Investing in tomorrow’s elephant protectors
A clash of colours mingles together as the group of children – dressed in their Sunday best – flock to the window to catch a glimpse of a massive bull elephant that has emerged from the forest to feed on a fruit tree. They have abandoned their task of meticulously colouring-in kaleidoscope elephants of their own, to excitedly watch this gentle giant peacefully feeding only a few metres away.
This year on World Elephant Day the Nouabalé-Ndoki National park hosted a day of learning and fun with a group of school children from the village of Bomassa. Situated half a kilometre away from the park’s Bomassa headquarters almost every person in this village has a link to the park and wildlife conservation. The park employs about 1 person out of 5 in Bomassa and 80% of heads of households. As such the village relies strongly on conservation and ecotourism for their livelihoods.
Conservation education is a key activity at the people-park interface. Only if people in the periphery of a protected area are informed about conservation topics can changes in attitude and eventually behaviour changes happen. Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park has a long history of investing in environmental education and many of the park’s current employees once sang songs about the forest in Club Ebobo (Meaning gorilla in the local language Lingala), an environmental education club created almost 20 years ago. Club Ebobo was initially developed by the long-standing Mbeli Bai Study to try connect youths in Bomassa village with nature by teaching them about the Study and the gorillas monitored in the baï in a fun, creative and interactive way. Following the project’s great success in its early years, Club Ebobo spread to other villages in the park periphery and also adapted their messages to expand to an adult audience and also include all fauna and flora, and conservation and research activities carried out in the park.
We believe that this group of enthusiastic children will become tomorrow’s elephant protectors.
The Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park is managed by the Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation, a public private partnership between the Congolese government and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Initiated in 2014, this park management model has been hugely successful, with significant improvements to park infrastructure, patrol efficacy and coverage, anti-poaching results, and the livelihoods of local communities. Under this new management framework, the park is also re-bolstering efforts to expand and improve environmental education activities in the park periphery. It is becoming clear that youths offered the opportunity of higher education have a better attitude towards the environment and conservation, as such the park has also started offering top students bursaries to complete secondary school.
Our hope is that through fun and educational activities like the World Elephant Day celebration, youths in the park periphery will feel a stronger connection to Nature and that this positive attitude towards the environment will spread around northern Congo. Through these efforts we hope that kids growing up in the area will choose to protect elephants, and we strongly believe that this group of enthusiastic children will become tomorrow’s elephant protectors.