Posted on 11th October 2019 by Media Relations
You can’t read or listen to the news right now without being confronted with headlines announcing that wildlife and ecosystems are under threat. Scientists warn we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and, in Australia alone, more than 1700 species and ecological communities are known to be threatened or at risk of extinction.
But it’s important to recognise that we’re not only losing species; we’re also losing our connection to the natural world. Arguably, these two things are inextricably linked, as with an appreciation for nature comes a desire to protect it.
Recent research released by Planet Ark reveals that “only one in three Aussie kids today play outside every day compared to around three in four children a generation ago, around one in three Aussie kids have never been camping or bushwalking and one in every four Aussie kids has never climbed a tree!”
It’s hard to believe that we could be inhabiting such a unique environment – Australia is one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet – and not encouraging our children to cherish it, but it seems that a lifestyle shift has been underway. “In the space of a single generation, Australian children have moved from playing outdoors to playing indoors. This change can be put down to safety concerns, time-poor parents, and the lure of television and computer games,” says Planet Ark.
Why does this matter? According to Courtney Frost, Taronga’s Education Manager, time spent in nature is beneficial to children in many ways. “We find that when we take the kids that visit Taronga outside, we are able to sustain their engagement for longer, and it also increases their curiosity,” Courtney says. “My aim in life is to get kids to be curious, and they seem to naturally be curious about nature. They have an affinity towards it and they enjoy being amongst it.”
Ollie Ticehurst, a 17-year-old Youth At The Zoo (YATZ) leader, says that for him, nature acts as a kind of balm. “I find a lot of peace in it. I love going down to the bush, particularly during exam times, and I’ll get out and go for an hour bushwalk and that makes me feel so down to earth, really connected and it puts me in a good mindset,” he says.
“There is an inextricable link between nature and human wellbeing and so being in nature and being involved with animals is so important for my personal happiness,” Ollie adds. “When I was 13 I was keen to get into YATZ as it seemed like something that would really suit me. I love meeting new people, and talking to people, but I also love the animal and nature side of it too.”
Courtney has also observed that exposing kids to nature can have a calming effect, and, importantly, it encourages them to care for the natural world. “When they are curious and have an appreciation for it they also have a natural willingness to care for nature, which is what we want, ultimately. They feel empowered to make a difference and will often go home and tell their parents what they need to do.”
As well as boosting the wellbeing of our kids, being in nature as a family and being exposed to the wonder of wildlife and our environment together, can also have positive effects. “Planning activities together seems to promote connections within families because they get to have these lovely shared experiences outside,” Courtney says.
With the weather warming up, it’s the perfect time to get the family to Taronga Zoo to explore the beautiful habitats and learn about the amazing animals we care for. For ticket details and information on activities for kids at our two zoos, click here.