Category Archives: Education

Five Harare schools visit Chishakwe on a Field Trip

Hi folks,

Last weekend we had 34 students and 7 teachers from five different Harare-based Goverment schools visiting Chishakwe Ranch (where the AWCF field team is based) for a bush camp.  The trip was the prize for the top schools that participated in the Wild Dog Awareness Day at Mukuvisi in August.  They were great kids and we all had a fantastic time.

Early on the first morning, we took them out on a bush walk, in two groups.  This was one of the highlights of the trip, which the kids loved.  By the comments and discussion afterwards it was clear they had learned a lot.  Professional guides Mark Houghton and Mr Bert kindly volunteered their time to allow us to conduct the walks safely and generously shared their immense bush knowledge with the kids.

They learned about trees, tracks, animal behaviour, bush survival, and radio tracking.  Most kids got a turn to try radio tracking a hidden wild dog collar, which was great fun (they didnt know it was just a planted collar!)

Here they learned about crocodiles, water birds, and safety around rivers in the bush:

During a brief “quiet time” after the walk, we asked the kids to write down what they had learned or enjoyed most on the walks.  Many of the answers showed they had really been listening, and all showed that they had enjoyed themselves.  Here are a few examples of what was written:

Since we had a lot of interest in the baobabs and their uses, we took the students to the “Big Tree”.  This is one of the largest baobabs in Zimbabwe, and we are lucky to have it on Chishakwe Ranch.  The kids were awed by it’s size and amazed that it could take all 34 of them holding hands to encircle the base of the tree!

We had lots more other adventures, which I will post about in the next post.  But I would like to say here a huge thank you to Chishakwe for not only providing great accommodatin for students and teachers, but for helping us out with some of their staff, including scouts to accompany us on walks, and their amazing Chef Stanford, who ably handled cooking for 45 people, and produced great meals.

Look out for the next post where we had kids racing cheetah times, working as packs of wild dogs to catch impalas, learning antipoaching tactics and going on game drives!

Back soon,



Song of the Carnivores – 2nd performance at Intwasa

Hi folks,

You may remember a post a while ago about a spectacular musical performance in Bulawayo – the Song of the Carnivores.  The whole program involved music, song, poetry, art and educational lectures – all about the magnificant five large carnivores of Zimbabwe.  But it was the overall musical and choral performance of “The Song” which was the focus of the event last May.

Due to the fantastic success of the first performance, a second performance was held last week at the Old City Hall in Bulawayo.  I was super-excited to be able to attend this time, as I hadn’t been able to go to the last performance.

Once again it was truly spectacular show, and thanks must go to the British Council and to Dr Netty Purchase of the Rangewide Program for Cheetah and Wild Dog in southern Africa for all they did to make it happen.

Amongst other distingished guests to attend the performance was Zimbabwe’s minister of sports, arts and education, David Colthart, who opened the performance with a great motivational speech.

Many different schools participated in this performance and it was a truly spectacular show- made all the more wonderful by the fact that it was so directly about conservation of the five large carnivores.  This performance had a great educational narration between each verse, beautifully done by high school students, and if there is anything that is going to get the conservation message into a large group of young minds, this was it!

The afternoon also saw a display of many of the pieces of art that had been submitted in the art competition (some of which showed a fantastic talent), as well as poetry readings of the winning poems and a shorter series of talks about the five carnivores (we did the wild dog one).

Excitingly, the Song of the Carnivores will be performed again in London, UK, in November at an event at London Zoo, where Usain Bolt will be the guest of honour!!  He has agreed to be the official spokesman for cheetah conservation and everyone is thrilled that this project is to be taken to these levels.

Thanks again to all those great people and organisations that made this happen.


Wild Dog Education Day in Harare

Hi Folks,

I was up in Harare last week for a series of events at Mukuvisi Woodlands.  Friday 3rd started off with an education day, where the eco-clubs of various different schools were invited to the woodlands to participate in a Wild Dog Awareness Day. We’d done a lot of work to prepare for the day, with our life sized wild dog models (!) and six big posters about various different aspects of wild dog biology and conservation.

We had both primary and secondary schools attending and while the primary schools went round the poster stations, the secondary schools watched a video on wild dogs, before swapping over.

At the end of the day there was a quiz, with 35 students from more than 10 different schools being chosen to come on a field trip to Chishakwe Ranch as a prize.  The prize was much sought after by students and teachers and the winning students were enormously excited about the opportunity to come out to the bush and see the wildlife (and hopefully wild dogs!).  So a HUGE thank you to Chishakwe who are offering free accommodation for the students, enabling this to happen.  (We do still need funds for the bus, fuel, food, support staff etc so if you think you could help, please consider making a donation by clicking here or on the DONATE button on the right hand side of this page).

So overall the day was a huge success, certificates were awarded to all the participating schools and the wild dogs were much sought after for photographs!!

All the students and teachers alike went home with a vastly improved knowledge and understanding of this awesome species and we hope with a love for them which will help see them survive into the next century.

The day with the students was followed by an evening event at Mukuvisi, including Kim Wolhuter’s amazing film ‘A Dog’s Life’ and a short presentation by Kim and myself, during an amazing three course dinner under the stars.  On Saturday afternoon we had another showing of the film, followed by a longer presentation by Kim & I and a question and answer session, which was all very well received.

Altogether it was a great few days for making people aware of what incredible animals wild dogs are and how we can all play our part in helping to protect them and their habitat.

Back soon,



Making wild dog models!

Hi folks,

It’s become very apparent during our work with schools that neither the kids nor the teachers at the majority of schools have any idea what a wild dog even looks like.  We can and do of course show them photos, and as our program continues to develop we will be taking DVDs into the schools and communities to help educate people on a variety of different things, obviously including wild dogs!

But as an extra prop, I got the crazy idea to try and make life sized models of wild dogs…. I’ve been regretting that spell of wisdom ever since (:)) but nonetheless have progressed with the idea and they are starting to take shape.

They started with a wire frame, made by some of the workshop guys at a neighboring ranch (thanks Sango!), which we then needed to stuff:

Given that I have about as much artistic talent as a two year old, I roped in friends Cathy, Nicky and Michelle to help and soon the stuffing was well underway.

The next step was to try and give the legs some shape, for which we ended up using green and black bin bags stuffed with paper, and eventually had two (somewhat dodgy looking) stuffed wild dogs!

The first layer of paper mache went on next, and that’s the stage we are at.  A couple more layers of paper and then they will be painted as realistically as possible, and will hopefully end up looking something like wild dogs!  Fortunately my wonderful friend and amazing artist Lin Barrie has agreed to paint them, which makes that a bit more likely :).

I’ll post photos of the final outcome when they are finished. They will have their stage debut at a big education and wild dog awareness day we are hosting in Harare in early August, and obviously I will let you know how that goes nearer the time as well.

Such are things we conservation biologists get to do on our weekends!

Back soon,



Song of the Carnivores – Amazing, amazing event!

Hi folks,

A while ago I posted about this fantastic musical event being held in Bulawayo to celebrate the five large carnivores.  The project has been two years in the making, involving 10 local schools and over 500 children, and the first performance of the song was just spectacular!

The event was officially opened by the Mayor of Bulawayo and the British and Australian Ambassadors to Zimbabwe also attended.

All agreed it was a perfect way to raise awareness of the animals, as well enhancing the music ability of the children, and the capacity of their music teachers.

Sadly, the project is almost over in Zimbabwe, with a final all encompassing afternoon event planned for the Intwasa Festival where the poetry and art submitted by children over the last 18months will be displayed and performed, a choral version of the music performed and visiting experts will give talks to the public about the five species.

But, fortunately, it wont end there!  There is now a performance of the music planned for October in the UK, being organized by the Range Wide Programme for cheetah and wild dog conservation.  We are hoping all this will help to raise the profile of these two unique species – something they very much need and deserve.

Full credit for all of this goes to Dr Netty Purchase, Southern African coordinator of the Range Wide Program, an incredibly energetic and resourceful person.

Have a look at this link on YouTube for a short video of the Song of the Carnivores…


School scholarhips

Hi all,

As one of the strands of our multidimensional environmental education program, we provide secondary school scholarships to students from the primary schools we work in around the Save Valley Conservancy.  In order to try to maintain the link between the scholarships and our wildlife conservation efforts we call these “Predator Scholars”.  Each year we give five new scholarships out, each one for full expenses for the full six years of secondary school.

All the students we support are from very poor homes and would not be able to remain in school without the support of these scholarships.

I went to visit the scholars the other day, to see how they were doing and check on their progress with the head teachers.  I was pleased to find most of them with good results and getting good reviews from teachers.

Below is Melody Makeyi with her scholarship certificate in the headmasters study.  And below that is myself with Talent Muonde, our leopard scholar attending Kushingiriri Secondary School.  Talent was at Muvava Primary, the school supported by Chishakwe Ranch, where she also received a primary school scholarship from Chishakwe.  She is extremely bright and we hope she will go far in her life and career.

As the program develops, we hope to include these students in other aspects of our project in order to foster the link between the scholarships and conservation and also to give them some exposure to possible careers in the wildlife sector.

I’ll let you know how they all do as time goes on.  If anyone would like to sponsor a student through secondary school, either fully or partially, please make a donation by clicking on the DONATE button on the right hand side of this page, or by visiting the African Wildlife Conservation Fund education project site.




Talks to schools about Wild Dogs

Hi Folks,

As I mentioned in the last post, I recently went to Bulawayo to give a lecture, but in addition to that several talks had been arranged for me to give at different schools – both primary and secondary – around Bulawayo.  At the risk of being boring, the topic was, of course, wild dogs!

The secondary schools got a relatively informative presentation, and I was impressed by the interest and questions afterwards, which showed a good understanding of the topic and a keen interest.

The primary schools were a little more daunting – what on earth do you do with 600+ children from 4 years old upwards?!

Well, after talking to them briefly about what wild dogs were, we soon got them up and about, with 1 being an impala and then ‘packs’ of 1, 3 or 10 ‘wild dogs’ trying to catch the impala, to teach them about the benefits of cooperative hunting.  We also played other games with groups of boys and girls making packs, and then having to split up into single sex groups and run around until we shouted stop, at which point they had to quickly try to find a group of the other sex…. the mechanism (sort of!) by which wild dogs disperse and form new packs.  It was all a lot of fun and the kids were wildly enthusiastic.

Altogether we spoke to about 11 different schools, and I hope that those students will not forget what a special animal the wild dog is.  I must add my thanks to Netty Purchase and Phumizile Sibanda for organizing it all, and to Alliance Francaise for funding the program.



Wild dog lecture in Bulawayo

Hi folks,

I just got back from a few days in Bulawayo where I had a hectic schedule talking to schools and giving a lecture.  Netty Purchase, the range-wide coordinator for cheetah and wild dog in southern Africa, together with the Alliance Francaise have organized an amazing collection of events about carnivores, under the umbrella of ‘The Song of the Carnivores’.  Last week it was wild dog week, and I was invited to give the wild dog lecture as part of a series on “dispelling the myths” of large carnivores.

My topic was “Dispelling the myths that wild dogs are cruel hunters that decimate prey populations”.  It was an evening lecture with a great turnout and very positive feedback, and I hope it’s done a little bit to help people see through traditional prejudices and realize what incredible animals wild dogs are.  Even people who were known not to be too keen on wild dogs were heard muttering “it almost makes you love them”!!

Excitingly, this initiative has gained so much support and enthusiasm, it may be adopted in several other countries in southern Africa, which is just great.  The whole project includes music, poetry, art and these lecture series, involving hundreds of schools and individuals in Zimbabwe.

Here I am just after the lecture with Netty (far right) and Phumizile Sibanda (sec0nd from right) who will be giving the leopard talk next month.  Such a great initiative and it is a privilge to be part of it.

Back soon,


Happy Readers Literacy Projects into Lowveld Schools

Hi folks,

I want to tell you about an exciting new project we are working on as part of our education and outreach project.

Happy Readers is a fantastic series of books that teach children to read in the English Language in Grades One and Two.  They are specifically designed for the child in Africa and use wild animals as characters, with settings, stories and words that will be familiar to rural and urban children. As they progress, they bring in conservation messages, and engage the children to think of animals as more than a food supply, but rather as friends and characters!


Developed in Zimbabwe and approved by the Ministry of Education, these books, which form a recognized and effective literacy scheme, have been adopted in over 400 schools in Zimbabwe.  Unfortunately, very few of those schools are in the lowveld and none are in the schools surrounding the Save Valley Conservancy and Gonarezhou National Park where we are implementing our environmental education and outreach projects.  These schools seem largely forgotton…

Hopefully however, and with your support, that could all change.  The developers of the scheme kindly donated us a set of books for one school and we have purchased books for one more.  Given that we are working in 118 primary schools, this may seem insignificant, but we have to start somewhere!

Here is Max Adams from the Happy Readers scheme handing over the books to a small rural school in Gonarezhou.


This is the Grade 1 class of the other school that was given the books


We have also been doing a few literacy tests in primary schools in order to get an idea of the reading ability of the rural children and I must admit it’s been a little depressing.

Doing the literacy tests…




The reading standard of the vast majority of kids is at least several years behind what they should be, and many kids, even in Grades 4 and 5 cannot read at all.  Can you imagine your life without being able to read??  We simply have to get this scheme running in the schools to give these children opportunities in life.

They are not stupid, and they are hard working, well behaved children, but they simply do not have the resources to learn to read.  Would you be prepared to make a donation to help us get these books into the schools?  The average cost of a full set of books for a Grade 1 class is US$800.  It’s less for smaller schools and more for bigger schools because the books must be at a ratio of no more than 4 children per book.

Please take just a minute to make a donation to help these children who have so little.  You can donate by clicking on the DONATE button on the right of this page, or by following this link and clicking donate.  Whatever you can afford will help.  Every single cent will be put into buying and distributing these books and no matter how much you give you will be giving children the biggest gift you can – the ability to read.

Please help us to give these children a chance in life – give them the gift of education.


Thank you,


School carnivore projects

Hi folks,

Towards the end of last term, we provided a couple of schools with some materials with which to do big carnivore projects.  This was on request from the teachers after they attended a teacher training workshop organized and hosted  by Chishakwe Ranch, last August.

Today I went to visit the schools to see how the projects had come along.  Whilst still incomplete, I was very pleased by the progress and the obvious effort the students and teachers had put in.  Here are some of the Grade 6 kids with their yet-to-be-completed projects.



Both schools undertook the project with enthusiasm and the quality of their work was very good, largely thanks to the long-term efforts by Chishakwe with these particular two schools, Muvava and Uteki.

Back soon,