The Things We Do for Biodiversity Conservation

“These are my favorite books!” said 10-year-old Qiaofen Dong. Photo credit: Kefeng Niu

“These are my favorite books!” said 10-year-old Qiaofen Dong. Photo credit: Kefeng Niu

What do speed, backpacks, a children’s library, and Asia have in common? They do not seem to have any real connection; however, to me, these words are connected because of what I do. I recently joined San Diego Zoo Global’s Conservation Partnership Development Division to broaden the scope of my in situ conservation and research efforts. I am really excited about this change, because it presents new opportunities that can lead to further successes in biodiversity conservation.

To save species and their habitats, we need the support of the local people. This is by no means an easy task. It is important for a scientist, like myself, to be creative and seek collaborative opportunities that help achieve conservation objectives in the long run. In my many pursuits, I use the scientific background I have as a way to enhance my ability to carry out work properly. The experiences I have gained over the years enable me to think outside the box when it comes to conservation solutions.

Children in the Little Green Guards Club began their first English lesson by watching “A is for Ape” on a laptop computer.

Children in the Little Green Guards Club began their first English lesson by watching “A is for Ape” on a laptop computer.

I am off to Asia again. This time, I have a very full itinerary that includes China, Vietnam, and Taiwan. To prepare for the trip, I wrote down a long list of “to dos” that involves words like speed, backpacks, and children’s library. Thankfully, I have many people helping me in the process.

This morning, I translated a short description about speed from English to Chinese. Speed is among the 16 topics that my intern, Cameron Ishee (see post What Might Monkeys Be Up To?) and her engineering classmates at High Tech High International have chosen to teach the schoolchildren in our Little Green Guards conservation education program in China (see posts March of the Little Green Guards and Saving Monkeys Takes a Team).

Professor Cristina Giacoma (University of Torino, Italy) teaches Little Green Guards about butterflies.

Professor Cristina Giacoma (University of Torino, Italy) teaches Little Green Guards about butterflies.

Cameron and her teacher, Dr. Don, came up with this ingenious idea that allows their class to learn about the cyanotype photographic printing process to introduce engineering science to rural children in the form of jigsaw puzzles, engage in in-situ conservation, and learn Chinese—all at the same time! Cameron is coming with me to Asia this time. I want her to meet the Little Green Guards and experience conservation work firsthand.

Earlier this year, Cameron finished our pilot episode of the Animal ABC video lesson “A is for Ape,” which was presented to the children of Kaiwen Primary School and the Little Green Guards Club. Subsequently, I expanded the lesson “B is for Butterfly” by adding games, forest walks, and storybook reading to the lesson module. My colleagues from Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve, Purdue University, as well as the University of Torino, Italy, all participated in this effort to help enliven learning using a simple formula: Animals + English = Fun!

Little Green Guards backpacks—how exciting!

Little Green Guards backpacks—how exciting!

After I finished the translations, I moved on to sorting out the backpacks situation. With generous donations from Berit and Thomas Durler, an anonymous benefactor, and the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, we have ordered 400 backpacks for the schoolchildren in our Little Green Guards program. The blue ones will be for the boys and pink ones for the girls. Our Little Green Guards will have something to carry their books in and look très chic going back to school!

Getting ready to ship donated books to the Little Green Guards.

Getting ready to ship donated books to the Little Green Guards.

Finally, before I switched gears to work on a manuscript about my camera-trap research, I found time to work with a new collaborator, LVDI International, on designing our very first Little Green Guards library in Fanjingshan. Months ago I started shipping over boxes of gently used children’s books donated by our Zoo volunteers. Because the books were a huge hit among the Little Green Guards, we have decided to build the children a community library to further cultivate their interests in animal-related subjects and learning English. Later this month, Cameron, my Fanjingshan Reserve colleagues, and I will get out the hammer and screwdriver and see how handy we are at building the library.

Stay tuned, because I will be writing more about this library project in a future blog!

Chia Tan, Ph.D., is a scientist at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, For the Love of Lemurs and Monkeys.

Still quiet here.sas

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