. The children had the opportunity of asking many questions at these encounters and made notations in their Journals to later pass on to their Kenya pen pals.
6th graders learn about “Why there are Zoos'” and the role zoos play in conservation. Specific departments are visited such as Keepers, Animal Care Facility, Commissary, Security, Education and Administrative areas, to learn about zoo staff responsibilities. Example: students made a behind the scenes tour to the Cheetah nighthouse to see and hear keepers tell of the zoo’s conservation efforts for endangered species, the SSP program, and observation studies on these animals. A tour of the Giraffe barn was done to learn about “A day in the life of a zoo keeper.” The students also visited the Animal Care Center to hear first hand from our veterinarians how important medical care and nutrition are in the lives of our animals.
Each group ends their session with a wrap up of what they have learned, make notes in their special “Safari Journal” so they can carry this information over to their pen pal letter writing, art, and craft session at the Creighton school meeting. At this session they are also to answer the questions sent by their pen pals, then these letters are sent off to Kenya. I am personally very impressed by some of the letters from Kenyan students that they are in conservation clubs as well as having the wildlife right in their own backyards.
The last 30-45 minutes are then spent in a special fun craft time. One of the projects they have done is to use recycled materials to make soccer balls out of plastic bags and twine which the kids in Kenya actually use since they cannot afford regular balls. They also made sailboats out of used rubber sandals, plastic bags, twine and twigs found around the zoo grounds, and Native American crafts where the kids made extras to send over to the students in Kenya. Another fun project is making Piñatas for animal enrichment for the zoo animals. This is very special since these students are mainly from Hispanic backgrounds and is one way of sharing their culture with the Kenyan students. The students also have a special shop time at our monthly Creighton school meetings. One of the items they made was an African Mancala board.
We also have simple phrases in KiSwahili, which they learn and sing along with a special KiSwahili tape. They then translated the English and KiSwahili terms into Spanish; these papers were then sent to Kenya so the children there can learn some Spanish.
Some perks for students being in the program were a Kick Off day at the Phoenix Zoo. Students, parents and teachers were invited and a Continental breakfast was served. We showed a video brought back from the schools in Kenya and an introduction to the program and responsibilities were addressed.
The families were also invited to attend “Zoo Lights”, the zoo’s nighttime Holiday lights show. Students also spent the night at the zoo in a special Night Camp event on grounds.
We also have some Arizona State Kenyan students that we recruited through the University that help in our language, crafts and culture. They love being a part of the program and the kids love them as well.
Our funds to help defray our costs come through persons donating to the school district’s Zoo Ambassador after school program, which is then considered as an Arizona State tax credit; 100% donated is subtracted from taxes due, so everybody wins.
We collect and take to the Kenya schools donations of globes, crayons, pens, laminated wildlife posters, calculators, school books, maps and Phoenix Zoo night camp caps and T-shirts which the Kenyan students compete in an art project to win. All and any articles are gratefully excepted.
Some projects we will be working on are to build a “Banda” African hut on our Africa Trail like the ones found in the area we are working with, built by our students, parents, and ASU students out of natural materials found around the zoo grounds. Here we would display our project and possibly show and sell handcrafts brought back from Kenya to help their micro-enterprises to help their local communities.
We also hope in the next 1-2 years to have an exchange of students.
Benefits to the Phoenix Zoo and partners:
Encourages students to think as conservationists, both locally and globally.
Assist education and conservation in Kenya.
Enhances the zoo’s visibility in the community.
Highlights the zoo’s conservation and education initiatives.
The group has taken private donations from individuals wanting to help the Kenya schools to install windows and doors in their schools. Not only will this help the teachers who have to cart their daily supplies back and forth to school since the local goats have easy access to what ever is left in the rooms, but the local people will benefit by doing the work and provide them with income. Windows are at a cost of $30 each and doors at $40 each. We are most happy to give a hand.
Background information on Evelyn Boren and the Rukinga Wildlife Conservancy.
I have been a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo for the past 24 years. During those years I served several years as Volunteer Chairman through my involvement in the Phoenix Zoo Auxiliary who at that time was responsible for zoo volunteers. I also was chairman of various school group trail programs, the Africa Trail, Arizona Trail, and Discovery Trail, helping in research as well as guiding school groups, and chairman of the Animal Observation Team. I am very happy to say through our study of the breeding behaviors of the Cheetah we had several births occur that we had not had in ten years prior.
Through my involvement in zoo volunteering I had a great desire to journey to Africa to observe these animals first hand. In 1987 I made my first trip to Kenya, East Africa; I made life long friends and acquaintances visiting the many non tourist camps specializing in first rate service and naturalist guides, many of whom are famous for their conservation efforts worldwide.
A few years ago one of my contacts, Steve Turner, General Manager for Savannah Camps acquired some land in the area bordering Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks. Here they established the Rukinga Wildlife Conservancy. This huge wildlife area is a vital part of the elephant migration route from Tsavo East to Mt. Kilimanjaro called the Tsavo-Kasigau Wildlife Corridor. The Conservancy’s long time vision is to develop a massive wildlife Conservancy, creating a vital corridor for almost one thousand elephants as well as all the other wildlife to migrate between precious water sources located in the adjacent Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. Their partners include the Wildlife Service, the African Wildlife Foundation, Earthwatch Institute, Wildlife Works Inc., as well as local tribal community leaders and volunteers. They have established local micro industries such as honey bee keeping, elephant dung paper
and Christmas cards to teach the local people they can live with the animals and profit from them without doing them harm. They have a marvelous Discovery Centre with study programs for students through adults. They just recently began a lion study as well as their ongoing elephant study. Their four goals are Education, Participation, Conservation and Community Service. We are very excited about being a part of this program by our partnering with the 6 Kasigau schools.
I would like to say I am very grateful to the Phoenix Zoo Director Jeff Williamson for listening and encouraging us to go ahead with the program and mostly Mr. Dan Miller of the zoo’s Education Department whom I approached regarding the program. His belief, participation and enthusiasm all help in making it a success. Special Kudos to our entire devoted zoo volunteers, Creighton teachers and also the AZAD conference for letting me share this worthwhile program with all.
We have videos to show of the Kenya schools and students as well as the Creighton students at their Phoenix Zoo sessions.