Engaging Zoo Visitors through Special Awareness Day Events
Special awareness day events are a perfect venue to engage zoo visitors in the Conservation Conversation. We realize that our zoo visitors come to enjoy their day at our zoos so sharing a serious message takes some balance. Conservation messages are not always easy to translate without a touch of doom and gloom so we need to take a gentle approach, especially in dealing with young children.
Special awareness events open up a way to share important messages by means of interesting displays, biofacts and fun interactives – using a bit of fun to get across important conservation messages. These special event days are not only fun for our visitors, but are also a lot of fun for the docents who
Our mission statement at Zoo Miami is “to encourage an appreciation for the world’s wildlife and to help conserve it for future generations.” Encouraging that appreciation is our goal at our events in hopes that people will leave with a new appreciation for a particular species and, hopefully, move them to want to learn more about them and how they can help make a difference.
How do you go about organizing an event. Most zoo’s staff are spread pretty thin and have their hands full so take the project on and just do it yourself! There is no better group at a zoo best suited for the job than the docents! Pick something you are passionate about – and that passion will translate to your visitors.
I am passionate about orangutans! When I first went to our previous volunteer coordinator with the idea of the volunteers and docents hosting an Orangutan Awareness event I was not greeted with much enthusiasm and the idea was basically ignored. I wound up going over that person to their boss who thought it was a great idea and we were off and running!
I have been working with Orangutan Outreach the last few years on a Mother’s Day Orangutan event -M.O.M.-Missing Orangutan Mothers, and we have encouraged zoos from Canada, Mexico and across the US to join with us in holding their own events on Mothers Day. Over 25 facilities have participated each year. Your zoo may be one of them, and if not, I hope you will join with us next year (http://redapes.org/mom).
We started with our Orangutan Awareness Day event and have used the event ideas and activities for this event as a formula that we have applied across the board for other event day themes. We just adapted this basic formula and used it for elephants, frogs, birds, bears, Earth Day and others.
Events can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. Our Zoo supports us by way of a notice in the zoo newsletter and a blurb on the website – but other than that our events are totally hosted by the volunteers and docents. We have also had the help of an amazing group of teen volunteers on a couple of the events.
We probably spent less than 100 dollars for all our event materials with the highest thing being new toner for the printer. You might even be able to take advantage of your zoo’s resources, copiers and printers or they may be willing to provide some funds. The biggest initial expenditure is really your time but once you have everything done, you can use your materials over and over again each year.
We learned a lot from trial and error. Although our primary goal is awareness, we also do a little fundraising. For Orangutans, we have sold raffle tickets or put out a donation jar. We quickly learned that organizing our tables was key. At first approach we used to have the raffle or donation posters out front and foremost but realized that people, thinking we were trying to sell them something, were making a wide circle around to avoid the tables. Now we put out the biofacts in first line of sight.
Nothing quite gets people over like a few skulls on the table. We obviously can’t have live orangutans at our tables but docents will bring out some of our education animals – a cockatoo or small critters. These are a definite draw to the tables. When live animals are not available, we use our secret weapon – a very realistic baby orangutan doll that really draws people over.
We place our display materials in a progression engaging the visitors in some educational materials and many fun interactive displays and games ending in our conservation materials and free temporary tattoos. While kids are getting their tattoos or coloring at the coloring table, it gives us a good opportunity to talk to their parents about some of the “grown up” stuff.
Here are just a few of our event ideas we use for our orangutan events, all of which can be adapted to fit any animal or theme.
- Poster with photos and bios on our resident orangutans, Bonnie and Mango. We include fun facts about them which helps the visitors connect on a very personal level.Biofacts: Skulls, hand casts, bones, handprints, etc. We also do an armspan measure so people can see how they measure up to an orangutan. We do the same for bird day with a wingspan comparison.
- Diet: We put out a basket of a typical zoo diet along with a poster of what the orangutans eat in the wild. We also have a jar full of monkey biscuits for a “Guess how many monkey biscuits are in the jar” game and play the “higher-lower” game with visitors. We do the same for elephants with a jar full of peanuts. When people ask what they win if they guess correctly, we tell them they get to read a silly joke from our Joke Jar. There are hundreds of groaners for apes, monkeys, frogs, elephants – you can find plenty of jokes to fit any theme on the web.
- General facts: Keep it simple. We have definitely found people do not read a lot. Short, quick facts are the most easy to read. We put out a globe and magnifying glass to find where orangutans live and kids can find where they live in relation. We ask, “Can you see the orangutans.” It’s pretty funny when the little ones say “yes” but when they say, “No” we can say , “See, that’s the problem”. They might not always get it but their parents generally do. We also put out fun interactive quizzes with multiple choice answers. Throw in some silly questions and answers to keep it all a little lighthearted but challenging enough to make it educational. We also do a word scramble with magnetic alphabet letters using words associated with our theme.
- Conservation posters: We explain the different issues facing the species. For orangutans, we share important conservation messages about palm oil and saving the rainforests. We make business card sized give-way cards with links to reference sites so visitors can find more information when they get home.
- Combine fundraising with awareness: Although we primarily view these as awareness events, we always like to be able to make some financial contribution toward conservation efforts. For orangutans, we do free temporary tattoos but ask for donations which all proceeds go toward the virtual adoption of an orangutan orphan through Orangutan Outreach on behalf of the visitors to Zoo Miami. Some have bake sales, sell paintings done by resident orangutans, or raffles. We don’t generally raise a lot of money, but we certainly raise a lot of awareness!
These are just a few activities. There are just too many to list them all. I have posted all my event materials and event ideas from our zoo and from others at http://orangaware.org. I have hopes that we may be able to all work together on a data base, possibly on the AZAD site, for the many assorted subjects for special awareness day events where we can all share our materials and ideas.