What wildlife conservation education is
Wildlife Conservation Education is sharing wildlife diversity - animals, plants, ecosystems, habitats, the natural balance of how we all have a place in nature. The formats you can use to teach are only restricted by your imagination. School presentations, movies, radio shows, television specials, wildlife centers, and zoological parks are all places and formats used to educate people. Anywhere there is an interested person, there is an opportunity to offer wildlife education.
For example, take young animals being prepared for ambassador programs to campgrounds so they can meet many people. This helps condition the animal to sights and sounds and also helps you, the educator, stay on your toes when asked unscripted questions.
The phrase that will open the door is Nature-Deficit Disorder. This is not a medical condition, however, studies have been done that show children that do not have an understanding of wildlife and or life experiences in nature have tendencies of underachievement and life skills difficulties. This is an area the wildlife educator can help. You do not have to have a PhD to be a good educator. Start where you are comfortable and that may be with preschoolers. Keep it simple - What is it? Where did it come from? What does it eat? These are three good points that will create curiosity and create questions and that feedback lets you know you have done a good job.
When choosing curriculum, make it your own by including personal experiences. Some resources that offer curriculum are Wildlife Forever, Acorn Naturalist and National Wildlife Federation. A good source for cats is "The Best Book of Big Cats" by Christiane Gunzi. Copies can be found on Amazon for as little as $4.00. You don't have to use it word for word, but it does have good flow and can be modified for any cat species.
Just a couple quick tips about wildlife ambassadors. You do not need an animal to be a wildlife educator. If you choose to use animals in your programs keep it safe, your number one priority is not your animals, but those you expose to your animals. Not every animal is a good ambassador. Make sure your animal has been conditioned for lights, sounds, fast movement, people reaching and wanting to touch your animal. The worst thing that can happen is to see an animal stress and flip on the end of a lead. Go to the Animal Behavior Management Alliance for tips on behavior modification and conditioning. The future of animal ambassadors is in your hands.
Continuing Education is necessary because you may know a lot but you will never know it all. Many times you will hear professional animal keepers say, "I've never seen that before" or "They're not supposed to do that!" Continuing education will keep you up to date on new discoveries and behaviors that will help you be a better educator. Continuing education can be done in a classroom like the FCF Husbandry course, or field studies like those offered by the Snow Leopard Trust and the International Wolf Center.
With state laws becoming tighter and private ownership being discouraged, being an education or rehabilitation facility may be the only exemption option to these new laws. If you wait for your laws to change and then try to become exempt as an educator without having already done programs, you will not be included. Start now; embrace the opportunity you have to share the experiences that are unique to you because you have a relationship with wildlife.
Don't think you can hide your animals and prohibit people from seeing your facilities, because if something goes wrong, you will be used as an example why private ownership should be restricted or banned.
Get the media on your side and let them do stories about your positive impact on the community. Actively or passively, you are educating people about yourself and the animals you keep. Wildlife education builds your credibility and you become an asset to the industry.
There is a common thread between the conservationist in the field and the conservationist in the classroom and that is both work to TEACH OUR KIDS. You never know when or how you may impact a young life; the future of wildlife conservation and/or legislation may be in classroom you are about to visit. Wildlife Education is an opportunity to share from your heart and can change the future.