After months and months of playing with this idea in my head, I finally launched the website at 08.06.19. It was a moment of success to see my own build website via google. To type your domain in the browser and 'bling', it was there on the internet. Maybe I did even feel a bit of proud. Even a bit scared, perhaps, when it was finally there. Not only had it no content at all. It was also real that my idea started now to get shape. But the idea was there much longer. The idea to share my experience. The idea to help other zookeepers, by creating a platform of useful snippets of valuable knowledge. With practical guides, with ready-to-use hand-outs, with links to research papers, books and journals.  Why did I (finally) start ZOOSnippets a year ago?

The idea of ZOOSnippets for many years in my head

 

The idea: a platform for zookeepers

The idea to create a zookeepers' platform was already in my head for a couple of years. It came forth from my experience in guiding and educating zookeeper interns and (junior) zookeepers who had the lucky chance to start at our zoo. Many of the new generation zookeepers do not know, or can not find, the information in books and research papers. They don't know where they need to look or how to interpret it for applying this information. With other words, they can use a guide on how to start up and use (scientific) knowledge, and additionally how to start and set up a plan to the implementation of this knowledge. To make it more specific with an example: I've seen that many zookeepers want to begin training an animal and know (exactly) what they want to achieve, however, I've also seen them struggling to get there. They face the practical challenge of how to write a training plan, where to start with the animal training, to understand the learning theory and principles, etcetera. And I see the same with environmental enrichment too. Often a zookeeper spends time in creating an enrichment item, without a proper plan, to place it in the enclosure. If you ask them what they want to achieve, what behaviour needs to be stimulated and why and how this device fits in a larger plan, they can't answer these questions. And this is absolutely not too blame them. It is an observation that there is a certain gap between the available knowledge and how to use that knowledge in your daily work. Sometimes it is just a matter of putting them in the right direction where to find this knowledge (book, paper, journal, website), and sometimes it is a hand-out or practical guide that they need. To bridge that gap and give them that direction, is the idea of ZOOSnippets. My ultimate dream? That the zookeeper needs one place that connects almost all the knowledge required to be a better zoo animal keeper. Hopefully even the best zoo animal keeper. To achieve something, you have to hold to your dreams. 

 

Toucan free in tropical hall in Pairi Daiza

 

Is there a gap between knowledge and practical use?

One example in between, a question that I often see for years: "Can you help me with ideas for new enrichment for this or that species?" And that makes me wonder, is this a way of least effort to get new enrichment ideas or do they don't know where to start searching for enrichment. And in my opinion, it is a bit of a strange question either. For me, this question implies that the person is looking for something to give randomly to an animal, without specifics what they want to give or what they want to achieve. Of course, this will not always be the case; at least I hope not. Is it pure novelty they seeking for, or maybe it is something fun for their own to see the animal is using? That is not a bad thing in itself, but I rather see a more substantial plan when enriching animals. And this makes me question myself: is there a gap between the knowledge already available and the practical use of this knowledge?

 

Coding the website myself

 

Why start so much later then?

The idea was born, but now we had to think of how to share it with the people. Should we do it on social media, with LinkedIn articles, build an easy (WordPress) website, or something else? The people that know me or that read the about page on the website, know that I like to program and write code. So I decided to build this website on my own. Not use a Wix or WordPress website, but something that I developed all by myself. This way, I could do two things that I like: learning a programming language and build a platform to share my experience and knowledge to fulfil my idea. However, learning a programming language and building a website is not done in one day. I had to plan what functionalities I wanted to have and what information needed to be stored. And, of course, I also work 40 hours a day, so it had to be done at weekends or evenings.

 

Group of flamingos

 

But on the 8th of June, after four months of coding and testing, it was time to launch the website. What actually meant that the website I build was visible for everyone, including Google. I was proud of the product I made, a complete functioning website. But not much later it was a bit scary too. My dream, my idea, was very clear for me. But the current website was empty. Completely EMPTY. So at that moment, I had to start writing content. And that was something I did not do before. At least not on that scale for a website. So it was a new journey where I needed to learn how to write articles that were both readable and informational. And it needed to inspire animal keepers and learn practical things to use in their work. So the first six months, I've struggled to write a large amount of content and articles. Not only because it was new to me, but I had all kinds of ideas to improve the website, and it needed little tweaks and small bug fixes as well. Another plan was to launch on multiple social media platforms to connect with the potential zoo animal keeper and community. So I started a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a Pinterest Board and a Youtube channel. These platforms, with each its pros and cons, had one common benefit: You can easily share pieces of information, photos and videos. But to maintain these platforms and fill it with content costs a considerable amount of time. The second half of the year, I focussed on making more content. And after 12 months of having a website and all these social platforms, I've been stunned. More than 2000 people following me on Facebook, with all platforms together +2800 people are following the content that I write or share. Not ever had I thought that within a year it would be so well received. It is absolutely amazing!

 

A huge amount of future ideas for ZOOSnippets

 

What brings the future?

Of course, this question can't be answered easily. We never know what the future holds. But I have still many (correction: huge amount of) ideas for content and other functionalities to keep realising my dream. Not only by sharing knowledge that is already researched by others, but more focussed on guiding and creating hand-outs with practical examples to help as many zoo animal keepers. It is not that I want to tell how animal keepers have to do their work, because more roads lead to Rome. No, I prefer to give guidance, a roadmap of possibilities, with some clearcut examples, to push someone in the right direction. I like to inspire someone to think of ways how to improve their work. But also how to share the experience of each other. Part of this ambition is the idea to write (a) e-book(s), develop an enrichment database, or enrichment build guides, to name a few. However, I'm still thinking of the best way to deliver this knowledge in a practical approach to you and how it fits all in one platform. Another idea I absolutely want to make is enrichment with simple DIY automation to make it smarter, or more effective, or create new possibilities (think of timers, sounds, etcetera). We have to see what the future brings. At least the first year of ZOOSnippets was an absolutely awesome journey to make, and what made it most successful is you as (zoo) animal care community. But, we can't stop now, there is still a lot of work to do too. 

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