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By Molly Maloy, Youth and Teacher Programs Coordinator, Education Department
Spring is here and that means it is time for Denver Zoo’s Botswana conservation education team to pack our duffels and head to Botswana again! Summer is coming to an end in Botswana, so it is hot and the wildlife can often be found resting under large acacia trees. Unfortunately for us, there will be little rest, as this trip will be another busy one for me and my project partner, Erin Stotz. We have a lot to accomplish and only two weeks to do it all!
Conservation education means we develop and deploy education based programs to engage communities in topics surrounding wildlife, habitats and natural resource management. In Botswana, all of our conservation education programs reflect and complement the research based work Denver Zoo supports in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). The species that the Zoo focuses their research on are African wild dogs, all six species of vultures in Botswana, lions and blue wildebeests. Denver Zoo’s conservation biology team works to understand the ecology and behavior of wildlife in Botswana and to gain insight into human-wildlife conflicts.
Erin and I travel to Botswana one to two times a year and work with partners in Botswana to develop programs that are culturally and age appropriate. We connect Denver Zoo’s biological research to the communities sharing space and habitat with our focal species. Denver Zoo currently works with two libraries in Botswana, Moreomaoto and Gweta, to incorporate wildlife conservation education into their after school programs. Using inquiry based trunks modeled after another successful Denver Zoo sponsored project in Mongolia, Erin and I collaborated with local Botswana staff to develop a “safari trunk.” The trunks, kept in the library, are utilized by local communities as a tool for conservation education.
This trip will be a particularly exciting as we are conducting our first game drive with children from the Moreomaoto community library. The children participating live on the borders of the national park, yet they have never been into the park or seen most of the animals that live there. This game drive is just one component of the Kids for Wildlife program that Denver Zoo developed with SAVE Wildlife Fund. Kids for Wildlife was recently awarded a grant from the AZA Conservation Endowment Fund which will help us promote wildlife conservation within libraries in Botswana by 1) fostering knowledge about and positive attitudes towards wildlife in primary school age children living near the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, and 2) exposing children to future career opportunities in wildlife tourism and conservation sectors so they see a personal benefit to wildlife protection and the importance of wildlife to Botswana’s economy.
Since our last visit a new library opened in the Gweta community. We are excited to hold our second teacher workshop with the educators in that community at the new facility! The educators of Gweta shared with us that they are excited to teach about wildlife, but they lack the resources to do so. Denver Zoo wanted to help fill that gap for educators by holding workshops on wildlife conservation and helping them to see their new community library as an additional resource for them and their students to learn about Botswana’s wildlife.
Denver Zoo also partners with Unite for Literacy, a Fort Collins-based social enterprise that unites people to support global literacy. It is a goal of Botswana’s president to have his country become literate in English by 2016. With that goal in mind, Erin and I have written and designed books based on Denver Zoo’s community-based wildlife conservation work in Botswana. They focuses on developing positive attitudes and behaviors surrounding Botswana’s wildlife while also supporting the literacy needs in the country. The audio version of the books, which are narrated in Setswana, the language of Botswana, can be heard on the Unite for Literacy global online library. Erin wrote two more books for this trip on African wild dogs and vultures. We can’t wait to distribute the new books to children, educators, community members and partners in Botswana during our trip! We will also be asking our education specialist in Botswana, Kgomotso Mothibi, to translate the books and record them in Setswana. Many thanks to the Rocky Mountain chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers for sponsoring the printing of the books! This way, every child and community member will have their own copy to share with their families!
Another partner we are excited to meet with is Bontekanye Botumile (Bonte), a local Motswana woman who is an independent author and storyteller. Bonte’s aim is to reconnect local people to Botswana’s rich heritage. She believes that through the power of stories and storytelling, this can be accomplished. We are working with Bonte to create a story on vultures in order to promote vulture conservation throughout Botswana. Once published, we hope to act out her story through a series of plays performed by unemployed youth in the area in and around the town of Maun. This unique connection between culture and conservation creates a sense of community and direction for many young teenagers in the area. I hope that when the book is finished, Erin and I get to help act out the book!
As always, we have a jam packed agenda, but we are excited about being able to work with our partners to take more steps towards building and implementing these programs. We hope we will give communities the knowledge and resources to participate in conservation and become empowered to make decisions that will help them live more sustainably with wildlife. We feel extremely fortunate to work with the people we do in Botswana and they have welcomed us so generously. We also call those people friends and we always look forward to seeing them and working side by side with them to secure Botswana’s natural heritage.
Botswana here we come!