Guest Author - Dawn Denton
Very little work was done saving the cheetah before 2003, but since the numbers dropped so dramatically at the beginning of the twenty first century, the Botswana government decided to address the low numbers, and preserving the cheetah population was deemed a national priority.
Accessing a lot of scientific research, growing their community outreach programs and developing educational schemes to take the conservation concepts into the rural communities needed teachers and students in the local schools to help educate their colleagues and peers. The programs were run as locally as possible for greater impact. Local leaders and teachers know their communities, understand their concerns and can relate to their needs. This local inclusion, led to collaboration with other organisations that run nature reserves, the Kalahari Conservation Society, and government organisations like the Wildlife Department of Botswana.
The main focus of the campaign was to get the teachers trained to deliver these cheetah conservation programs, but their lack of knowledge and low levels of skills, proved to be the biggest challenge. Teachers from across the country were brought together for workshops on environmental conservation and they were trained to use, adapt and change the information to make it as relevant to their own circumstances as possible.
Cheetahs are perceived by communities as one on the biggest threats to livestock farming outside protected areas, and this provided concerns for those who rely on their livestock for survival. So the aim of Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) is to improve the perception of the cheetah. A survey conducted by another cheetah conservation program in Botswana showed that 91% of the population had negative perceptions of the cheetah. It also revealed that 95% felt that more understanding of the predator’s behaviour and how to co-exist with cheetahs was needed to understand the animals better.
The children are the most important target of these programs. Environmental concerns are incorporated to get the young learners to think about issues that affect their lives and understand the consequences of their own actions.
Another challenge is to show the communities how to consider their own environment and the socio-economic implications of solving or not solving their problems. Relevant and exciting activities were devised which helped to pass knowledge from one generation to another about the survival of cheetah.
Cheetah Outreach provided the funding for educational resources and materials for workshops. All the events that run alongside these programs have one key target – the survival of the cheetah. Botswana is taking the lead and is setting an example to the rest of the continent on how to bring people and the environment together in a symbiotic relationship and ultimately save the cheetah population.