After 300 days of working with The Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) as environmental educator, I feel the need to reflect on what can only be described as an incredible journey. Infected by the enthusiasm of the dedicated CLT colleagues and equally great participants of the education programme I find myself more enthusiastic than ever about what can still be achieved by the educational programme in the Cederberg and in the areas around Cape Town.
I have already learned so much about nature, places and most importantly the people taking part. One of my favourite quotes by Nelson Mandela is that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and so I try to do just that. Our organisation’s focus is to use research as a tool for conservation, to find solutions to human-wildlife conflict and to inspire interest in the environment through an interactive and dynamic environmental education programme.
The support given to the education project by our CEO, Dr Quinton Martins, is exemplary and other research scientists can learn from him in this regard. For example, he has repeatedly been involved in showing participants old leopard traps, talking about leopards and conservation and even showing participants how to use GPS’s to mark klipspringer middens for research. His passion for the conservation of the Cape mountain leopard is remarkable and this is reflected in the great support by our wonderful donors and sponsors.
His equally dedicated partner, Elizabeth, who heads our education team, too leads by example and is constantly pushing the boundaries in terms of what the education programme can achieve through the activities presented to participants, as well as networking with like-minded groups to achieve a better world for people and the environment. Without discounting the value of educational activities, her foremost objective is to stimulate an appreciation for nature among participants by exposing them to the beauty and fascination nature has to offer.
I have had the pleasure of working with two excellent interns, Sune Rossouw and Nadine Sydow. Both of them were dedicated, enthusiastic, fit and hard-working, knowledgeable, love food and (most importantly) great fun. I have created a place in my heart for them as friends forever. Recently Jaclyn Stephenson joined our team as the CLT Cape Town-based environmental educator and I am so happy to be working with her. She has helped me to discover even more places and more importantly allowed me to see a different way of delivering environmental education. Her enthusiasm and drive is a real asset to the CLT.
I could go on and on about the rest of my colleagues, but I think you get the idea that everyone working for this organization is really great and I feel privileged to be able to work with such a dedicated and supportive team.
From the word go I got to learn so much about the different animals, birds, reptiles, plants, geology of the Cederberg, rock paintings, the heritage of the people there, astronomy, animal tracking, survival, navigation, fossils, photography, hiking experiences and the logistics around leading walks to name but a few. Participants have had a chance to explore their own limitations and I have seen folk grow in terms of their life experiences and their own life skills in a short space of time. What also fascinates me is to see the dedication of teachers, group coordinators and volunteers in terms of providing the back-up support on camps and outings, not just the meals, but most importantly real caring about participants’ well-being. I have lost count of the emotional lumps in my throat I get when I see and experience what can be described as real mentoring, friendship and love.
One of our key approaches is not be prescriptive about what participants have to do for the environment. The last thing we want to do is to indoctrinate participants and to create an army of people who might in future do things which might prove to be wrong because of our personal beliefs about solutions for the environment and its people. All we can do is expose people to the issues that are prevalent, state the facts and allow them to make up their own minds about what is right and wrong. For example, a 2013 study by the University of Colorado shows that an estimated 600 000 bats were killed by wind turbines in 2012. Wind turbines are seen as a potential solution to the United States’ need for foreign oil. Bats save farmers in the United States billions of dollars every year by eating insects that could destroy crops. The bats collide with the wind turbines’ blades yes, but strangely most deaths occur by a disease called White Noise Syndrome. The blades cause a subtle drop in atmospheric pressure, which in turn cause internal hemorrhaging in bats called barotrauma, when thin sacs surrounded by capillaries in their lungs over-expand and burst. (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wind-turbines-kill-thousands-bats-day/story?id=20997657 ) So in effect wind turbines as a potential solution to an energy crisis also have a downside. What we could see as a solution can also be a problem.
What we offer with the CLT education programme is a chance to discover and learn in a way that is fun. At best we can only try to educate by equipping participants with knowledge, the necessary skills to be reflexive in thought, address attitudes and values. We encourage participants to take part in discussions so that they may be able to monitor and evaluate a situation for themselves in order to make sense of the world around them.
Please forgive us though if we talk a lot about the leopards. They are simply the coolest cats!
Enjoy the photographs of some of our experiences!
By Hadley-John Lyners, CLT environmental educator