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How would a middle schooler design anti-poaching solutions? ZooCrew students offer fresh conservation perspectives

Posted by: Caitlin Potter, Education

For young minds, learning doesn’t stop when the school bell rings and subjects like biology and engineering can really come to life in hands-on experiences beyond the classroom. The projects and advisors behind ZooCrew, our after-school program serving middle school age students through schools and community centers, give students early and positive exposure to how STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) can improve their world, like in our most recent quarter that tackled a pressing conservation issue: poaching.

For 8 weeks last fall, ZooCrew students at three Seattle middle schools, Asa Mercer International, Washington and Denny International, studied the African savanna. In addition to playing educational games, meeting live animals and learning about careers in science, ZooCrew students delved into the topic of poaching. We learned about this complex issue by exploring the different perspectives of people involved in poaching, from the poachers themselves to middlemen, government officials, police and conservationists, all the way to consumers in Washington state and elsewhere.

After learning about these many different viewpoints, the students took action to help endangered animals by working on a variety of projects:

WildCam Gorongosa and Chimp & See

One of our projects this quarter was contributing to two app-based citizen science initiatives based in Africa. With WildCam Gorongosa, students helped scientists working in Mozambique identify and categorize photos from camera traps. In Chimp & See, students identified animals and analyzed their behavior on remote video cameras. In both projects, participants learned about the wide variety of animals living on the savanna, many of which are threatened by poaching, and became experts at identifying them from remotely-triggered cameras. They created posters, dioramas and conservation messaging about their projects, and taught zoo staff and guests about the importance of camera traps and scientists in the fight against poaching. Both these apps are free to the public to use, and the scientists behind them greatly appreciate your participation! Take a page out of the ZooCrew book and help out!

Engineering for Conservation

A second project this quarter challenged ZooCrew students to identify an aspect of poaching that could be addressed with an innovative design project. Students at all three schools took this task to heart, and designed and constructed some impressive final projects! One group was interested in the illegal pet trade, and after meeting a live Egyptian tortoise, created a “robo-tortoise” complete with habitat and facts about why a robotic tortoise pet is a better choice than a wild-caught one. Two other groups were inspired by a presentation from Pembient’s Matthew Markus. One group designed a synthetic rhino horn substitute, and the other created a faux-leopard glove and scarf set to combat the demand for leopard pelts. A final group created a prototype of a video game that educates consumers about the dangers of poaching from the perspective of various African savanna animals dodging obstacles in the savanna. All in all, zoo staff and visitors were inspired by the students’ inventive and creative designs!

Conservation Art

ZooCrew students also learned about the power of art for conservation advocacy. They got in touch with their creative side by creating special edition trading cards and poaching artwork for the upcoming Spring Safari: African Wildlife Conservation Day at the zoo, advocating for elephants and endangered tortoises through sculptures and drawings, educating their peers about poaching with a Powerpoint presentation, and even creating a collage of ivory products in the shape of an elephant to teach consumers about where their trinkets come from. Please join us at the zoo on April 16 to see some of their fabulous conservation art in person!

Green Seattle Day Restoration Field Trip

Another highlight of the quarter was ZooCrew’s participation in a Green Seattle Day restoration event at Cheasty Greenspace. ZooCrew students and their families came together on a rainy Saturday to help community members restore their neighborhood park by planting trees, mulching, and pulling out invasive ivy and blackberry. As you can see from the photos, everyone had a great time despite the weather!

Zoo Field Trip 

We closed our exciting, action-packed quarter with a special outing to the zoo. Despite the chilly, rainy weather, the students had a great time playing games, exploring zoo grounds on a huge scavenger hunt, and presenting their projects to other ZooCrew students, their families, school staff, ZooCorps and zoo staff. They even got to meet African savanna zookeepers and wildlife up close and personal!

All of us here at ZooCrew would like to extend a big THANK YOU to our wonderful ZooCrew students for all of your hard work this quarter. We are so proud of you and what you accomplished! A special thanks also goes out to our community partners, ZooCorps volunteers and interns, and the zoo staff who help make this program possible every quarter. We are looking forward to another great ZooCrew term, this time studying climate change and the animals of the Northwest!


Michelle said…
I'm so impressed with the students and what they accomplished! I hope they are inspired to continue to make a difference in conservation and wildlife protection.
We are so proud of you and what you accomplished!
Annie Cousins said…
Great article! I'm a big believer in getting kids and communities involved in conservation. I just saw a website that has amazing anti-poaching and high tech programs for kids doing wildlife conservation. Keep up the great work!