Madelon Willemsen spent summers at her local zoo. This experience shaped her career. At the Climate Reality Training she decided to take the climate change message to zoo and aquarium visitors world wide. Now she has 700 million visitors in her sights to help write a better ending for all creatures great and small.
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That was the start of my zoo career. I moved to Australia in 2001 and worked in zoos as a senior manager for the last 15 years. I worked on the sustainability and viability of the zoo animal collection (a healthy population with captive bred animals), and facilitated teams to look after species that are already extinct in the wild (such as the Scimitar Horned Oryx and Victorian Eastern Barred Bandicoot).
Zoos create awareness and call for action on species conservation. Facilitating visitor-animal experiences to provide these opportunities was an important part of my responsibilities.
When I did the training, all the materials were all about people. There was not much about animals, not much about biodiversity and our natural world. I thought, there is a gap here.
I thought, well, what is my story, what do I want to accomplish? I’m doing all this work to conserve species to maintain a natural world, and I’m really worried about our natural environment. If we don’t take action on climate change all the work of supporting species will fall apart. If I don’t take action who else is going to do this? I need to do something. And why not me?
Climate change will directly affect individual animals, whole species and the habitats they live in, and will ultimately cause our own species' demise.
During the Climate Reality Leadership Training, I started thinking how best to bring the message of climate change to the zoo visitors. The zoos and aquariums collectively have the potential to reach 700 million visitors globally.
From there, opportunities started arising. During one of the breaks, I complimented this lovely woman about her great skirt. We started chatting and really hit it off. She invited me to sit at her table very close to Al Gore. Jon Steel and the creative team who led the Why/Why not? campaign were also at this table. Jon was curious to find out why I was doing the training.
So I asked, how can we capture these 700 million zoo visitors, how can we communicate climate change to these visitors?
They offered their creative strength to help me do this. I have been working with them on developing a fantastic campaign and we are now working with zoos to deliver a package that the 6000+ zoos (but also other organisations such as museums and botanical gardens) worldwide can roll out collectively.
The mission is to deliver a climate action campaign to the 700 million zoo visitors worldwide by the end of next year - amplifying their voices to 'help us write a better ending'.
This campaign makes the link between climate change and species in trouble, and puts people right in the middle of this. In Australia, so many species can deal with heat, but not extended periods of heat. They can’t cope - flying foxes, koalas, kangaroos - they are in trouble more and more often.
We received feedback from the zoo and aquarium community as well as the wider conservation community during the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conservation Breeding Specialist Group annual meeting and the World Zoo and Aquarium meeting.
I am now working on the campaign strategy and plan. We are planning to do a petition delivering the voices of millions of people - zoo visitors - that love and care for animals and biodiversity, to the UN Climate Summit in 2015. We also have some other great ideas to create a wider reach than the zoo and aquarium visitors.
I’m just about to move to Vietnam to start a new job with TRAFFIC (WFF/IUCN) managing the campaigns to reduce public demand for rhino horn there and preventing illegal wildlife trade. I’m also finishing my PhD. Life is a little bit busy – but I like a challenge, it keeps me happy and active.
I just became an Australian citizen, but I’m embarrassed about Australia's climate position. A new IUCN publication shows that eight countries will not achieve their biodiversity targets. Australia is one of these eight and we are also one of the richest countries in the list. We need to let governments know that we will not vote for them if their policies fail us. We can do that best if we amplify our voices. The zoo campaign is one way to do this.