Bait and Switch–It’s Not Just About the Animals
Docent, Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association
Board Member, Channel Islands Restoration
Los Angeles and Ventura, CA
They came for the animals … how can we broaden the conversation to include plants and ecosystems?
Why should we, as docents, take the extra time to educate ourselves about plants …since most of us also came for the animals?
Most Zoo visitors are drawn to the zoo by their interest in animals. With the growth of the conservation movement, our role as educators in zoos has broadened from just talking about the animals to educating about ecosystems, promoting conservation and efforts to preserve biodiversity, and encouraging visitors to act responsibly towards the environment. Ideally, we hope they will take action to support conservation efforts.
In order to educate, we also have to attract, engage and entertain … this talk will focus on the following questions:
- How to attract patron attention when competing with exotic animals?
- How do we engage their interest as we make the transition from animals to plants and habitat?
- How do we motivate them to make changes in their own backyards that canimprove the environment and support local species?
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens: http://www.lazoo.org/botanicalgarden
Well before our certification as a botanical garden in 2002, docents with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association created a Botany Committee, and began researching and creating botany content and displays.
Knowing we would be “competing” with our animal collection, we brainstormed ways of attracting patrons to botany tables at events. Most successful have been:
- Tactile, visually interesting displays of native plants
- Displaying potted native plants
- Native plant seed giveaway
Notable successes have been showing the links between animals and plants, such as:
- Medicinal plant use by wild primates
- Co-dependent animals and plants that have adapted to each other
- Pollinators (especially unique pollinators)
- Butterfly and bird dependencies on native plants
- Native American plant use
One of our goals has also been to provide patrons with an action they can take to help the animals/environment; we encourage visitors to help their native animals (and the planet), by planting native plants in their own backyards.
- Research the animals and plants on your grounds.
- Exploring your local ecosystems for compelling stories.
- In most areas, you can find pre-existing resources tailored to your location, as well as organizations to partner with (see below)
- Partner with a native plant nursery, both as a resource for information and as a place you can recommend to your patrons.
Channel Islands Restoration http://www.cirweb.org
Channel Islands Restoration (CIR) is a non-profit organization that utilizes volunteers to do habitat restoration (removing invasive plants and planting native plants) on both the Channel Islands and mainland. CIR works exclusively with plants and habitat, thus faces the same challenge … how to motivate people (elementary school to adults) to care about the environment enough to take action.
Techniques that have worked (as the only “animal” person on the CIR board):
- Invasive animal display … animals such as bison, elk, cattle, deer, sheep,goats, pigs, etc. are largely responsible for the spread of invasive plants on the islands.
- Channel Islands Fox (at 5 pounds) is the largest native land animal of the islands
- Emphasize damage that hooved animals have done to the ecosystem, including overgrazing, consumption of endemic plant seeds (island oak acorns)
- Oak woodlands as an ecosystem supporting hundreds of animal species
- Native plant loss affects foxes by affecting their native plant food supply
- Invasive species (bait and switch from animal species to plants)
Most of the above can be related back to mainland habitats …
Recommendations: Partner with other organizations, and use their materials on native and invasive plant species. Many have handouts, fact sheets, and plant “respecifiers” (redirecting you from common exotic nursery plants to native and drought tolerant equivalents).
- Native plant nurseries
- Native plant societies and organizations (California Native Plant Society)
- Local government weed control agencies
Discussion, brainstorming and idea sharing:
- Easy creation of your own touch & feel native plant displays
- Finding a compelling story to engage visitors
- Suggestions on volunteer and partner organization recruitment
- Locating native plant resources and materials