Community Educational Bush Camps Run by Wildlife ACT Fund
All too often, communities that live around reserves are ostracized from conservation areas which leads to conflict rather than cooperation. We cannot expect rural communities, with little or no infrastructure and no previous conservation education, desperate to sustain themselves, to view the protected areas as anything other than a means of survival. To help address these issues the Wildlife ACT Fund initiated Community Conservation Projects around game reserves in Zululand, to assist the community in understanding the importance of conservation areas and the need for protecting endangered species.
Wildlife ACT Fund runs free-of-charge, four-day educational bush camp for Grade 6 students from community primary schools surrounding the reserves. The program emphasizes hands-on child-centered discovery activities, which teach them about different conservation concepts. The program is designed to instill an understanding and passion for nature conservation in young people.
The students are divided into 3 groups (crashes), and are rotated through a series of specially designed activities, each led by a ‘Community Conservation Liaison’ (CCL). Each student is provided with an activity logbook, in which they record their discoveries.
The CCL’s explain the importance of first understanding the animal’s needs and behavior in order to successfully conserve them and how regular monitoring is used to achieve this.
Radio Tracking Activity: Students learn how wildlife monitors use radio telemetry and GPS devices to find and monitor endangered species and actively get to track a collar hidden in the camp.
Scatology: Students are shown how animal scat is studied as a means of learning about the niches (food source and habitat) of different mammals and as a way to measure mammal biodiversity. A PowerPoint presentation is given on the various terms used to describe tracks and they are taught how to identify / distinguish the spoor differences between different families of mammals. They then conduct a tracking exercise where they find, draw, measure, identify, and provide answers about the spoor they discover. The students also receive a presentation about rhinos, the differences between the white and black rhino, their adaptations and specific niches. They learn about the importance of rhino conservation and the present day threats to rhino survival as a species.
Species Adaptations and Scavenger Hunt: Students find and capture insects, draw and with the help of the CCL, study elements of the insect. They learn about its specific adaptations, which enables it to successfully exploit its niche. This provides a basic understanding of the need for biodiversity. They then release the insect back into its ecosystem.
Nature Art: Students practice watercolour techniques to capture the beauty of nature in their own paintings and it opens their eyes to the natural world around them.
Game Drive: Students learn about different species and wildlife adaptations for survival, during game drives in the reserve. They get the chance to see a variety of animals, possibly even some of the Big 5 species, many of them for the very first time. They see first-hand the different habitats and vegetation communities that they have learnt about, bringing their lessons to life and giving them a better understanding of the reasons / reality behind the theory.
Nature Hike: Students take a guided hike through the reserve to look for zebra, giraffe and other wildlife, which gives them a greater appreciation of the scenery, different habitats and area required for the sustainability of a species. Natural communities, and how and why they change with elevation, are emphasized as a theme.
Ecology: A PowerPoint presentation is used to review ecological terms useful in understanding biodiversity and conservation. They learn that each species plays an important role (its niche) in the natural community to which it belongs (its habitat). That ecological relationships affect all creatures, and that humans are an inseparable part of the web of life and completely dependent on nature.
Emphasis is placed on African wild dogs and other endangered species, which become threatened due to habitat destruction or unsustainable utilization by people. Extinction is explained and examples given on how it has far reaching effects on ecosystems. That biodiversity has value to stable ecosystems and human economy.
Movie Night: In the evenings they get to watch Disney’s “The Lion King” movie in isiZulu. A great, and first time, experience for most, as they don’t have Television at home. Afterwards a discussion is held on ‘the circle of life.’
Campfire: On the last night students sing and play campfire games around a bonfire.
Wildlife ACT Fund’s Community Conservation Liaison’s (CCL’s) are well-known and trusted in the communities, where they work tirelessly to raise and maintain support for wildlife conservation.
To evaluate the effect of the Children’s Educational Bush Camps, a questionnaire is administered to the students at two points: before the bush camp experience, and the week after the bush camp experience. Questions relate to understanding and appreciation of ecology and conservation. The average difference in student answers between before and after the experience is used to measure the degree of increased understanding of environmental concepts and any change in conservation attitudes. The results to date indicate that after the bush camp experience, students demonstrate a huge increase in understanding environmental concepts and a positive conservation attitude. It is clear that these camps are having the desired effect of educating the students, our next generation, on the importance of conservation and the need to live in harmony with the reserves bordering their communities.
The project’s education methodology for children emphasizes total immersion, experiential, hands-on lessons that not only teach conservation concepts, but also attempt to form an emotional bond between children and nature. This will lead to a stewardship attitude toward biodiversity preservation.
Wildlife ACT Fund is a not-for-profit organisation and to continue with these important conservation lesson and run the bush camp programs in the community, we rely on Funding. This is where you can help! Each camp costs roughly R20 000 ($ 1800) to run, and we run roughly 14 per year in the Somkhanda and Tembe communities.