Flights of Wonder
By now we know there are lots of ways to inspire people to live more sustainable lives! That said, my personal favourite method includes using animal ambassadors. I’m very lucky to work with a team of amazing non-releasable birds of prey through Wild Ontario and the Mountsberg Raptor Centre.
These two facilities are amazing centres. They aim to increase awareness of environmental issues that impact birds and inspire the next generation of nature lovers. In this post I’ll share the benefits ambassador animals have in connecting people with nature and inspiring them to lead more sustainable lives!
What Are Animal Ambassadors?
Before we dive in, let’s start with the basics – what are animal ambassadors? Animal ambassadors can be pretty much any species and come from many places. Zoos and education facilities are common places that care for animal ambassadors.
The main thing that makes an animal an “ambassador” is that these animals typically have a reason for being an ambassador. For example, an injury that impedes survival in the wild. Alternatively, they may have been bred in captivity for the purpose of education, as is often the case for endangered species.
What Kinds of Animals Can Be Ambassadors?
All sorts! Common animal ambassador include reptiles, amphibians and birds. Zoos are a great example of the variety of animals that can be ambassadors!
Bird of Prey Ambassadors
I specifically work with bird of prey ambassadors. These include hawks, eagles, owls, falcons and vultures. Many of the birds I work with originally hatched in the wild. At some point, they became non-releasable. Common reasons birds of prey come into human care include collisions with vehicles or buildings, or deliberate harm – such as being shot or abused, or human imprinting.
After these experiences, some birds are brought to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation centre. These centres are like hospitals for wildlife. At the centre, staff will help the bird recover from its injuries and eventually release it back into the wild!
The Path To Education
Unfortunately, that is not the case for all birds. Birds that don’t fully recover have 2 options – euthanasia or become an ambassador. There’s a lot to consider when weighing these options! Animal ambassadors need to have a calm temperament.
They should also be relatively pain free, despite potential lingering complications from their injury. If there’s a centre that feels the bird is appropriate for education, and they have the space to house that bird, then the animal begins it’s new life as an ambassador!
Can Anyone Keep Animal Ambassadors?
The short answer here is no. Animal ambassadors are not pets. They actually have an important job to do! Keeping animals for the purpose of teaching should only be done by professionals.
This is to ensure they receive the best possible care. In some cases, it is also illegal purchase certain animals unless you have specific permission. Some municipalities also have rules about what kinds of animals you can own.
What Does This Have To Do With Sustainability?
In my opinion, the best way for people to care about sustainability is for them to connect with nature and find a reason to care about the earth. Animal ambassadors can be a great tool to establish this connection in kids and adults alike.
We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see, Or hear. Or sense.”Richard Louv
We Cannot Protect Something We Do Not Love
Animal ambassadors give people an opportunity to learn to love something – usually something in need of protecting. When someone gets a chance to meet an owl up close, chances are that person will walk away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for owls. They may want to learn more about owls! Maybe they will seek out opportunities to see one in the wild.
Slowly but surely, they’re learning about owls, and learning how to care for wild owls, which always circles back to caring about the earth. Overall, meeting an ambassador animal can foster curiosity in the learner, which is the first step towards taking action to care for that animal or its habitat.
Because Animals Are Awesome
As an educator, I play a role in facilitating this process. In some cases I can even accelerate it. When I get a chance to talk to someone about owls, I can share what makes owls so cool. Then, I can share the threats these owls face in the wild, and how we all play a part in contributing to decline of species. Finally, I can leave this person with a call for action, a small step they can take to make a change for the better.
Hard To Love 😢
This is especially important for the less-charismatic animals out there. I’ll admit it’s not usually hard to convince people to care about owls. Snakes on the other hand are a very different story! I’m also fortunate to work with a team of reptiles at work, and have the opportunity (pre-COVID) to do snake shows. These can be a tougher sell than bird shows, but I’d argue even more important.
Reptiles like snakes and turtles face many threats in the wild. This is especially true as the weather warms up. Sunny days lead some reptiles to bask in the sun on a nice warm road. Others will cross the street to lay eggs. Convincing people to care about creatures they may actively dislike or be afraid of takes a lot of work! However, it is the first step in getting someone to care and take action.
A Skill For Anyone!
As I’ve alluded to, it can be a real art to work through this conversation, but one that is so worth practicing, even among non-educators! Chances are you have someone in your life who may have a fear of snakes, or bats, or birds.
Becoming familiar with these animals, the threats they face and learning how to translate this information so that it is digestible and easy to understand is a great way to help educate people in your life. Hopefully you can change someone’s mind about an animal that they don’t understand!
Storytelling for Sustainability
Ambassador animals are also a great way to incorporate storytelling into sustainability education. Humans naturally connect to storytelling, there’s a reason why stories are so important in culture and throughout history!
Incorporating a bird’s story into shows and presentations is an extremely effective way to inspire sustainability in my audience. I plan to write a dedicated post on storytelling as a method for sustainability education in the future, so stay tuned for that!
Support Animal Ambassadors in Education
In conclusion, zoos and animals in captivity can get a bad rap. People don’t always see the value in keeping animals in captivity for educational purposes. In my opinion, well-managed facilities that provide their animals with good welfare are extremely valuable in the sustainability movement. Ambassador animals forge a connection between people and nature.
This connection is invaluable in convincing people to care about the environment and living more sustainable lives. It can be difficult to know if a facility is well-managed and taking good care of their animals, but there are a few things to look for if you feel unsure. Accreditations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums can give some indication for the quality of a facility. When in doubt you can always reach out to the facility and ask questions!
Finally, you can support Wild Ontario and Mountsberg by checking out their websites and social media pages! You can find Wild Ontario on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you have the means you can also choose one of the Wild Ontario Birds to Sponsor and help support our mission! The Mountsberg Raptor Centre is also on Facebook, and have symbolic Adopt-A-Raptor program as well!