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Teaching everyone to love toads

Royal Gazette

Published Mar 11. 2013 at 8:00 am
by Nadia Arandjelovic

Green giant: Bermuda Zoological Society education officer Jamie Bacon gives a lesson on
identifying beach plants to Berkeley Institute students Ashley Bento, Xhosi Bascome,
Cintronelia Williams and Lorena Rogrigues.
 (Photo by Mark Tatem)

Former biology professor Jamie Bacon quickly discovered that not everyone shared her love of toads.

On the occasion when she’d take live ones into her lectures to use as a learning tool, students responded with screeches.

Their attitudes would change as the lessons progressed. Even years later former pupils would question how ‘Freddy’ or ‘Jane’ was doing, Dr Bacon said.

Four weeks ago she took on the role of education officer at the Bermuda Zoological Society.

She’s now made it her mission to instil in young people a sense of empathy for all the Earth’s living things.

“As long as they care for these animals they will think about protecting it and see them as valuable,” she said.

Among her plans are the revision of the summer aqua camp programme so participants learn about species’ behaviours and their natural habitats in a “fun and exciting” way.

“It’s taking advantage of some of the really unique experiences we have here. Whether you are feeding in the Caribbean exhibit, doing what we call a ‘bug drop’ where the animals are all coming down to fetch the crickets, or putting the fry in the pond.

“We want to get [young people] to understand that there are things you need to do for these animals so they don’t get bored and start displaying some bad behaviours.”

BZS is also moving away from workbooks to scrapbooks and journals so that children don’t feel like they are back in school, she said.

As part of the curriculum, students will focus on a weekly theme with missions and field trips aimed at increasing observational skills.

The hope is that children will better appreciate the environment and learn about some of the challenges faced by Mother Nature, whether they are involved in camps or the programmes taught in the schools.

Dr Bacon was an animal lover from early on in life. Some of her best days as a child were spent walking around her California neighbourhood with two lizards on top of her head.

“They were my pets for the day and the lizards must have been afraid enough to go along with it,” she said.

She went on to study zoology in university, but her life really changed when she got the chance to work with harbour seals. As part of her graduate degree, she was able to study pregnant and newborn seals and look at how the diving response was developed in the foetus.

Her research eventually led her to doing a similar type of work in Bermuda.

She started a programme at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo to help control the numbers of baby seals born every year.

The team took part in a fascinating research project to find out what the mammal’s reproductive cycle was like. Their groundbreaking findings were ultimately presented at a world renowned conference in Monaco in 1998.

Dr Bacon left the Island briefly in 2000 — but returned to study harmful pollutants in local ponds and the food chain.

That research has been outlined and presented to Government.

Her role now is to get people of all ages enthused about the Island’s natural environment.

For more information call 293-2727 or e-mail