Saturday, 19 March 2016

Bristol Zoo

Hello All,

For STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) day, I visited Bristol Zoo with the school. We went to Bristol zoo because it is a fun, different and exciting way to learn, and it has so many experiences that can’t be gained from the classroom. A highlight of the day was a talk from a zookeeper. The purpose of this talk was to inform us of what the zoo does and to raise awareness of conservation worldwide and why conservation takes place. It provided an opportunity to meet some of the animals with whom he works (Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, a Brown Rat called Bob and Egyptian Tortoises). The cockroach was surprisingly still when held in the hand, and had feet that gripped your palm. The sleek and cold feeling of its back on your finger is something that can’t be gained from just looking, and the experience of this helped us connect with animals.

Bristol Zoological Gardens is one of the leading zoos in the UK, with hundreds of species resident.  It was founded in 1836, by businessmen who wanted to take advantage of Bristol as a port. Ships came to Bristol from all over the world, and with them came animals never before seen in Bristol. It is one of the oldest zoos in the country, but much has changed since the zoo started, as we learnt in the session with the zookeeper. The animals are kept in spacious enclosures that replicate their natural habitat, but it hasn’t always been this way. Up until the 1950s, animals were kept in  bare, small cages. This was for two reasons. The staff at Bristol zoo knew that animals died of disease, so a bare cage meant they could clean it thoroughly, thus “preventing” the spread of disease. However, the chemicals that were used would’ve harmed the animals. Also, the cages were kept small so people could have contact with the animals, and so they could fit in as many animals as possible into a small zoo. Up until the 1950s, people could touch the animals, have rides, and feed them. However, this food wasn’t the diet the animals needed: stale bread, cake and fruit were all seen as fine to give to the animals. Also, the safety of people wasn’t taken into account. Although leopards and lions won’t turn and attack you in the wild, they need to be respected, so being kept in small cages, with people allowed to touch them could’ve led to injuries for both the human and animal. Now, Bristol Zoo is greatly involved in conservation projects, and the animals are kept in enclosures that replicate their habitat well, and allow them to ignore the public.

So what does the zoo do? Firstly, it helps in conservation. Bristol Zoo is part of various organisations that means ex-situ (in zoos) breeding projects can take place with the wide variety of zoos connected. This is vital to ensure that populations of species inside zoos remain viable, and that breeding pairs are not related. Also, Bristol Zoo currently has projects running in-situ; worldwide, in the habitats of the animals. These are in countries where there is an environmental problem, such as the taking of tortoises in Madagascar for the shell and pet trade.  Also Bristol Zoo has a colony of 60 African Penguins, which are part of a programme, so a further 100 of them were moved to other zoos to help spread out the breeding programme. This means that if disease strikes one place, not all the progress will be lost. Bristol zoo contains many species, that are, tragically, extinct in the wild, such as the marvellous, cinnamon, Socorro dove.

 The Socorro dove was endemic to the Island of Socorro ,off the coast of Mexico, and was last seen in the wild in 1972. Its IUCN rating is EW, one of Extinction itself, and there are only 100 left in captivity that are pure. The reasons for its decline includes the dreaded pet cat...

Also, the zoo teaches. Many go there to learn, and even those who don’t go to Bristol zoo with education in mind will still pick up information, and go away with something new. This education is vital towards conservation: in the words of many, people won’t care for something about which they do not know. Also, it helps people realise that our wildlife is in trouble: pollution, population, invasive species, over-harvesting and habitat destruction (or HIPPO) are all ways we affect the environment, something which we learnt in the talk with the zoo keeper.

Finally, the zoo is there to enjoy-and that is certainly what year 9 did. Many of us saw most, if not all the animals at the zoo, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. The interactive and refreshing nature of the zoo makes it ideal for a visit, with enclosures replicating natural habitats fantastically. We marvelled at the agility of Inca Terns, the furtive nature of Meerkats, and the elusive Aye-Aye. What makes Bristol zoo especially good is how it connects with people: enclosures like the twilight enclosure help you connect with the animals.

Overall, a great day!

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