KAMLOOPS - The B.C. Wildlife Park has a core belief of conservation through education, that in order to protect wild animals and the environment they live in people must learn how their actions ultimately affect the futures of these animals.
That's where the park’s education and special events manager, David Edwards, comes in.
“Basically this park exists to educate the public on how important it is to protect our environment so that we actually have wild animals,” Edwards says.
The park is open to people of all ages, but its education programs are geared towards children, especially those in elementary school.
“If you can get the kids, maybe they will do better things later on,” he says.
Explaining to a six-year-old that reusable water bottles protect the environment, or a bear’s habitat, could stick with that child for life. Especially if that same kid gets to see Clover the Kermode Bear at the park, Edwards says.
When Edwards first started with the park six years ago, it offered six different classes and hosted 130 student groups. As of mid-November the park had already offered 17 different classes and hosted 265 student groups. These classes include teaching the students respect for wildlife, the difference between domestic and wild animals and one all about birds of prey. All classes are created based on species native to B.C. and animals available at the park.
Edwards believes the growth is due in part to a variety of changes in how the programs are run. He says the park has a more professional focus, with him meeting each class and teacher personally before and after each trip to the park. He also bases every class on the B.C. provincial school curriculum and makes the necessary modifications every year. But Edwards says one of the most important things he’s done is really tried to learn about his audience.
“When Harry Potter came out, everyone was focusing on owls. The kids wanted to see owls, (and) we do have a snowy owl,” Edwards says.
Students love the ‘up close and personal’ approach with wildlife. Edwards says the park has brought snakes, birds, turtles and even a bearded dragon into classrooms, and they have all provided teachable moments. He says kids learn not to touch a turtle as it might carry salmonella while Fiona the bearded dragon teaches children not to buy exotic pets. Edwards says kids are told what an invasive species is, plus how sad Fiona is to be so far away from her friends and family in Australia.
Edwards has also tried to make the park as interactive as possible, from displays with moving parts to signage with flip tabs.
He has also tried give kids some personal responsibility. Edwards created the Wildlife Rangers club where kids earn pins based on their knowledge of animals at the park. He explains if kids earn their Kermode Bear pin and learn that many bears are eliminated because they get into garbage, maybe they’ll bother their parents until they purchase bear-proof containers. Kids are good that way, Edwards says.
“All the programs that we teach we say, ‘okay what can we do about it?’ If you have education without some kind of active participant, then what’s the point?” Edwards says.
The Education Centre, where kids can learn about animals in the park and sign up to be part of the Wildlife Rangers.
(DANA REYNOLDS /InfoTel Multimedia)
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