After two weeks of conservation efforts in scorching Senegal, rhino keeper Leah Drury is back with the third instalment of her Western Derby Eland trip! Working with local rangers and researchers, Leah is based in Niokolo Koba national park, the only place in the world where this critically endangered animal can be found in the wild.
Today we took a day off from following the Eland.
As well as protecting the species itself, it is important to consider the welfare and education of the community that share their dwindling habitats. This is my colleague Marketa’s speciality. Marketa has spent the last six months traveling to local schools and providing environmental education, lessons, and school trips to visit the animals on the reserve. This is often the first time the children have seen some of these animals – especially the elusive Western Derby Eland.
Due to the increase of human activity and urban developments such as towns, villages and agriculture, native wildlife has been forced to retreat to ever decreasing habitats. Derbianus Conservation have been developing their Environmental education programme since 2008. They hope to find that children in classes participating in these lessons are perceiving the importance of the forest around them more positively, and become more able to understand why they should protect the natural world.
The Western Derby Eland are now only found wild in Niokolo Koba National park, and the semi captive breeding populations at Bandia and Fathala reserves provide a truly unique opportunity for children to see them. In their home range, Elands hide themselves in the dense African bush from which they feed. There is now so few of them, with under 200 individuals left in the whole world. This means they are scarcely seen in the wild.
After a 10 minute walk through Dagga, a small village near Bandia we reach the school and meet Marketa’s class for today. Today she is collecting feedback from the children’s trip to Bandia reserve that will contribute to her PhD at Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague. She does this is in the form of a short questionnaire in French, as this is the national language of Senegal.
The children in the classroom are beautifully behaved and fill out their questionnaires quickly and quietly. Meanwhile, other children who are not in a lesson that hour peep through the door and windows to hear what Marketa is teaching the others.
The children in the school learn about why wild animals in Senegal are in danger of extinction, how long it takes certain types of litter to decompose, ways to get rid of waste responsibly, and about the different types of wild animal they can find in the bush. This is aided by a short, colourful booklet written by the Derbianus Conservation team. It includes special facts for each species and notes about its size and ecology of each species on each page.
Without connecting the local community to the natural world around them it is impossible to conserve it for future generations.