Zoo Outreach Organization &
Wildlife Information Liaison Development


How ZOO Education Network ZEN Works

ZEN, the ZOO Education Network conduct education activities in South Asia with the help of ZOO?s conservation, education, thematic and taxon networks

Zoo Outreach Organization hosts ZEN and raises funds for producing educational materials suitable for students and others in the South Asian Region. These educational materials are theme based, largely focused on non-charismatic animals such as bats, rodents, amphibians, reptiles and vultures as well as plants but also on a few mega charismatic species as well.

ZOO & ZEN collaborate with various conservation and education organizations to organize training workshops using species or taxon groups for focusing attention on conservation education and on the use of active learning techniques.  ZOO & ZEN also collaborate with a number of IUCN SSC taxon based specialist groups and, in fact, host networks which represent specialist groups (such as Primate Specialist Group, Chiroptera Specialist Group, etc.) and international species-based organizations (Bat Conservation International) regionally, e.g. South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Afghanistan). 

ZEN membership is free because that is what works in South Asia.  ZEN and ZOO focus on creating interest in the "right kind" of public education, meaning education that ultimately brings about change in thinking and behaviour.  We give away material in order to get people to try our methods.  Our methods are to catch the interest of visitors by whatever means and then to bring about an emotional or intellectual connect, a "light bulb" or "ah ha" effect.

This method has evolved over two decades of observing what was being done and not-done in South Asia.  What was being done was for zoos to equate zoo education and public education with formal education.  Most of the signage was biological with lip service being paid to conservation with slogans, such as "Save the Tiger", without any interpretation.   

Thus what was not-done was to engage the visitors and work towards bringing about a change in their thinking and behaviour.  In many zoos also there was little signage and almost no attractive, interesting signage.  There were two  education officers in two of  the then nearly 400 zoos in the region when ZOO was founded, and no education departments.  Education was considered a major role of zoos at a policy level but it was thought that simply providing animals for people to see was sufficient. 

Zoos in India celebrate Wildlife Week every October and allow the public free.  Often they conduct a function for this because it is an opportunity to invite a senior Minister or administrator to the zoo.  The functions consists of formalities and a speech definitely not designed for educating kids.  Schools are invited, kids sit for a couple of hours, listening to speeches they don't understand.  Tea sometimes is served; politicians might pose with some kids,  and that was "education" for the year.  Our goal was to replace this with something meaningful.

Combining resources
When ZOO first tackled this situation it was quickly learned that no education officer and no education department usually meant no budget for education as such, also.  Certainly no budget to engage artists, writers and educators to create material.   We then looked at what they did have a budget for.  They had funds they could use to pay postage.  They also had a hospitality budget which meant they could give tea and snacks and sometimes lunch to groups if there was a zoo-attached programme.  They also had a budget for photography.

So we evolved a method in which we raise funds to develop educational material at our office, quite often based on the regional conservation workshops ZOO conducts with the Conservation Breeding Specialist Groups and certain taxon based specialist groups, but also in response to problems the zoo needs to solve, such as bad behaviour of visitors (teasing, feeding, etc.) and welfare issues.  These funds come from western zoos such as Chester, Appenheul, Columbus, conservation organizations, such as Bat Conservation International, Margot Marsh Biodiversity Fund, governments such as US Fish and Wildlife Service, and animal welfare organizations, such as UFAW in England.

We then make an informal contract with organizations which want to conduct public education "zoos, conservation organizations, animal welfare organizations" that we will give them free material and guidelines for conducting a programme if they will 1. plan a programme and submit a proposal describing it; 2. follow our guidelines; 3. pay postage; take photos and provide some to us; call the press and credit our sponsors in the programme; and make a report including press clippings and photos.  Many zoos and other organizations find this "contract" do-able and to their advantage.  Many of them had never conducted a real teaching programme before and the experience was so rewarding, it got them interested in our kind of conservation education for the public.

So every year, several times a year during "special days or weeks" themed on wildlife, animal welfare, environment, etc. we invite persons from over 200 organisations to apply for a quantity of these educational packets, posters, t-shirts, and guidelines free of cost, but not free of obligation. 

Most of the individuals and organizations which order materials join ZEN.  They can apply for and receive our popular educational materials throughout the year even to conduct their day to day programmes if they can justify it with an application. We supply thousands of packets and other material to hundreds of our education partners.  This is also helpful to us in our conservation work as we educate far more people than we could ever reach as a single organisation.

After the programme is over, the organisers report us how they conducted their programme, for whom, what they have achieved out of their programme. On seeing their report, we can get an idea of how effectively they are carrying out programmes and can give a helping hand by visiting them or by inviting their staff responsible for education to one of our educator training workshops.

Quantum Leap in Sophistication
The Wildlife Conservation Society WCS Division of International Education asked Zoo Outreach Organization to help them introduce a new education module into India which was called Teachers for Tigers, a manual and a methodology.  We agreed to collaborate and organized a series of workshops.  These workshops were so effective and the techniques so much what was required that we continued to organize training with WCS aided by grants from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tiger and Rhino Conservation Fund and Great Ape Conservation Fund. Since February 2003 ZOO and WCS have conducted 11 training workshops intended to train trainers.  In every series there have been teacher training as such and also zoo educator training workshops, 8 in India and 3 in Bangladesh with a total of 345 participants, 248 from India and 97 from Bangladesh had attended these workshops. They were mostly teachers, NGO's, zoo and forest personnel. The objective of the workshop was to provide training for schoolteachers, non-formal educators such as NGO educators and zoo educators, in innovative teaching techniques using tiger as a theme.

As a follow up of these workshops evaluation and refresher courses were conducted. For the evaluation, Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoo Outreach Organization developed a questionnaire and the evaluation carried out in almost all the places the workshops was held. The questionnaire was developed in a way to find out from the participants how effectively they are using the teaching techniques with their audience. The evaluation process started in August 2004 and continued up to March 2006. The participants were met by in person and asked them to fill up the questionnaire on the spot. The results were analyzed and summarized. From the results we understand that most of the participants used the training to a variety of target groups, spreading out the conservation message, adopted few techniques to some other animals/subjects, extensively used the manual at their work place, taught teaching technique to their colleagues, and friends, conducted educational programmes with more games and activities etc.,

Based on the evaluation results, three "Teachers for Tigers" refresher courses were conducted in two places in India and one in Bangladesh. In these refresher courses, as per their wish, more activities and games from the Habitat Ecology Learning Program (H.E.L.P) manual (which was also developed by WCS, were taught. We taught them also how "Teachers for Tigers" manual could be adapted for other animals; how to link the school curricula with the manual, how to plan, develop and execute educational programmes with different audiences.  Many of our participants now have conducted their own workshops.  Some have gone for an internship and training in New York at WCS.

An advanced workshop was conducted with some of our more creative participants from throughout South Asia who were given a pre-workshop assignment of revising a chapter of the Habitat Ecology Learning Program (H.E.L.P) manual for use in the South Asian region.  They were to come up with examples to illustrate the manual and also point out where the text was more oriented towards Africa than Asia so that could be corrected.  They also evaluated ZOO's education packets and gave suggestions for improvements. 

In addition, a special project of our Education Officer has been to develop a "Curriculum Key" using our state textbooks (this is Tamil Nadu state in India) to demonstrate how teachers can link the school curricula with "Teachers for Tigers" manual.  This was introduced also at the refresher courses so that participants from other language states and countries could link their own curricula with "Teachers for Tigers" manual.

Teachers for Tigers manual active learning methods were adapted and we developed teaching guide for Hoolock Gibbon, the only ape found in India and conducted 9 teacher training workshops in Assam state of India and we trained about 200 teacher trainers about hoolock gibbon conservation in fun way method by games and activities.

Using the same active learning methodology, we also developed a teaching guide pertaining to Human Elephant coexistence HECx and conducted teacher training workshops.  These workshops were conducted in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sumatra, Indonesia.  We had conducted 14 workshops and reached about 500 teacher trainers. The objective of the project was to make educators to change their attitude towards problem elephants and try to coexist with them.

We also developed teaching guides for Sloth Bear Conservation, Bats, Amphibians and conducted many teacher training programme in India and Nepal.

Working with scientists
We have a particular interest in wildlife biologists who do field work in rural areas as potential educators. There is a project in India called "Every Child a Scientist" which teaches science to tribal kids.  We have an informal project called "Every Scientist a Teacher" in which we pull field biologists and other researchers into teacher training courses and a teacher training module even into their field techniques training courses, which are also organized by us through the taxon networks we host. This is a wonderful marriage because kids love to be taught by "real scientists" who often can also supply wonderful props like dead bats, bones, and other artifacts, and "real field biologists can tell interesting stories about the animals in the wild.  Field biologists in particular have a wonderful opportunity to educate rural,  local and forest communities.  With this in mind, we have focused a lot of attention on primate researchers, setting up a special module for primates in a Teachers for Tigers course following a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment for Hoolock Gibbon, a highly threatened primate in Bangladesh and India.  Our collaborators were the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh, a very effective conservation group of researchers working out of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

These researchers of Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh conducted a Hoolock Gibbon special conservation workshop with the staff of the Dhaka Zoo in Bangladesh.  It was their first such educational activity with a city target group.   Thirty-three kids with parents attended World Environment Day activities at the Dhaka Zoo and were taken through activities from Teachers for Tigers Manual but adapted for Hoolock Gibbon by WTB "researcher combo educators".  The WTB researchers were so thrilled by their success that they are confident now in education and plan to make it a very large part of their organisation's mandate and activity.  The Director of WTB, Anwar Islam, was invited to one of the first Teachers for Tigers workshops held in Tamil Nadu Project Tiger Areas in 2003.  In the interim we kept in touch with WTB, sending them material and advice.   In January 2005 we took Teachers for Tigers to Bangladesh with WTB as collaborators and in 2006 conducted a very successful refresher course at the zoo with WTB providing coordination. WTB had conducted their own hoolock gibbon education programmes in several places of Bangladesh with the researchers trained by us. Dr. Islam told us once that he had wondered why in the world we invited him to a teacher training course when he is a university professor and wildlife researcher.  NOW he know why.  

We have herein described Zoo Outreach Organization's routine education activity for the past 20 years (almost the age of our 25+ years old organization) but our reach, quality and impact has increased exponentially.  Every year we come in contact with more expert and conservation-minded persons who help us become more effective in education.  Every year we get more requests for material and training than previous years and our education activities are continuing to promote biodiversity conservation awareness in this region.