Conservation through education is the motto of the team behind Bugtopia, the new zoo that opened at Rutland Water last month.
And what better place to learn about ecology and biodiversity than in the middle of a jungle, surrounded by crocodiles, parrots, giants spiders and bats?
Joe Mordawska and Natalie Matts spent tens of thousands of pounds converting the former Butterfly Farm at the Sykes Lane site into a playground for animals and humans alike. And their hard work paid off when they welcomed their first visitors.
The couple run a similar centre at Green Trunks garden centre in Kettering. Joe in particular has grown up around animals, and has always known the importance of conservation.
“My grandad was a beekeeper and had one of the biggest collections in the country”, he said. “He was doing conservation with bees before everyone knew about it.
“One of our main priorities is bees. We’re going to have specialised bee hives which you can take honey out of on tap. They allow you to enter the colony without disturbing the bees. You can go in, take the honey and teach children about why bees are important.
We’re trying to teach kids and adults about conservation, ecology and biodiversity so they understand what’s going on in the world, and what and what not to do.Bugtopia co-owner Joe Mordawska
“We’ve also got other species like red-footed tortoises and African dwarf crocodiles, which are both endangered.
“We’ll have free-roaming parrots, butterflies, beetles and bats. We might have a sloth later in the year.
“We’ve also been offered more land so we could have lemurs and penguins. We’d love to have a lynx. That’s a great tool for teaching about conservation.
“We’re trying to teach kids and adults about conservation, ecology and biodiversity so they understand what’s going on in the world, and what and what not to do.”
Joe and Natalie already work with schools, taking some of the animals into the classroom to bring conservation to life for children. But Joe believes more needs to be done to get the message across.
He said: “The education of conservation is increasing. A lot of schools are getting us to do educational talks. The main syllabus has life cycles and different aspects of minibeasts.
“But the problem is as children get older they stop learning about it.
“One of our projects will be seeding areas. We are doing a lot of meadow seeding, where we get kids to research an area, doing a data count then getting them to seed it. Then they take the data again.
“The kids will see what they have done does make a difference.”
The welfare of the animals at Bugtopia is important for the owners. Most have been rehomed, either from the pet industry or from zoos. Joe and Nat have put a lot of effort into making sure each animal lives in the right habitat, with enough space and the right kind of surroundings to keep it healthy and happy.
Sustainability is also important. The zoo contains a vegetable garden which is used to feed the animals.
Bugtopia is open 10am to 5pm, seven days a week, every day apart from Christmas Day. Visitors can book onto hands-on sessions in the specially-built classroom every hour to get a closer look at some of the animals. Admission is £7.