At Suntrap we keep and care for a wide range of animals: reptiles, amphibians, fish, mammals, birds and a variety of invertebrates. We provide them with enclosures that mimic their natural environment as much as possible and include necessary stimulation. For example, our rescued battery hens, now live an idyllic free-range lifestyle.
The chance to observe, hear, touch even smell these animals up close, offers a wealth of experiential learning opportunities for all ages and abilities. Whether linking to habitats, classification, adaptation and other curriculum topics; developing language skills; or building confidence by trying new things. As research has shown direct experience is far more powerful than learning from textbooks or television programmes. The quotation ‘What I hear, I forget; what I see, I remember, what I do, I learn’ resonates with us all.
Through our sessions, we aim to inspire a love, respect and care for these unique living things and their habitats. This is especially important in the light of growing environmental concerns. Natural historian and supporter of Suntrap Sir David Attenborough has said ‘No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.’
Through animal encounters at our centre and at outreach sessions young and old are given the wonderful opportunity to appreciate the special qualities and important role of even the ‘unsung’ or ‘less lovable’ species. Even the resilient hissing cockroaches, who act as recyclers in the woodland ecosystem through their role in eating dead material and turning it into compost. We provide the chance to overcome prejudices and demonstrate the importance for looking after all living things. Numerous comments confirm changes in attitude during our time together. Sometimes it’s quite transformational: “I always thought they were just dirty; I didn’t know they were so important”.
Furthermore, when sometimes children fall in love and want to keep these animals themselves, we take our role seriously. We encourage responsible pet ownership by discussing the care needs of the animal and the commitment that would be required. We can demonstrate that a small cornsnake keeps on growing and no decision should be taken lightly.
Adults often tell us how their Suntrap visits were the most memorable of their schooldays and children enthusiastically recall past lessons, when they return in following years. In evaluations, meeting the animals is always ranked near the top of people’s highlights and we look forward to bringing this rich experience to many more generations.