The role of zoos in tackling Climate Change
Written by Network member: Kiam Yoong, Zoos Victoria
An ever increasing priority
Climate change as a public issue has progressed fast. In the past decade it has transformed from scientific theory into stark reality.
In Australia, we see climate change as a fact of life; something that requires urgent action to avoid an environmental tipping point.1 Australians also understand that it is human actions that have driven us to this point.
Climate change from human activity is a major threat to the diversity of life we have on this planet, and in Australia we are no different. It will mean irreparable damage to World Heritage Areas such as Kakadu, the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. Habitat destruction means our unique flora and fauna is placed under increasing threat of extinction.
Burramys live in Australia's alpine regions and require 70 – 100 cm of snow cover for hibernation. Decline in snow cover will mean a decline in their habitat. A 1°C increase in temperature will mean a complete loss of their climatic habitat (Brereton et al. 1995). CSIRO predicts our snow seasons will be almost gone by 20502.
What have zoos got to do with climate change?
Globally, more than 600 million visitors pass through the gates of zoos and aquariums each year. At Zoos Victoria we receive about 1.6 million visitors per year. Our three properties – Melbourne Zoo, Werribee Open Range Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary – house many animals facing extinction in the wild because of human activity.
Our ability to connect with visitors on issues such as climate change is unique. We can present a serious environmental issue and solicit a strong emotional response. You only have to attend an Orang-utan keeper talk at Melbourne Zoo to see the emotional response on people’s faces when they are told about deforestation in Borneo and Sumatra.
Once you have made this emotional connection, it becomes easier to inspire people to take conservation action. By presenting solutions we can channel the strength of this emotional reaction into action.
Corroborree Frogs live in the sub-alpine areas above 1300 metres in Kosciuszko National Park, hibernating under the snow during the winter months. Their survival also depends on rainfall in summer months to flush the tadpoles to adjoining ponds. Without rainfall, a whole generation could be wiped out.
With opportunity comes responsibility
In order to have a serious voice in the conservation space, zoos must become models of environmental sustainability. Our actions cannot be seen as contributing to the demise of the very species we are seeking to protect.
At Zoos Victoria we are committed to conservation and environmental sustainability. We want to be a role model of environmental sustainability and inspire other to be sustainable. This is why we have committed to:
A carbon neutral Zoos Victoria by 2012
A Green Procurement Program
Greater resource efficiency
An outstanding Environmental Management System
Training and support for staff to be more sustainable at work and at home
Communications and education to inspire our public to take actions to become environmentally sustainable and conserve our natural world.
We are not there yet, but we have made significant headway:
We have halved our water use at Melbourne Zoo earning us a prestigious 2008 savewater! Award® for outstanding contribution to water sustainability.
Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee Open Range Zoo are ECO Certified by Ecotourism Australia.
All our landscape gardeners are Environmentally Certified Landscape Industry Professionals.
|Spotted Quolls live in a range of habitat types from rainforest to open woodlands. Climate change alters bushfire regimes, resulting in more frequent more intense and larger scale fires, which will impact populations and distributions of a vast array of animal species and plant communities in Australia.|
Global issue = collective response
Climate Change is a global issue that cannot be tackled by one body, organisation, or nation. It requires a collective, collaborative response.
Water Smart Garden at Werribee Open Range Zoo provides simple solutions to help people conserve water in their own gardens.
Organics Waste interpretation at Melbourne Zoo provides solutions to make better use of organics that may otherwise go to landfill.
Zoos Victoria understands its strength in accessing people, creating awareness and empathy and inspiring action. We also have significant expertise that can be channelled into conservation efforts. This is why we work in partnership with Governments, NGOs and corporations on threatened species programs, advocacy campaigns, in situ and ex situ conservation and awareness-raising activities.
Get on Board the Sustainability Tram
Zoos Victoria, the City of Melbourne, and Yarra Trams have partnered to produce a ‘Green Tram’ that will carry messages of environmental sustainability around the City Circle for the next six months.
- messages provide clear call-to-action information, such as binning litter to protect our waterways and wild creatures like seals and frogs.
They're calling on you
Mobile phone recycling campaign to reduce our reliance on coltan, a mineral mined in Africa for the production on mobile phones. This campaign was made possible with the partnership from the Jane Goodall Institute and ARP (Aussie Recycling Program).
As the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent on our natural world, the role of zoos will continue to transform from places of recreation to places of conservation that can help find solutions for the a climate changed future. This means:
Being a strong, credible voice for conservation
Becoming models for sustainable practices
Using expertise to find solutions to climate change impacts
Continuing to emotionally touch our visitors and inspiring them to act.
If you would like to explore a partnership with Zoos Victoria contact Kiam Yoong firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Climate of the Nation report, April 2008, The Climate Institute.
2 Hennessy, K., Whetton, P., Smith, I., Bathols, J., Hutchinson, M. & Sharples, J. 2003, The Impact of Climate Change on Snow Conditions in Mainland Australia, CSIRO, Aspendale, Victoria.
3 Images courtesy of Zoos Victoria
4 Corroborree Frog photo by John Lane