Earlier this year, the United Nations reported the unprecedented rates of extinction of one million plant and animal species. This prompted a call to action for Sydney-siders to get down to Earth during National Science Week and make it their mission to learn how they can help to conserve ten unique and at-risk animal species to ensure their survival into the future.
Over the three days of the event, more than 1000 school students and 250 families visited Taronga Zoo Sydney for Operation Earth: A Conservation Mission.
Students and staff from the University’s Faculty of Science facilitated a range of hands-on science activity workstations integrated throughout the zoo to investigate issues such as habitat loss, poaching and climate change, and examine how these problems are impacting upon the ten focus species: Asian elephant, emu, greater bilby, koala, regent honeyeater, Sumatran tiger, sun bear, Sunda pangolin, Tasmanian devil and wedge-tailed eagle.
Is it a beetle, snake, pangolin or pinecone? Visitors braved the unknown by putting a hand into our ‘feely’ boxes to learn more about the plight of the Sunda Pangolin – the world’s only scaled mammal, and the most trafficked animal you’ve never heard of.
They spun the ‘Wheel of Misfortune’ to discover how the Asian elephant’s environment is influencing heritable traits, generating the ‘unnatural selection’ of tusklessness.
Extreme levels of dexterity, skill and determination were put to the test at the emu activity – it takes a true conservation champion to put a jigsaw together in 20 seconds while also learning how the Euahlayi and Kamilaroi people of north west and north central NSW use the position of the emu in the sky to inform whether it is the mating, egg laying or egg hatching season of the emu on Earth.
All students went away with homework to download the Wildlife Witness app for reporting any illegal animal practices while travelling overseas.
Our conservation mission agents were able to see these animals in the flesh and gain an appreciation of their unique features and role in the ecosystem.
We hope the participants will act for the wild, providing a voice for threatened species and supporting efforts for conservation, as they left the zoo equipped with practical solutions they can employ to help curtail the alarming rates of animal extinction.