Last week I made a second visit to Endangered Madagascar in Bath’s new Southgate shopping centre. It’s not your average retail outlet. In fact it’s an exhibition aiming to raise awareness of the plight of many of Madagascar’s unique, but critically endangered wildlife. As well as having items such as Madagascan handicrafts and toys for sale, there are also a selection of animals on show including chameleons and tenrecs.
Madagascar is very close to my heart. I spent three amazing months on an expedition there several years ago. I was fortunate to experience some of the island’s wildlife first hand, in the wildest of wild situations, and the memories will stay with me forever. With that in mind, as you can imagine, I was very excited to hear about the exhibition and got chatting to Adrian Fowler, the man behind it all.
We were discussing the impact the exhibition could have and its importance in raising awareness of conservation issues. For me, excited by what I was seeing, it was easy to remain optimistic, but Adrian raised some worrying concerns that hadn’t entered my mind.
Engages and excites
Alarmingly, despite all the information around the exhibition about conserving these creatures in the wild, they had had a number of people enquiring about where they could buy a panther chameleon or a streaked tenrec. Obviously, such questions were met with dissuading the visitors from supporting the exotic pet trade – a billion dollar ‘industry’ having a major impact on Madagascan wildlife. But sadly these days almost anything can be bought off the internet if you know where to look.
It’s left Adrian asking a lot of questions. He and his team are doing their best to educate people in a way that engages and excites, but if some visitors are missing the point, is it potentially doing harm as well as good? On the other hand, if they were to take the animals out of the equation, would it reduce the interest in the exhibit and range of people that experience it and who do learn from it?
I don’t think there can be a definitive answer. The exhibition, because of its unusual location alone, is undoubtedly reaching an audience who may not otherwise take an interest in such matters. There are always going to be people who miss the point and slip through the net, but with my optimistic hat on, surely if only a small number of people learn from it, walk away thinking about the issues, talking about it with friends, then it’s another step in the right direction for the conservation of the amazing Madagascan wildlife.