Kicking Goals For Wildlife!

September 17th, 2014

Football, oryx and warriors! It’s an unusual combination but this is how Melako Community Conservancy in Northern Kenya, and Zoos Victoria in Australia are helping to secure the future of wildlife and communities in the northern range lands of Africa’s eastern country of Kenya with the Melako Conservation Cup.

Melako Conservancy covers 380 000 hectares of arid range lands and is home to approximately 40 000 Rendille people, whose main livelihood revolves around nomadic pastoralism. Melako is one of 26 community conservation areas operating under the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) banner. NRT’s mission is to develop resilient communities in the northern Kenyan range lands, through innovative conservation and community development initiatives. Zoos Victoria (ZV) is made up of three properties in and around Melbourne, Australia. ZV is working with Melako Conservancy to protect and increase wildlife populations, particularly the Beisa oryx while also focusing on conservation education and sustainable development.


In traditional Rendille culture, men between the ages of 13 and 25 undergo initiation to become a warrior. The role of the warrior is to protect the community, acquire livestock and develop skills to become wise and strong leaders of the future. But the role of the warrior is changing. These young men have more time on their hands. Melako warriors are engaging in conflict with rival groups, harming wildlife to pass the time, to prove leadership skills, to have fun and to obtain or protect resources. The key species under threat from this process are the Beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, giraffe and gerenuk.


When the community raised the issue of the warriors as a concern, we wondered if there was an alternative to harming wildlife that could still be engaging, fun and prove leadership skills. So we asked the warriors “what would you like to do with your idle time instead of activities that involve conflict or harming wildlife?” The answer was clear, “We’d like to play football! We’ve never played it but we know it’s addictive”.


So we organised some footballs, using a dry river bed as a football field and elephant dung or branches for goals, we suddenly realized this might actually work – as long as the players leave their spears off the field!


One year on Melako has 320 warriors in 16 teams. The teams are named after the very wildlife they were previously driving threats towards. Each team selected its own wildlife mascot, printed on the team shirt. The team tries to embody the quality of that animal in their game. Team giraffe are tall and graceful, team oryx are strong and proud, and team dik-dik are quick and loyal. Using this simple tool we were able to observe a very quick reinforcement of values or positive attitudes towards the wildlife selected as mascots.


To help wildlife in Melako is not just a matter of engaging the warriors in a new action, it is also about understanding the warriors attitude towards wildlife and the conservancy and their ecological knowledge of wildlife. We conduct surveys to look at the influence of traditional stories on attitudes towards wildlife, ecological knowledge and the attitude towards Melako Conservancy as well as the attitude towards the football program.


We are working with the Melako Rangers to measure the direct impact of the program on key wildlife such as Grevy’s zebra, oryx, gerenuk, and giraffe by measuring changes in flight distance. When wildlife is being harassed it is more difficult to get close to them; large flight distance. When wildlife feel relaxed it is easier to get closer to them therefore a small flight distance.


Most of the warriors in the program have never had the opportunity to go to school, therefore we developed communications tools to deliver key messages that were very visual and appealed to the warriors.


The logo for the program is a visual representation of “Love Soccer, Love an Oryx”, the oryx is part of the conservancy logo.


Delivering messages around conflict and conservation in an engaging way is also an important aspect of the football program. Warriors know best how to talk to warriors, therefore we created Warrior Conservation Theater Groups to deliver conservation messages to their fellow warriors in a culturally appropriate and effective manner. The football program is also a platform to engage the warriors in programs that allow them access to education, business and enterprise programs and micro credit schemes. In the future this will allow warriors better opportunities to diversify their livelihoods beyond pastoralism.


Now our biggest challenge is keeping the goats of the pitch!

melako11 Story & photos courtesy of African Geographic Written by: Brooke Squires, Conservation Officer, Wildlife Conservation and Science at Zoos Victoria

Seymour the Shoebill Chick!

September 12th, 2014

So ugly he’s cute: Seymour, is a shoebill chick with a bottomless stomach, named ever so fittingly after Seymour in the Little Shop of Horrors. The chick was rescued by an environmentally conscious villager in Zambia’s Bangweulu Wetlands, and is now in the care of the Bangweulu Wetlands Project.


African Parks employ guards to watch the nests every season to protect the nests from people and fire, all of which pose a threat to these prehistoric looking fowls. A local villager heard stories that people from another nearby village were planning to steal the newly hatched shoebill. When he noticed footprints around the nest he genuinely believed the shoebill was at risk and took the baby bird into his care. The man kept the bird at his home and later notified the project staff about its location.

Seymour arrived at the project, ravenous after living on a diet of cassava for two days. Although unsure of the chick’s sex and not entirely in favor of naming wild animals the handlers christened the chick Seymour. Since then Seymour built up a robust appetite, continued to grow and spent most of his time with his wooden figure of a mother ‘protecting the nest’ as his parent would have done in the wild. At night he was put in a quiet box with a hot water bottle and heavy blanket over it to stimulate brooding.


As with crane-rearing, human contact is limited so as to prevent Seymour from imprinting. He was fed five to six times a day by a person in a grey sheet and sock puppet so as not to break the human form. The sheet is also left in the enclosure so that there is always something familiar around for the chick. Since Seymour is a water bird he needs to be watered. Watering is done by using a large syringe that is dribbled into the chick’s open mouth or onto the chick when it is hot. This simulates the parent dribbling water for the chick from its own beak.

As Seymour got bigger he was fed only three times a day and bigger pieces of fish were left around the nest to encourage him to peck and forage. Older shoebill chicks spend a vast amount of time by themselves in the wild while their parent is on the hunt. Seymour however does have visiting hours in which people can come see him through a sheet of glass.

Seymour is now in a large enclosure in his natural environment where he will continue to be attended to until he is ready to fledge. When that day arrives Seymour will be fitted with a satellite transmitter to monitor progress. Seymour will also have his own ‘birdy ID’ – a ring that helps project managers to identify different birds.


If the villager had left the chick where it was the Bangweulu Wetlands Project would have employed him as a shoebill guard for that nest for the season. The community facilitator at the Bangweulu Wetlands Project has since visited him on several occasions to make sure he understands how the shoebill guard program works and that removing the chicks from their parents is a last resort.

The Bangweulu Wetlands is listed as a RAMSAR sight and is home to 200 – 300 shoebills and the endemic black lechwe. The wetlands support a local fishing community that generates US$8m in fish which is traded, and provides an income for some 50 000 people. The Bangweulu Wetlands Project is constantly working to protect the wetland and its wildlife from people, fire and poaching.

Story & Photos Courtesy of African Parks/Bangweulu Wetlands

Hitchhiking Genet!

September 9th, 2014

It seems this this genet is making a habit of riding large herbivores for his camera trap selfies.

The Wildlife Act volunteer project in Hluhluwe in South Africa assists Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the national park authority, in protecting the endangered and threatened species on Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. As part of these conservation efforts WildlifevAct uses camera traps to monitor the more elusive endangered species such as black rhino. These animals are difficult to track by vehicle and therefore the cameras allow us to monitor their movements through the park.

While the camera traps’ main purpose is to monitor our priority species, they are triggered by movement and thus give us brief glimpses of other shy or nocturnal creatures such as porcupine or aardvark. However what they never expected to find was a camera hungry genet.

The large spotted genet is a nocturnal mammal that is only found in South Africa. It is rather small only reaching about 21cm at shoulder height. However it seems like this lonely genet has tried to make friends outside of his species. It’s just he/she only seems to like really large herbivore type friends.

This behavior has stumped most of the team at Wildlife ACT as they can’t see any benefit for these species to be seen together – with the possible exception of a height advantage for the genet. It seems like he doesn’t need a reason as he continues to ride first the buffalo and now the rhino of Hluhluwe, night after night. He decided to jump on this rhino on the very same night that he was seen riding on the back of two separate buffalo.


Then three nights later…


Then the following evening…


And again four nights after that.

This genet seems to be determined to get the best selfie possible and we just enjoy getting to witness this absolutely bizarre behavior.

Story & Photos courtesy of Wildlife Act

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