Over the weekend of 18th of March, we hosted a four-day eco-schools weekend for one of the local schools, Mara Primêre Skool in Buysdorp. The goal was to teach local kids about biodiversity in their area and about the research we do, thereby creating young conservationists. We had a great turnout with 20 students smiling and enjoying every moment of the weekend (even with the horrible weather during the first two days!).
Friday evening after dinner, Sina Monika, PhD student and co-founder of the Goro Research Centre taught the students about bats. She set up a mist net and harp trap to catch a few bats which she measured, weighed and recorded. She taught the kids about capture techniques, her research and some interesting facts about bats. Sina showed the kids how to work a bat detector and the kids set out to record bat calls which they later listened to and analysed on the computer with Sina’s help.
The students were awake early on Saturday morning raring to go. After breakfast, the kids set out in three groups. Two groups followed the samango monkeys and learned about the research we do on these primates and the other group set out with the predator assistants to hike to some of the camera trap stations, collect camera data and swap batteries. The kids asked many questions and were intrigued by how close they managed to get to the monkeys. Andy (PPP Primate Research Coordinator) took the kids on a hike through the mountains and showed them various interesting caves, forests and lookout points. He took them to a cleared forest where macadamias had been planted and discussed with them the consequences of deforestation. In the afternoon, the kids swapped activities.
After a whole day out in the field the kids played football until dinner time. That evening, Andy and Bibi (PhD student and Research Coordinator for the Lajuma Research Centre) gave talks to the kids about baboons, samango monkeys and vervet monkeys. They spoke about the importance of these species to the ecosystem, about how to prevent conflict between primates and people and about general facts about these animals.
Sunday’s activities started with environmental art and awareness. We had two art activities for the kids which form part of the “Consider the Animals” project. The first activity was making a postcard. The kids drew animals and wrote short messages to the children from Wilkes Elementary School on Bainbridge Island, USA. The kids were asked to consider endangered animals of their area and write a little piece on these animals. The second art project that the kids had to do was to draw a portion of a bigger picture. The idea behind it was that it takes everyone to work together to conserve animals. Each student drew a small unidentifiable image which when placed together formed part of a larger picture. The students were not aware of what they were drawing at the time and only found out that their section made part of a larger art piece on the last day. In the end we had a mosaic of colours and one beautiful art piece.
On Sunday afternoon the kids learnt more about using camera traps for conservation and research. The students learned how to ID various animals and how to tag them on the computers. The students’ knowledge of wildlife in the area was outstanding and they quickly learned how to work on the computers. They were even familiar with the various cryptic and nocturnal animals occurring in the area. After camera tagging, I walked down to the big waterfall with the students and showed them different animal tracks and signs – we played a game of “What’s that poo?!” At the waterfall they had a chance to swim and cool down before the hike back up to camp.
Sunday evening after dinner, the students were given a talk by Katy Williams (PPP Field Team Leader) about leopards, cheetahs, hyaenas and other predators in general. Katy kept the kids on the edge of their seats with stories and videos of leopards and hyaenas being captured and collared as part of our research. She also played an interactive quiz game to teach them about differences between leopards and cheetahs which they enjoyed.
On the last day we took the kids on a hike to the highest peak in the Soutpansberg Mountain (Mount Lajuma). They enjoyed the hike and proved to be more energetic and fit than any of us… From the top of the mountain we were lucky enough to see three bushpigs, one klipspringer and one kudu cow. We then made our way back down the mountain to have lunch.
The students were well-behaved, they cleaned their rooms before they left, there was no litter lying around anywhere, they respected the organizers and each other, and most of all, it was incredible to work with kids who are passionate about and respectful towards nature. The kids were not ready to go home after four days and begged that we would let them stay longer. Some even said that they will buy their own food!
Lastly, I need to thank all the people who helped me run this weekend (it is a long list, but you know who you are). Without you, this weekend would not have been possible.
Philip Faure, PPP Community Engagement Offier