PERIVOLI OKONJIMA COUNTRY SCHOOL
Perivoli Okonjima Country School visit the AfriCat North Environmental Education Programme
On the 21st of July, the students from the Perivoli Okonjima Country School visited the AfriCat North base. Even though these children are used to the bush, it was a completely new experience. When they were told that Lions may walk through the campsite during the night, one could see the respect and excitement in their eyes.
After a long drive up North to the AfriCat North base, the kids first had some time to settle in… a huge 'thank you' to the AfriCat North team for preparing everything and for all the support!
The main objective of their visit to AfriCat North was for them to see and experience what is known as Human-Wildlife Conflict. Of course fun should always be part of the experience, but there should also be a message to the kids about the bigger picture, especially when one is facing a conflict where humans and wildlife are involved.
One of the main objectives of the POCS - AfriCat Environmental Programme, is to reach the younger generation and to show them how important Namibia’s wildlife is. It is so difficult to change the mind of a farmer who has been farming the same way for 40 years. Even for those children, whom most have been raised on farms in the conservancies, it still was a huge change of environment. Especially when we visited the Onguta mobile school in the Ehirovipuka Conservancy, Kunene Region; the kids saw with their own eyes how privileged they are that they have nice, big classrooms, enough material to work with and so much more. These classrooms are old, torn tents and they do not even have water at their school, so each child brings his / her own water bottle to last for the whole day. But still they were all laughing, happy and full of energy... something our kids were so impressed by!
A very important idea which Team AfriCat North included in our camp was that we divided our POCS group into 3; each group had to put up their own trail camera and then they were the ones in charge of it; they had to find a suitable spot to catch photographs of animals or any other interesting topic. Of course most of the kids chose to set their camera up to catch a lion! It was great to see how these kids were jumping up in the mornings to check if the camera is still ‘armed’ and in the right position; some of them even checked the ground for tracks of some night-time activity.
Due to the presence of lions in this area, the AfriCat staff, including the Lion Guards, informed us that they were going to do night shifts from 22:00 to 6:00 in the morning. Of course the children accepted that challenge and we allocated each tent to one hour at a time, so each child had the opportunity to join the night-shift, sitting around the fire, telling stories but on a constant look out that no lions get too close to the camp. Whenever they saw the flash of one of their trail cameras, it added to their excitement!
On one of the outings, we were taken to one of the kraals that had been built by AfriCat North, with the help of the community. Often we only talk about the problem between the wildlife and the farmers in Namibia, because it is mainly in the areas close to Etosha where large carnivores like lions move out of Etosha onto communal farmland and kill their cattle; the farmer gets angry and sets large, leg-hold traps or shoots the lions. But it is so hard to understand that situation and to try and work out a solution if you have never been in that area.
The kids had the big privileged to see these problems first hand and they realised that there is no easy way to solve them, and that a lot of help is needed.
The most special experience was the stunning sighting of one of AfriCat’s most recently collared sub-adult lionesses, Sidatia (Hpl-12); even though we only had a brief sighting, the kids will never forget it.
On the last afternoon, we were lucky to get a permit to enter the Etosha National Park; most of the kids had never seen an elephant or a rhino before, so we had more than 15 pairs of eyes looking out for anything moving! It didn’t take long before we had a beautiful sighting of a breeding herd of elephants, including small calves, and the children loved it!
On the last morning, the Team that had the best camera trap picture received a prize... a huge ball of elephant dung with a chocolate egg!
Sadly it was then time to say goodbye and face the long trip back, but it was one of the most memorable times in their lives.