More on what New Zoo is all about…
What is the baseline situation we are addressing…?
The UK zoo community has, on the whole, long since sloughed off out-of-date identities and images associated with the old fashioned menagerie existing purely for casual entertainment. Very many sites have made substantial strides towards offering sophisticated environmental education and engagement.
Nonetheless the exhibits and experiences developed and offered by zoos, wildlife venues and similar organisations largely continue to centre on combining a leisure experience with the promotion of biodiversity . So decision makers outside (and perhaps within) the UK zoo community, whilst generally viewing zoos, their work and their potential in a positive framework, sometimes risk confining our community and its possibilities within limited vista and out of date cliché.
It is definitely true that, without any particular conscious intent, some establishment and media elements tend to categorise ‘the zoo’ as a fairly trivial entertainment concept with little ‘serious’ content.
In recent years a discussion has emerged as to our sector raising its game and sublimating its delivery. A wider set of public goods and socio-economic benefits might be delivered by a sufficiently creative ‘zoo project’. Such new value might be either latent or implicit within existing zoo projects, or only there in potential within certain future, more imaginatively configured initiatives.
In particular the potential to form a strategic alliance with leading UK research universities has led to New Zoo.
In addition to a wish to offer more to UK society (and be acknowledged for doing so), the zoo community clearly also needs for its own sake to evolve constantly to remain competitive and relevant into a changing world.
It would be ironic indeed if a set of organisations generally dedicated to the principle of Darwinism were to become stuck in an evolutionary dead end.
Hence the need for New Zoo
What are some of these ‘wider, non traditional and potential future outputs’ …?
Clearly the essential USP of zoos is as public sites to act as an interface between all aspects of human society and the immediate physical reality of a wide range of beguiling, exotic animals. As the environment has risen ever higher up the agenda however, we can transmute this attested, centuries old and trans-cultural appeal (‘biophilia’) into other benefits to our society. These might include:
- economic development (…jobs, tourism… sense of place… secondary spend)
- social economy ( …volunteering… socially binding group activities… confidence building… training… back to work paths for marginalised communities…)
- internationalising the mindset of visitors in a fast globalising economy (… build on zoos’ inherently internationalist nature… link from the wildlife of other nations to their culture and economies…)
- native wildlife/habitat as opposed to exclusively connected to exotic fauna ( … blending into a promotion of; the overall landscape tourism offer of the UK or a specific region)
- ‘shop window’ for universities (… partnership between HE as a major driver for our economy and our string of public facing sites commanding huge audiences)
- public engagement in science (… relevant disciplines going far beyond biology… maths, chemistry, physics, mechanics all implicit in the living word..)
- environmental agenda beyond biodiversity (… zoo buildings and structures embedding and interpreting renewable technology…)
- aspiration and enterprise in young people ( … championing the exotic, the faraway… careers and ideas breaking down parochial horizons)
- culture, as well as science ( natural world replete with symbolism, inter-stitching of animals reference into all aspects of art, heritage and tradition)
- other outputs to emerge potentially