Human society has become so hectic and complex that humans have to spend over twenty years getting educated on how to survive in this society. But sadly, in the process, we forget that as Chief Seattle said, ‘man did not weave the web of life, he’s merely a strand in it’.
The Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA) was founded with the objective of curbing this trend. The mission of the YZA is to protect nature through education, while nurturing and instilling in the hearts of the young that conservation is a habit and not an activity.
The YZA was founded in 1972 by the Director of National Zoological Gardens at that time, Lyn De Alwis with the motive of making conservation a habit and not an activity, through selfless dedication to the cause of environment and to instil this message in the hearts of the community. The YZA is a non-governmental, non-profit, voluntary youth organization based at the National Zoological Gardens, Dehiwala.
On March 2017 YZA was appreciated by the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife for its service as a voluntary organization. The Association was awarded the ‘Sewa Prasadini 2017’ by President Maithripala Sirisena for its contribution to Wildlife Conservation.
“We are the voluntary organization which was able to get the most number of awards. Other than the award the Association received, five of our members received individual awards,” revealed YZA President, Vibushana Bandara.
Five of its senior members – Environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardana, Isuru De Zoysa, Mendis Wickramasinghe, Shantha Jayaweera and Malaka Rodrigo – received honorary awards for their contribution to wildlife conservation and sustainability.
Based at the Zoological Gardens Dehiwala, the relationship the YZA has with the Zoo management has been mutually rewarding. The zoo offers the chance for the YZA members to study the captive animals in close proximity, within their own environment. The intension is to get the maximum out of the zoo, in terms of scientific education. The members are also trained to be alert and observe animal behaviour.
They always remember to lend a helping hand to the zoo in putting up infrastructure like the aviary and reptilian park, while making the enclosures feel as natural as possible for the animals by enriching enclosure habitat.
According to YZA President Bandara the slogan of the association is “Conservation through education,” as accurate, scientific understanding is imperative for better conservation. According to him the majority of the organization consists of students and undergraduates, the balance of the organization comprises young professionals in various fields and nature lovers of the age group from 13 to 35.
Protecting the environment through education is one of the organization’s main initiatives. YZA conducts educational programs every Sunday for seniors and on Saturdays for juniors. The Junior YZA has played an instrumental role in instilling conservation habits from a very young age. In fact, it had served as the first school for many leading Environmentalists and Naturalists of our country.
The ‘Young Zoologists Association’ teaches you to be exceptional observers, to camouflage yourself and to blend in with nature, to be mindful, keeping your senses open. Other than knowledge of conservation the members learn how to work together with professionals in the field and acquire experience working with different organizations.
It is compulsory for members to participate in one of the main groups of study; Aquatic, Birds, Flora, Mammals and Reptiles. Structured courses are conducted for the membership and examinations are held annually. Apart from the formal courses; general lectures, workshops and seminars on various fields related to conservation are conducted with a heavy emphasis on field activities.
YZA conducts lectures and workshops in schools and Dhamma Schools. These sessions usually include a chain of lectures, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, movie screenings, slide shows and screenings of videos across the country. More over the YZA frequently carries out shramadana programmes in various nature reserves and protected areas.
Members also have the opportunity to hone their artistic talents through supplementary classes on wildlife art and photography, conducted by YZA members themselves. YZA organizes annual exhibitions on wildlife art and photography. Student members of the art and photography classes conducted by the YZA contribute to the exhibitions, while others also have the opportunity to participate.
According to Bandara they plan to conduct an International Research Synopsis at the end of this year. YZA also focuses on research activities and has conducted a large number of BioDiversity surveys and conservation management studies of degrading ecosystems in the country.
According to Bandara around 700 members join the Association annually. Anyone who is interested in joining the Association can drop by National Zoological Gardens, Dehiwala on Sundays between 2.00 pm and 4.30 pm and obtain a membership for an annual fee of Rs 600. The membership is inclusive of an entrance pass to the zoological gardens.