“DEAR Dr Hage Geingob, About my Wildlife.
So writes a Grade 8 student from Petrus !Ganeb Secondary School at Uis.
And this is just one example of more than 70 handwritten letters by Grade 8 and 9 learners from schools in areas threatened by wildlife crime, which are on their way to President Hage Geingob’s office.
The letters are a result of a school advocacy campaign initiated by the Land, Environment and Development (Lead) Project of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC). The aim of the campaign is to focus the attention of the youth on the threat of wildlife crime.
Seven schools were identified in high-risk wildlife crime areas in Erongo, Kunene and Oshikoto regions.
During the past three months, talks and PowerPoint presentations were given and videos shown to pupils of these schools. All in all, 975 pupils and 38 teachers were addressed. In initial return visits, higher-grade learners of two schools volunteered to write letters to the President in their free time.
The message is clear: Rhino and elephant poaching as well as trafficking in wildlife products are connected to organised crime. If you deal in rhino horn and ivory, you are aiding and abetting international crime syndicates, also involved in human trafficking, drug smuggling, gun running and terrorism.
The example of Joseph Kony, the leader of the terrorist organisation the Lord’s Resistance Army, is used. Ivory from poached elephants is used by Kony to fund the arms and ammunition that terrorise civilians. Children are then abducted to be trained as child soldiers in northern Uganda, South Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.
Maps presented show the main smuggling routes from Africa to the Far East. Graphs and statistics demonstrate the extent of the wildlife crime crisis. Some 96% of the world’s black rhino have been poached according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The ecological importance of wildlife is also discussed. The presentation covers the moral issue around poaching and the need to change the accepted norm. Local initiatives, like the Black Mambas, an all-female anti-poaching unit in South Africa, are also shown.
Actual examples of local poaching incidents are also given. The December 2012 case near Mbakondja in the Palmwag concession area, where a black rhino cow was poached and her calf left alive next to her mutilated body, is discussed with the learners. The seven-month-old calf stood for four days in the relentless heat next to her dead mother, deprived of milk and comfort. The female calf died before she could be saved. This tale has a profound effect on pupils and teachers alike.
It illustrates the cruelty of the poacher.
In many impoverished areas, rhinos and elephants face extinction. Poverty is not an excuse for poaching. In fact, poachers steal from future generations. Poachers make it much more difficult for the next generation to survive by taking away critical parts of the ecosystem and lessening livelihood opportunities in rural areas that disappear along with the wildlife.
Principal Shipahu Erastus at Okaukuejo commented on the programme: “This is good for the present generation. If they learn now they will improve. They will have an interest and not poach. The youth will have an impact on others around them. In this case, the message will go far.”
The mentor of the school’s Eco Club, Paula !Gao-!Gases, expressed the wish to take it further and organise marches and campaigns within Etosha National Park. The response to the presentations have been very positive. At Warmquelle, 120 learners and 7 teachers crammed into one classroom to attend. Other teachers and learners had to be turned away for lack of space. At Sesfontein, 258 pupils and 9 teachers gathered in the hall.
Concern has been expressed about a recent case where a school principal was arrested for poaching in the North. What example is he to his students? The principals and teachers of all the schools represented are very supportive of the programme. It is encouraging to see the interest and positive reaction of the youth.
“Some of the learners get very upset by what is happening. Many want to know how they can help to make a difference. It gives us hope for the future,” an LAC team member commented. Many of the students wrote down the contact details of the LAC in order to report wildlife crime.
The foundation has been laid. The Lead project team of the LAC plans to return to the seven schools with more discussions about conservation and screenings of wildlife documentaries. When they feel the goals have been achieved, they will expand the project into other areas that are threatened by wildlife crime.
The initiative is sponsored by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Pupkewitz Foundation and actively supported by Wilderness Safaris Namibia and Taleni Africa.