Meet Steffi the lady Steve Irwin of India
Chennai’s Steffi John is fondly called the Lady Steve Irwin of India. Visitors to the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust would not miss the 30-year-old Zoo Education Officer and her passion in the company of crocodiles, snakes and a range of other reptiles.
Steffi teaches about reptiles and raises awareness on conservation to visitors to the zoo including children and students. Her series of programmes are a super hit among wildlife lovers.
The popular “Be a Zoo Keeper” programme, for instance, gives participants a close encounter with reptiles. During the guided tour, she arranges “reptile encounters”. She explains holding Dwarf Caiman or turtles and other reptiles. Children love it as she explains a crocodile’s basic anatomy like their ears, nostrils, webbed feet and hard scales. There are special feeding sessions and at the curatorial department they also get to learn on measuring a snake.
She would also be seen with snakes around her neck. There are also other fascinating programmes like “Snake Walk with the Irulas” and “Meeting Irulas” in which participants get to “see real Russel’s Viper or Cobras and learn from Irulas who have a close relationship with snakes” she says. “These also raise awareness on co-existence, what they can do and what they should not” she explains. Steffi tweaks and tailors these programmes according to every individual groups’ profile or specific interests. She says “These programmes help visitors understand that reptiles and animals are not just cute but also a huge responsibility to take care”.
In a first of its kind in any Indian zoo, Steffi has introduced virtual reality technology in the zoo, to enhance the experience of zoo education and zoo visit. The VR gear transports visitors to a whole new world and level of understanding. “They can experience animals up close. Imagine Asian Water Monitor flicking its tongue right to your face. I can even pause the video and show the fork tongue they have and talk about it. The idea is in the long term this would trigger empathy among children and may be a few would want to make animal conservation their career or animal husbandry or pursue animal research for the betterment of wildlife “.
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