Liwonde National Park in Malawi is a special place for me.
Not only is it home to numerous charismatic animal species, but the communities surrounding it are willing to go to extreme lengths to make sure those animals are protected.
When I was there last September, I stood proudly alongside the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture and other Malawian officials during the opening ceremony of the Chikolongo Community Fish Farm, the construction of which was funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
It was a unique endeavour.
Hopes were that the farm and fences that were built previously with IFAW funding would relieve poaching pressures and reduce wildlife conflict in and around the park, namely at the Shire River basin. The farm would provide livelihood opportunities and secure access to safe drinking water; the fences would reduce elephant raids on the villagers’ crops.
They’ve proven to be quite successful, with wildlife conflict incidents down precipitously since.
But we are not ones to rest on our laurels.
Months of hard work have led to the reason my colleagues Nancy Barr and Erica Martin are at Nanthomba Full Primary School on the western boundary of Liwonde today.
In a milestone of cross-program cooperation, IFAW celebrates the announcement of a partnership with HELP (Hope, Educate, Love, Protect), a non-profit organization dedicated to Malawi, to bring animal conservation education and other school resources to this Malawian community.
We leverage each other’s strengths: IFAW’s Animal Action Education Programme has expertise in animal welfare and conservation education and HELP has formulated a strategy to increase teacher as well student retention, thus reducing the number of dropouts and repeaters. Our work will immediately benefit 1,000 students, their families and local community members, all of whom live in daily contact with Liwonde wildlife.
IFAW has already begun to develop the new curricula and we are working with HELP to support Nanthomba, furnishing books and desks and constructing two new dormitory blocks to house teacher trainees (12 annually from the Machinga Teacher Training College). These teaching assistants will be critical to sustainable delivery of the new IFAW curricula and activities and will help decrease pupil/teacher ratio at Nanthomba from more than 90:1 to 43:1.
Our conservation education programme goes beyond increasing awareness for animals. It benefits the welfare of the human communities, too, supporting the achievement of core educational outcomes, including literacy. We hope to improve graduation rates among students, with the aim of fostering the growth of productive citizens and future leaders.
What’s more, recent research has shown that African countries that provide better education preserve their animals more effectively than countries where schools are lacking and corruption is rife (even if the latter have expanded wildlife parks).
To better understand the factors that contribute to the elephants’ long-term protection, a team of ecologists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and others evaluated the numbers of elephants in different countries.
They concluded that the density of elephants in various countries “strongly correlate with conservation policy, literacy rate, corruption and economic welfare, and associate less with the availability of food or water for these animals.”
When projects dovetail as perfectly as they have for us in Malawi, we know we can make an impact for animals and people alike.
Article source: IFAW