Girls in Conservation - Inspiring Conservation Ambassadors

Published: 21 August 2023

The Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) Education team is proud to report on another successful ‘Girls in Conservation’ (GiC) programme for 2023! Girls in Conservation focuses on high school learners from rural communities in areas that share the leopard’s habitat, with the goal of providing the girls with an opportunity to learn about nature and develop an interest in the green economy. This flagship programme is an important part of the CLT’s philosophy of using environmental learning and knowledge as a catalyst for social change, by inspiring the youth to be conservation ambassadors.

The 2023 GiC programme started with an application process for Grade 9 girls from six schools in the Boland and Cederberg regions. In collaboration with their teachers, the CLT team identified suitable candidates who displayed a genuine interest in the natural environment and a desire for green skills development. A group of 18 learners were enrolled into the programme – three from each school (Groenberg Secondary, Villiersdorp Secondary, De Villiers Graaf High, Cederberg Academy, Clanwilliam Senior Secondary and Steynville High).

During the April school holidays, the GiC group spent 5 days together using the Ihlati Bush Camp near Philadelphia as a base. On the first afternoon, the girls excitedly engaged in a series of fun team building activities to foster camaraderie and cooperation within the group. It was particularly heartening to see their enthusiasm and eager anticipation for the experiences that lay ahead.

Over the course of the next four days, the group met women working in various green careers at interesting places like the West Coast Fossil Park where they learned about palaeontology and archaeology; the Stellenbosch University Iimbovane Outreach Project to experience hands-on lab work and learn about entomology; Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve for wildlife monitoring, fynbos conservation, and the use of camera trap technology and AI in research; and finally the !Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre for an immersive cultural guiding and heritage experience. The girls left the holiday programme equipped with newly acquired knowledge about opportunities available to them and how to go about pursuing their goals.

Following the holiday programme, the GiC cohort was tasked with three service assignments to contribute positively to the wider community. The first was a knowledge-sharing assignment, where each group (from each school) prepared a comprehensive presentation at their schools on the careers they were exposed to during the project. Aiming to emphasise the importance of choosing specific subjects for particular careers, and to showcase the available career paths, study opportunities, volunteering/internship programmes and even entrepreneurship opportunities, they shared their insights with a total of 900 learners. 

The second assignment involved Early Childhood Development (ECD) outreach, where each group was responsible for organizing a book reading session and distributing English, Afrikaans, and isiXhosa books at ECD centres in their communities. This assignment allowed the girls to engage with younger children, promote literacy, and foster a love for reading. 200 children were reached and 300 copies of Footprints in the Fynbos books were distributed through these six sessions.

Finally, each group was tasked with planning a Snare Aware workshop at their schools and inviting a conservation officer from the CLT to present to their classmates. These workshops raised awareness about the detrimental effects of illegal hunting, particularly the use of snares, which pose a significant threat to biodiversity. A thousand learners were reached through these 6 workshops.

The service assignments not only enabled the girls to apply their knowledge and skills but also empowered them to make a positive impact within their schools and communities as mentors. By sharing their newfound understanding, promoting literacy, and raising awareness about conservation issues, they add value to the broader goals of education and environmental stewardship.

The 2023 Girls in Conservation programme concluded with an award ceremony on Women’s Day, 9 August. The girls were all reunited to celebrate the successful completion of the programme and to reflect on their achievements and learnings. It was a wonderfully positive gathering of enthusiastic young ladies, all eager and inspired to one day make their own contribution to South Africa’s green skills landscape.

Big thanks go to the funders of this year’s programme, Papoose Conservation Wildlife Foundation, National Lotteries Commission, Montagu Snacks and Bluu Car Rental. Thanks also to the du Toit family and Kloovenburg’s Kringe Inni Bos restaurant for hosting the award ceremony.

See a selection of highlight images from this year’s programme in the gallery below!