09 May 2013

Animal Keepers Association of Africa conference 2013

Two Oceans Aquarium

The Animal Keepers Association of Africa (AKAA) held its annual conference from 18 to 20 March 2013. The theme was “Animal behaviour”.

AKAA is made up of very special people in Africa who have chosen to follow the career path of animal care and behaviour – or, as they informally refer to themselves, “Keepers”. They devotedly look after a wide array of animals in facilities all over the continent.

And sometimes they like to dress up, too. Photo by Hayley McLellan

Most of the delegates were from South Africa, but a few also visited from Egypt and Uganda. The event was superbly hosted by Sea World at uShaka Marine World in Durban, and a chock-a-block programme kept everyone busy, informed, interacting and entertained from start to finish.

Importantly for the environment, hosting a green conference was the definite focus. Not a plastic bottle of water was in sight; each delegate was given their own enamel mug with which to refresh themselves for the duration of the conference. Well done, Sea World!

The delegates were treated to two outstanding workshops: “Connecting with your audience” and “The secret to training” by Steve Martin, an animal training guru from Natural Encounters Inc. Another exciting workshop/presentation, on reptiles, was expertly given by Craig Smith of uShaka Sea World, with creepy-crawly encounters for all.

Hayley gets interactive with one of the reptiles. Photo by Two Oceans Aquarium

Environmental enrichment was also under the spotlight, as the importance of this aspect of animal care can never be overemphasised.

Delegates talk about what they know

The delegates were exposed to more than 15 PowerPoint presentations and 15 poster presentations by all the attending organisations. In these forums, animal keepers shared findings related to their fields of expertise, experience and passion.

Five delegates represented the Two Oceans Aquarium: Xolela Batayi, Bamanye Mpetsheni, Ana-Alicia Marais, Jamie-Lee Swartz and Hayley McLellan. Between them, three posters and two presentations were offered.

The team from the Two Oceans Aquarium that represented at AKAA (from left): Ana, Hayley, Xolela, Bamanye and Jamie-Lee.

Xolela’s poster, “Finding my Fins”, showed the aquatic fraternity how he recently (and proudly) became the first Class VI-certified diver in South Africa – a milestone in the aquarium dive industry!

Bamanye’s poster, “Food for Thought”, detailed the intense and creative process of both sourcing food for and feeding all the specimens housed at The Two Oceans Aquarium.

Food for thought indeed. Photo by Hayley McLellan

Ana’s poster, “There’s more to the animal than meets the eye”, promoted the ethology (animal behaviour) courses that she successfully studied last year.

Hayley presented “Penguin Plodding”, showcasing the daily penguin walks through the Aquarium. She encouraged other organisations to think outside the box and create surprise encounters for the public using any of the amazing animals they care for.

A (non-plastic) bag of awards for Rethink the Bag campaign!

Hayley also presented www.rethinkthebag.org – “A plastic state of mind – Oh behave people!” – in which the disastrous effects of plastic shopping bag consumption on our environment were highlighted.

South Africans use approximately eight billion plastic bags every year. The plastic-bag levy has done nothing to discourage this. Millions of sea creatures die annually owing to the presence of plastic and plastic bags in their environment. The Rethink the Bag campaign proposes that the South African government takes an important stand and bans the single-use plastic shopping bag from all retail stores countrywide.

The focus of presenting Rethink the Bag at this conference, however, was to encourage all animal facilities represented to take the concept back to their workplaces and to spread awareness to both staff and guests. Hayley offered guidance as to how to do this and also shared how it was achieved at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Since April 2011, the staff at the Two Oceans Aquarium have been steadfast in their commitment to not bringing single-use plastic shopping bags into the building. A two-year success story!

Hayley and Steve Martin. Photo by Two Oceans Aquarium

The judges liked what they saw and heard, and Rethink the Bag was awarded Best Presentation. Backing this was the People’s Choice Award for the same presentation.

Hayley was then invited to present Rethink the Bag at the 24th PAAZAB Conference in April this year.

Please visit www.akaafrica.com and www.rethinkthebag.org for more information on these two topics.

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