Placement student spotlight: Maria Rozycka

Place of study: University of Leeds
Course: BSc Biological Sciences (Zoology)
Placement focus: Sustainable Palm Oil

Q. What’s your role at Newquay Zoo?

A. I am currently studying Biological Sciences (Zoology) at the University of Leeds and am doing my placement at Newquay Zoo working on the Sustainable Palm Oil Communities advocacy project. My role is to help facilitate Newquay to become the first Sustainable Palm Oil Town in the UK. This project is part of the Sustainable Palm Oil Communities initiative, which was developed by Chester Zoo in 2019, to encourage businesses and organisations to adopt the use of sustainable palm oil.

Q. What does your placement involve?

A. I am currently working to engage businesses to make a pledge to only use and sell products certified by RSPO (the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). This has included attending workshops on Palm Oil, as well as helping to host one here in Newquay to help inform and inspire local participants.

I’ve also been talking to zoo visitors too, providing information and advice on the benefits of sustainable palm oil, and how they can shop sustainably. I’m particularly excited to see how this project will advance in Newquay, especially as the number of ethical consumers increase.  

Q. Why is sustainable palm oil important?

A. Tropical rainforests are considered to have the most terrestrial biodiversity in the world, and I don’t want any more of this diversity to be lost. By choosing to buy and use sustainable palm oil, people are helping to prevent further deforestation and to support the repurposing of land that has already suffered from deforestation – helping to conserve, protect and enhance ecosystems. Sustainable palm oil production also helps communities too, by providing sustainable livelihoods and reducing poverty.

Q. What made you want to take on this placement?

A. I applied to work for Wild Planet Trust because I saw that they were doing projects that address large-scale environmental problems, which I think is really important for zoos to be involved in.

I’ve always been interested in spreading the message of conservation, and having previously been a visitor engagement volunteer at London Zoo, I really enjoy talking to people, so this seemed like a great project for me.

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I also have a personal connection to the issue of sustainable palm oil. I spent time in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, carrying out field work with biodiversity and climate research organisation Operation Wallacea. Living in the rainforest and experiencing the culture of the local Sani people, I found a new love for our forests. It helped me to recognise how important tropical forests are for indigenous people and other local communities, as well as seeing the beautiful diversity of these forests first-hand.

Experiences like this, as well as attending COP26 with CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) to help provide a voice for communities on the front lines of climate change, have led me to where I am now. I know that I will always want to continue supporting the work of conservation.

Q. What are you enjoying most about your placement?

A. I look forward to going into work every day. This is down to the great team here at the zoo, as well as being surrounded by a range of remarkable animals. Many of the animals here – including tapirs, sloths and poison dart frogs – are vulnerable to extinction, but the Sustainable Palm Oil Communities project is helping to halt their species decline.