On 16 October 2018 their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, officially opened the Taronga Institute of Science & Learning at Taronga Zoo Sydney. A purpose-built research and education centre, the Taronga Institute was created to inspire and empower future generations to contribute to conservation and is the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
In the 12 months since this auspicious occasion, much has been achieved. Over 28,700 school students have taken part in workshops in the Taronga Institute habitat classrooms. These world-first immersive environments were designed to foster inquiry-based learning and challenge students to ask questions about the environment and about wildlife as a means of increasing awareness and understanding of the natural world.
Reflecting on the success of these spaces:
“The beauty of these spaces is that instead of bringing animals to students, we are now taking students into the habitat of some very unique and special animals. These rooms make a really beautiful connection between the animals and their environment and make it transparent to students that both need to be protected.” - Taronga Education Manager, Courtney Frost
History was created in November 2018 when Taronga and the University of Sydney announced an alliance pursuant to which students can enrol in a Bachelor of Science / Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Taronga Conservation Science) or Master of Education (Taronga Conservation Education) and complete a proportion of their studies at the Taronga Institute. Representing a shared commitment to excellence in higher education, scientific discovery and practical wildlife conservation, over 40 students enrolled in alliance courses in the inaugural year and a further 1,300 University of Sydney students participated in units of study delivered partly at the Taronga Institute. The second cohort of students will commence their studies at Taronga in 2020.
The Taronga Institute has also enabled Taronga’s science team to expand the delivery of professional training with the objective of improving industry knowledge and practical skills to achieve conservation outcomes. One of the most significant training events was the Pathology Short Course and Wildlife Translocation Health Symposium attended by 142 scientists in the field of wildlife health and disease. The course was run from the Taronga Institute and addressed the critical skill shortages in the field of wildlife health and comparative pathology. The four-day systematic review of wildlife disease was paired with the delivery of hands-on workshops to provide participants with practical skills and field-adaptable disease investigation techniques. There was also a one-day translocation health symposium that highlighted the many disciplines in translocation science including ecology, nutrition, behaviour, welfare and disease risk analysis.
Of the move into new laboratory facilities in the Taronga Institute, Conservation Science Manager Justine O’Brien notes the benefits for inter-disciplinary collaboration and collaboration with Taronga’s research partners:
“The Institute facilities are helping to foster new collaborations in key areas of wildlife and ecosystem health, and collectively support Taronga’s science-based conservation programs.” - Conservation Science Manager, Justine O'Brien
As a zoo-based conservation organisation, Taronga seeks to minimise its impact on the environment and demonstrate leadership in the design and construction of its assets. In a milestone for Taronga and the industry, the Taronga Institute became the first zoo facility in Australia to get a six-star environmental rating from the Green Building Council of Australia (the highest possible rating) in recognition of its sustainable design, construction and operation. Along with its rooftop solar system, it utilises recycled water for toilet flushing and irrigation, passive design in the foyer area to avoid having to implement air conditioning systems, and specialized louvres to reduce solar radiation penetrating the building and to keep optimal temperature levels.