There’s a band of crested black macaques in a remote jungle in Indonesia and a colony of rare civets and an even rarer form of pangolin in Vietnam, which owe their continued survival and future prospects to a handful of Westcountry zoos.
That might sound like a far-fetched thing to say – until you learn that a Devon-based conservation charity connected with the local zoos has dramatically increased the amount it spends on projects in other countries.
The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT), based at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, supports conservation work in the both UK and overseas – and this year it has more than doubled the amount earmarked for projects in other countries from £59,000 in 2012/2013 to around £147,000 in 2013/2014.
Additional funds paying for staff working in conservation roles pushes this figure to well over £300,000.
Dr Amy Plowman, director of conservation, research and advocacy for Paignton Zoo, told the Western Morning News: “The drive to increase the sum came out of in-depth strategy discussions which highlighted the importance of our overseas conservation projects. We have been able to do it thanks to efficiency savings elsewhere within the organisation.
“It has never been more important to put cash into conservation,” she said. “There is always too much to do. Zoos cost a lot to run, but they are great places to engage, inspire and educate people. The money we are able to put into conservation in the wild comes from our visitors through entrance fees and spending in the shop and restaurant. It is well spent on carefully managed projects, often with major partners.”
The increase in core-funding for overseas projects will enable the charity to put programmes in Indonesia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Zimbabwe on a more stable footing by giving key staff more permanent appointments and recruiting new field-workers.
One example of the work is the continuing research into endangered mountain frogs in Tanzania carried out by Elena Tonelli.
The charity has also appointed Jonathon Mitchell as its new advocacy officer. At the same time as working towards a PhD with the University of Exeter, Jonathon will team up with the zoo’s educators to improve the way the organisation engages with visitors on the subject of wildlife conservation and to encourage them to take action.
In Indonesia the WWCT has selected the remote and unusually bio-diverse Sulawesi area for one of its regional conservation programmes. A captive breeding programme, which has been established for the critically endangered Sulawesi crested black macaque, is being managed by staff at Paignton Zoo.
A spokesman said: “This amazing monkey is a great flagship species for the island and is the focus of the conservation project.”
Newquay Zoo has been supporting the conservation of species such as Owston’s civet and Sunda pangolin (a scaly anteater) in Vietnam through providing expertise and funds to a local conservation programme.
Paignton Zoo has a long history of support for conservation education in Nigeria’s Omo forest, despite the area being little recognised by other environmental organisations. In 2008 Paignton-funded staff assisted an expert team to survey the forests and their recommendations led to the launch of the Omo-Shasha-Oluwa Forest Elephant Initiative.
The WWCT – which is the charity that runs Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo, as well as several nature reserves in Devon – is involved with many other projects in Africa and elsewhere.
For example, the trust coordinates seven regional conservation programmes in the UK and overseas, all of which are funded by its zoos and involve many zoo and trust staff. The WWCT also contributes directly to conservation in this country through its nature reserves such as Clennon Gorge and Primley Park next door to the zoo in Paignton.
WWCT also owns Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve in South Devon, a large fresh water lake surrounded by a diverse array of important habitats. This site is particularly important for a number of bird and plant species, such as Cetti’s warbler and strapwort.
The Trust’s field conservation and research department in Paignton is one of the largest zoo-based science facilities in Europe.
Next time you pay to enter one of these zoos, you might like to remember that the money won’t only go towards feeding bananas to the monkeys – these institutions do a lot, lot, more besides…