By Isabella Davey, Year 12 (Editor in Chief).
On Monday afternoon, I picked the Spring ‘Wild Life’ issue out of the mailbox and was immediately drawn to the striking snapshot of a Sumatran Tiger. Apart from being my favourite animal growing up, the Sumatran Tiger has become progressively endangered (as have many species in the 21st Century), due to the impact of mankind’s inherent destruction.
The cover boasts a “Tigerific!” upgraded Sumatran Tiger exhibit named the new immersive “Tiger Trek experience”. Having heard a lot regarding the opening, controversial and otherwise, I flick to the two-page spread outlining the “conservation experience”. Taronga presents education for the betterment of society through immersing the zoo guest on a ‘journey’; from flying on a plane, to riding the safari vehicle in the jungle, searching for the “mysterious Big Cats”. However, is Taronga Zoo’s effort to increase awareness and decrease the loss of a species hindered by the entertainment factor, a reality of developing an interactive and engaging attraction in the modern day?
Taronga presents its values well in its efforts to educate visitors about the impact of human inconsiderateness for native wildlife through the destruction of habitat, especially that of deforestation. In allowing guests to experience these close encounters, the Zoo hopes that its push for conservation will be assisted by the public through their new-found knowledge.
So, is the ‘Tiger Trek’ relevant enough to today’s society that all aspects, app or not, are not reverted to the bank of forgotten long-term memory of the working-class businessman (or woman)? Or is it that conservation is just brushed off and the engrained ignorance of mankind is so shallow as to dismiss any change in values or beliefs inherent to society, such as that of the term ‘businessman’? And is it then that the exhibit may not truly represent the zoo’s legacy, but rather is an exploitation of commercial enterprise through the ‘Indonesian-themed’ “supermarket”?
A smart phone app allows the information scope to be widened, informing visitors during and after their ‘Trek’ to increase conservation awareness. Particularly with the social media boom of the 21st Century, smart phone applications are popular but may be sporadic in use; with myself personally finding I have deleted trending apps within weeks of their download due to limited continued stimulation and/or interest.
But is getting up close and personal enabling visitor’s to truly gain an understanding of the tigers? Taronga believes it is, with Director and CEO Cameron Kerr telling the Daily Mail that “Australian parents and children can learn the story of these majestic animals like never before”. Kerr states that there is a focus on gaining a better appreciation for “why Sumatran Tigers are critically endangered”.
I have been volunteering at the Zoo since 2013 in its Youth at the Zoo (YATZ) program, but somehow, I fail to see how the exhibit could completely encourage conservation, a key part of the Zoo’s intention, if it skirts around the ideas whilst enforcing an act of ‘poverty tourism’ (often associated with tourists and third world countries). Naming it a ‘Tiger Experience’ on their website Taronga further encourages the idea of a new exhibit promoting fun and entertainment, rather than its main purpose.
In summation, I am a proud supporter of the zoo’s “For the Wild” legacy, as well as their campaigns and fundraising, however I am inclined to believe that in order for the new ‘Tiger Trek’ to entirely represent the educational, conservation purpose, it should have been implemented with less entertainment factor.