The idea that Painted Dog Conservation goals must get through to children came to fruition in 2004. Today, every year a thousand children come through the Children's Bush Camp - for less than $15 a day. They stay a week - and for the first time, they see the dogs and wildlife that live just miles from their villages. It's like Disneyland to them - it's the highlight of their lives.
The facility is called Iganyana Bush Camp. "Iganyana" is the local Sindebele language name for Painted Dogs. Built into the middle of teak woodlands near the border of Hwange National Park, the objective of this part of PDC's extensive education program is to teach local children conservation concepts, an understanding of ecological relationships, the value of biodiversity, an appreciation of Painted Dogs and the role they play in ecosystems, and to inspire an emotional attachment to the beauty and complexity of nature.
The Bush Camp program was designed by Bruce Lombardo and is free of charge, for all grade six students from the 19 primary schools in our immediate area of operation.
While at Iganyana Bush Camp, the children revolve through a series of experiential learning activities in small groups, led by specially trained local guides. They learn about species, adaptations and ecological relationships in the teak woodlands, through hands on activities. They meet and learn about the painted dogs and their plight at the adjacent Painted Dog Rehabilitation Facility. They visit, usually for the first time in their lives, Hwange National Park on a game drive, during which the role each species of wildlife plays in its natural community is emphasized. Having learned about such vital roles, children are led to conclude that extinction is bad for the environment.
Since the program began, nearly 4,000 children's lives have been touched, and parents are saying that their children are teaching them about what they learned at the Bush Camp, saying, "We are realizing the importance of conserving".
Painted Dog Conservation's bush camp program is an unparalleled educational opportunity for local children that will have a significantly positive impact on conservation endeavours in the area by encouraging a stakeholder attitude in local communities over time and by providing direct benefit from conservation activities to local people.
Having seen the local wildlife, experienced the excitement and beauty of the wild African savannah and gained an experiential understanding of it complex ecology, bush camp graduates have more of an emotional investment in caring for it. Whereas before, locals have been expected to protect something that they had no direct experience with, no emotional attachment to and received no direct benefit from, bush camp alumni will increasingly represent a new generation of villagers over time.
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