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Chester Zoo has enlisted the help of UK schoolchildren in its battle to save South East Asia’s endangered songbirds.
Songbirds in Indonesia are on the very brink of extinction as many remarkable and rare birds are being captured and taken from their forest homes to be sold in markets as part of the illegal wildlife trade.
The zoo has already been working with schools in Indonesia to raise awareness of the issue and how to tackle it. With the keeping of songbirds in cages engrained in Indonesian culture, most notably on the island of Java, the zoo has taken steps to engage with local students to help them to realise the beauty of birds in the wild and their importance to the ecosystem.
The crisis has reached a tipping point with forests falling silent as up to 1.3 million birds are taken from the wild each year.
Now the zoo’s education team have taken their innovative Sing for Songbirds campaign – a free outreach programme - to a host of schools across the North West in a bid to empower children to want to protect species from other countries and cultures, as well as those closer to home.
The campaign has worked with schools to incorporate the songbird crisis across the curriculum - from music to maths to theatre to geography to English and more. The new approach is designed to add extra value and enrich each subject for children, while simultaneously helping to inspire the next generation of conservationists, vital for protecting the future of our planet.
All of the schools that have so far taken part were specially selected in an attempt to reach out to those that wouldn’t normally be able to visit the zoo, engaging children who had potentially never been interested in conservation initiatives before.
Up to now, 2,443 British students from 26 schools have been taught by the zoo’s team of Safari Rangers, as well as 282 adults and two community groups. All of the classes were revisited by the team several times as research has discovered that engaging a group repeatedly over a focussed period of time is more effective than a one off visit.
As part of the initiative, the zoo, in collaboration with Peoplescape Theatre and supported using public funding by Arts Council England, has also taken theatre into the classroom in an innovative way to further children’s understanding of the issue.
Hannah Brooks, the zoo’s Community Engagement Manager, said:
“Having spent time in Indonesia I have witnessed the songbird crisis first hand. To visit a bird market in one of the big cities in Java and be met with the raucous birdsong from thousands upon thousands of caged birds but to then to hear nothing but absolute silence when stood in a forest is incredibly sad. It’s heartbreaking.
“The situation is critical but it’s not a fight that is lost. Chester Zoo is working with its partners in Indonesia on a number of community engagement initiatives to get local people on board with the battle. It’s really important that people living in villages close to forests want to protect birds and understand their importance to the ecosystem.
“The next step is then to find a way for people in the UK to get involved and that’s what we’re doing through our education programme. It’s vital that we teach the next generation about wildlife crises such as these, to not only develop their knowledge of songbirds and other cultures, but importantly to empower them to want to take action and protect them. It’s about inspiring more people to connect with nature and to find their own way, however little or big, to be a conservationist in their day to day life that’s really going to make a difference for species around the world.”
All of the students and teachers involved in the campaign also visited the zoo to participate in a Songbird Festival Day, providing unique opportunities for students to see first-hand the birds they have been learning about and campaigning for. A highlight of the festival was a mini concert performed by the singer/songwriter Ashley Fayth who, alongside the zoo’s educating team, has written a song dedicated to highlighting songbirds and the crisis they are faced up to.
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