In this post, Camilla explains how the zoo’s approach to being green captured her admiration, while the zoo’s lemurs captured her heart.
I am sitting at home, but my thoughts are not here. I can still feel little hands in mine, trying to spread my fingers to get hold of grapes and apples, I smell the nice, warm smell of thick fur, and I hear the fluffy sound, when they jump around me. The lemurs.
I have been to Wellington Zoo.
Wellington Zoo have taken it upon themselves to change their own habits within the zoo as well as to influence the habits of the world as much as possible. The motto: “We’re committed to being a Green Zoo, and helping you to be a Green You” has guided their work in several ways.
Anywhere possible, they have changed their use of wood and paper to FSC-certified products. This also includes the items in their zoo-shop. Most of the products found there are now either FSC-certified or come from other sustainable sources. In the beginning, this change created a degree of anxiety and fear about losing money, but as it turned out, visitors very much approve of the new articles, so the shop is still making good money for the zoo.
They reduce, reuse, recycle and compost to reduce waste, and they also try to lower carbon emissions as much as possible. Where these emissions cannot be avoided completely, carbon credits are used to plant thousands of native trees in New Zealand.
All this hard work is described to visitors in the Zoo’s Sustainability Path. But the attempt to change people’s behavior takes an even more active form. Information on FSC is integrated in the daily Animal Talks, in particular the talks about forest-dependent species like tigers, sun bears, giraffes and chimpanzees. They do it very elegantly by linking to the story about the animals in question.
At the chimpanzee enclosure, we heard about the different personalities of the chimpanzees, and their great resemblance to us, ending with: “…but there is one place where we are not like each other – we have an impact on their lives”. At the giraffe compound, the story focused on the fight for food, the fight against gravity, and the fight against degradation of the forest. Each session ended with the zoo ranger holding up the logo and explaining about FSC-products and how we all, through very simple daily choices, can help protect animals’ homes in the wild.
I had a chat with the zoo’s visitor engagement manager, Jude Turner. She explained working with sustainability issues is a motivating challenge that never ends, and new ideas continue to form. In the coming years, they hope to establish an FSC-path through the tree patch next to the gibbons, informing about FSC and the benefits for nature when we choose FSC-certified products.
“We walk the talk,” explains Jude. “It is all about spreading the word and getting the message out there”. And she is right. The continuous effort to do exactly this is paying off. Recently, a survey on the knowledge of the FSC logo was done in the city of Wellington as well as amongst the visitors in the zoo. It showed that the level of awareness of the FSC logo and what it stands for was 40% in Wellington city – but 54% in the zoo! And when asked where they had learned about it, many of the participants in Wellington replied: they had learned about it in the zoo.
Spread the word.
The zoo also tries to reach people and make environmental work a personal matter for them by organizing close encounters with some of the animals. I was invited to visit the lemurs and spend more than half an hour with them, sitting on a tree log and feeding them grapes and apples.
Lucky and Ankari, father and son, are black-and-white ruffed lemurs, endemic to Madagascar. In the wild, they live high up in the tree canopies, and they are pollinators, just like bees and butterflies. They use their strong, little hands to open up the fairly tough flower bracts of their favorite tree, Ravanela (‘traveler’s tree’) to get hold of the delicious nectar. In this process, they get covered in pollen and thus transport it from tree to tree and secure their own food source in the process, the fruits.
It was pure magic to be so close to them. Such lovely and gentle creatures. In spite of their rather impressive Dracula-fangs, they didn’t bite but merely licked my fingers softly to make sure to get all the juice from the grapes I had in my hand. Such an amazing encounter also helps me not only connect with the animals but relate personally to the importance of protecting their habitats, the forests, in the wild.
As always, the heartbreaking fact is that these beautiful creatures will have no home in the wild in a few years if we don’t change our approach to forest management. Like so many others, they are now on the red list – critically endangered due to hunting and habitat loss from deforestation.
Camilla Carstensen completed her Masters in Community Forestry in the northern part of Thailand. After graduating, she worked with both social and environmental NGOs, and NGO networks in Denmark. She also worked with FairGreenSolutions, a small consultancy focusing on policy processes and how to support sustainable development. At present (dividing her time between Bonn and Copenhagen) she is the Chair of Eco-net, a Danish NGO, working on Education for Sustainable Development and practical approaches to sustainable living. Recently, she worked with Jens Galschiøt, a Danish sculptor and activist, and his team on his participation in the climate COP in Bonn.