I’m Ruth Pearson and I work in the Discovery and Learning Division at Chester Zoo and not only do I get to educate our zoo visitors daily about our exciting and essential conservation projects worldwide, but recently I have had the privilege to Act for Wildlife and experience our conservation programmes first-hand too.
Not all conservation is working deep in the jungle saving endangered species, quite often working with people is just as vital, and that’s what I have recently been up to in Chengdu, China. The Act for Wildlife project in China works to protect species such as Giant Pandas, Red Pandas and many endemic bird species through conservation, research and education.
So my trip to Chengdu was to work with our partners in the Education Department at Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding to help them develop the Red Panda Schools Programme that Act for Wildlife supports.
Arriving in the bustling city of Chengdu can be a bit of a culture shock, it is a bustling and vibrant city, but unfortunately not many people speak English, and of course I don’t speak Chinese very well. This is actually quite an obstacle; it’s just the simple things like getting around that are incredibly difficult! Taxi and bus drivers don’t speak English and I know a grand total of three Chinese words (thank you, yes and no if you were wondering) and also all of the street/shop/hotel signs are in Chinese.
It makes for an interesting time just getting to where I need to be. If it had not been for the fantastically helpful Education staff at the Panda Base I’m not sure I would have even been able to check into my hotel!
Just on the outskirts of the city is Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding; a haven for Giant and Red Pandas. There are 113 Giant Pandas and 81 Red Pandas and the Panda Base is a centre for science, conservation, research and education. On my first day (after recovering from the long journey) I caught the staff bus to the Panda Base to find that I was to help with a stand at the Chengdu Science and Technology Exhibition.
Our job for the day was to educate the public about the plight of Giant and Red Panda and about the work that the Panda Base does. I became quite an attraction on the stall as everyone came over to the stall to see who the ‘Laowai’ (foreigner) was. A great tactic as it meant that we would tell everyone about the work of the Panda Base and the collaboration with Chester Zoo too!
The next couple of days I spent going into some of the Kindergarten and Primary schools in the city to see the Red Panda Programme in action. I have to say this was great fun, as the children were so enthusiastic and excited about the visits, especially with a guest from the UK arriving too!
The children learn about the life and the struggles for survival of the Red Panda through an exciting story told with a puppet. The story describes the day in the life of ‘Tao Tao’ the Red Panda.
After this the children discuss what they have learnt about Red Pandas and then talk about all of the things that they can do to help protect them, thinking about things like recycling, litter and water use.
After the excitement of visiting the schools we got a little more serious and turned to the development and success of the Education Programmes that we support at the Panda Base. I had a couple of meetings to look at the development of the programmes and then I ran a three hour workshop on the importance of evaluation in education programmes and evaluation techniques.
Attendance to the workshop was really encouraging as the entire Education Department from the Panda Base came and I also invited some of the education staff working at Chengdu Zoo, from which 11 staff members attended, so a total of 21 all in all. The workshop was brilliant and I was impressed with the participation, as cultural limitations can sometimes be a big barrier.
However, we had some great discussions about evaluation, the difficulties and their confidence in using evaluation in education programmes, and after looking at four evaluation techniques everyone was much more confident in adding evaluation to the programmes that they run.
Visiting Chengdu and building great working relationships with the staff was a fantastic opportunity. Sharing knowledge and experience in running education programmes with staff at the Panda Base is invaluable to the development of the Red Panda Schools Programme and the other programmes that Act for Wildlife supports in China.
I am Ruth Pearson and I Act for Wildlife.
Find out more on our Act for Wildlife website.
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