Captivating glimpse of fascinating species at human zoo

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FOR anyone who has indulged in a spot of people watching, it would appear to be the perfect tourist attraction.

Visitors to a Yorkshire zoo are being given the opportunity to get an intriguing insight into human nature while the UK’s only captive group of Homo Sapiens are on show.

Four research assistants from York University are on public display in a special enclosure at the Flamingo Land Theme Park and Zoo, near Pickering, in a project which is aimed at educating the public about wildlife and conservation.

Dr Andy Marshall, director of conservation science at Flamingo Land and a lecturer in the university’s environment department, has organised the week-long event, which began yesterday.

He said: “There are about 1.4 million visitors to Flamingo Land every year, so this is a great chance to get the university’s work and research across to people who we would not normally come into contact with.

“It is about educating them about the important role that zoos can have as well as teaching them about conservation projects around the world. While this is not an actual research project in itself, it is also very intriguing to see how humans react to being put on public display.”

The four participants, Katy Moreton, Michael Darling, Kelly Osborne and Freddie Sutton, all donned a range of wildlife-themed costumes yesterday inspired by a flamingo, tiger, zebra and jaguar.

They are all research assistants with the Centre for the Integration of Research, Conservation and Learning (Circle) – a jointly-funded initiative between the university’s environment department and Flamingo Land.

They will remain in the enclosure, which measures about 65ft by 65ft, until the evening of Saturday, only allowed to leave to go for toilet breaks while accompanied by a keeper.

They will be fed at 1pm each day and then given a treat at 3pm, and will then cook their own evening meals in the enclosure, before settling down to sleep in two tents.

Dr Marshall said there was no set regime for them to undertake each day, and they will make their own entertainment.

Humans have gone on show only once before at Flamingo Land in 2011, when the participants enjoyed frisbee-throwing and playing games to pass the time.

Visitors will be able to talk to the four research assistants, who will discuss conservation schemes, including The Udzungwa Forest Project, for which they will be collecting donations.

The human exhibit staged in 2011 along with a charity run in Malton raised £6,640 for the conservation project. It is centred on the Magombera Forest in Tanzania that contains globally important numbers of threatened species, which the Circle institute is working to conserve.

Dr Marshall said: “All funds raised will go towards continuing the vital work of the Udzungwa Forest Project, which is working with schools and training local groups to reduce reliance on the forest for resources, and to generate sustainable sources of income directly related to forest conservation.

“Our research assistants are hoping to raise £5,000 through the human exhibit.”

Some of Circle’s successes include helping fund seven Tanzanian staff who are now employed to protect, monitor, and trial methods for improving the forest’s habitat.

Training programmes have also been undertaken for 10,000 villagers to help them construct fuel-efficient stoves, reducing their reliance on the forest for resources and protecting its long-term sustainability.

As a result of the project, village elders have developed a new by-law urging all villagers to use fuel-efficient stoves in their homes.

The average tree diameter has increased by 5.1 per cent and biomass by 2.7 per cent at monitoring sites in Tanzania since 2005, and five under-threat tree species have been propagated successfully in nurseries. Circle staff have also discovered three species new to science, including a chameleon and two trees.

Collection buckets will be around the human enclosure at Flamingo Land. Donations can also be made at www.justgiving.com/ufp or by texting UFPF99 £1 to 70070 to donate £1.

paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk