It’s all too easy to conjure up feelings of hate and anger when the word poacher is brought up in conversation. From the comforts of our front rooms, we are rightly saddened at the mention of wildlife crime and the thought that our beloved rhinos and elephants could be slayed, doesn’t bare thinking about. But to label all poachers as evil senseless killers ignores a huge factor that goes indisputably hand-in-hand with the horrific numbers of rhinos that are being killed each year.
South Africa is blessed with some of the most incredible and sought-after wildlife destinations on the planet. People pay thousands of pounds a night to stay in luxury bush lodges, hoping to catch a glimpse of Africa’s iconic wildlife. But what they don’t see when they arrive on their ‘Big 5 package safari’ is the often-poverty-stricken communities that border these wildlife reserves. Communities that have little to no access to the wildlife on their doorstep.
"Less than 2% of rural youth in KwaZulu Natal have been inside a wildlife reserve or seen a rhino!"
In KwaZulu Natal, home of the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, where the great Dr Ian Player and his team successfully saved the white rhino from the brink of extinction, the rhino is once again getting slaughtered. 2022 saw 244 rhinos killed at the hands of poachers in that province alone. Numbers that will surely put the species at the threat of extinction yet again. But one stat that is rarely mentioned, especially in connection with the rhino poaching crisis, is that less than 2% of rural youth in KwaZulu Natal have been inside a wildlife reserve or seen a rhino! (Project Rhino)
Imagine living your whole life alongside a wildlife reserve that you will never have the opportunity to visit. At best, you’re likely to feel disconnected to the wildlife on the other side of the fence. At worst, you’re going to feel resentment towards it. Especially, when funds going towards protecting wildlife often far outweigh the funds that these communities receive in the way of support. When you couple this disconnect to nature, with the ever-growing numbers of unemployment in the country, it is no wonder that the poaching crisis is refusing to go away. A large percentage of poachers have no jobs and come from poverty-stricken communities.
These communities, that border game reserves, are being asked to conserve wildlife that they have not seen or have no access to. How we can we love and protect what we do not know?
"These trips have given the children the chance to see wildlife in the same way that tourists do, on a game viewer, with a guide, learning about the importance of wildlife and why we need to protect it, and building a connection to it that, we hope, will last a lifetime."
Connected Planet Foundation, Dogs4Wildlife and the IFPCP have teamed up to change this narrative with the Siyafunda Ngemvelo Programme. The programme, which means ‘we learn in nature’ in isiZulu, focuses on providing opportunities for school children surrounding Bonamanzi Game Reserve, KwaZulu Natal, to visit the reserve to learn about, and connect with the wildlife there.
So far, 60 children from local Glen Park Primary school have been able to visit Bonamanzi, with all of them seeing the reserve’s wildlife for the first time. These trips have given the children the chance to see wildlife in the same way that tourists do, on a game viewer, with a guide, learning about the importance of wildlife and why we need to protect it, and building a connection to it that, we hope, will last a lifetime. The pupils also went through Bonamanzi’s snake awareness programme, a programme that could one day save their lives, and the snakes’, when in the presence of life-threatening species such as the infamous Black Mamba.
When I look back to 2017, the first time I ever laid eyes on a wild rhino - a crash of 5 to be specific - it changed my life. It was the catalyst that meant that I would do everything I could to support wildlife conservation. One sighting. That’s why I truly believe that these trips can change lives. There is a whole world of passionate conservationists out there that have never had the opportunity to be found. We aim to find them.
Having had the pleasure of being on many of these trips with children from local wildlife communities, I have seen the impact first hand. The smiling faces and looks of amazement when children see wildlife for the first time will remain with me forever. If we want to eliminate poaching, then the communities bordering wildlife reserves must feel connected to the nature on their doorstep. The Siyafunda Ngemvelo programme has not only touched the hearts of the pupils, but also the teachers, for all of whom it was their first time visiting Bonamanzi.
The next phase of the programme is to provide weekly classroom-based environmental education lessons for the pupils at Glen Park so that we can take what they learnt at Bonamanzi to the next level. Lessons will range from wildlife conservation, mitigating climate change, plastic pollution, ecology, and much more. It is one thing to build a connection to nature and wildlife, but with knowledge comes empowerment and with environmental education at an early age we will reap the benefits for years to come.
The long-term goal of Siyafunda Ngemvelo is to expand beyond Glen Park Primary school and give all the children surrounding Bonamanzi the chance to connect with this stunning reserve. If children go home with messages of love for wildlife and conservation, then those messages will spread throughout the community. If the community feels part of the reserve, then they will feel invested to protect it, and before you know it you’ve added another layer of protection to the reserve’s wildlife. Furthermore, the more children that are exposed to wildlife, the more chance we have of finding the next David Attenborough’s or Dr Paula Kahumbu’s.
We are proud to be working alongside Dogs4Wildlife and the IFPCP to bring Siyafunda Ngemvelo to life. You can support the programme by vising the Just Giving Page below. Every pound can help us to make a difference. The future of conservation depends on it.
You can support this programme by visiting our Just Giving page and donating today. Every penny goes towards this project.