Our featured blogger, Edward Selfe, on a project in Zambia that introduces local kids to the wildlife on their doorstep
It is a sad fact that the majority of kids who live in and around Mfuwe never visit South Luangwa National Park. Most have never seen a lion or a leopard, a giraffe or even the all too common Impala. This beautiful park sits on their doorstep but might as well be a million miles away.
To the local community wildlife is often something to be feared; elephants raid their crops or a crocodile may take anyone who ventures in the river. This is not a situation that encourages any enthusiasm for conservation. But without this wildlife there would be no visitors and so it is important that the community, and in particular teenagers, understand that they have the most to gain by conserving their environment and the local wildlife.
With a grant from The Elephant Charge, an annual off-road motor sport challenge, Project Luangwa took 24 local teenagers to stay at Kafunta River Lodge on the banks of the Luangwa river for a 4 day/3 night safari. We wanted to encourage the kids to gain a better understanding of conservation of their environment and wildlife, understand how a visitor sees the environment and experience exactly what a tourist experiences. We hoped that they would consider a career in tourism or conservation too but above all we wanted them to have fun.
With just 24 places and many eager kids we felt the only fair way to choose who participated was to ask them all to write an essay entitled 'The Link between Tourism and Conservation in South Luangwa' and choose the best to participate.
During the four days at Kafunta the kids took part in early morning and night game drives, watched films on wildlife and had some interesting and very interactive talks with scouts from South Luangwa Conservation Society. They stayed in Kafunta's well equipped and comfortable chalets and many experienced hot showers for the first time. Once they all overcame their initial shyness the swimming pool was a favourite place to spend time. As part of the trip we wanted the kids to experience as many new things as possible and part of this was unfamiliar food. Everyone was keen to try something new and many returned for second helpings.
However the main activities were the game drives and everybody was keen to take part and get into the park. On the first drive the kids were rewarded with their first sighting of lions and this was made even more special by the presence of six cubs playing around their mums. Several more pupils realised their ambitions of seeing leopards and hyena over the next two days and there were plenty of other animals too. Only the buffalo remained elusive. Kafunta's guides went out of their way to educate the children and allowed everyone the chance to act as a guide.
But to understand what a great time was had by all (including Project Luangwa and Kafunta staff) let the kids tell you what they thought.
"I wasn't interested in nature before I went to Kafunta, now I think its really good." From a boy who selected a wildlife book as a prize on the last day.
"I learnt that a guide has to know about lots of things and not just animals."
"It was like being a proper guest – I put my washing in that basket and it was waiting for me later - all ironed."
"My favourite thing was the food".
"We could go swimming whenever we wanted".
Watch the short video trailer below to see the 2011 Kids in The Wild event. This is a trailer for the full 43 minute documentary that was made for the project by Norman Lofts.
Edward works as a part-time safari guide in the Luangwa Valley, a vast wildlife reserve in Eastern Zambia. He is also a professional photographer. You can check out his work at his other blog, Edward Selfe Photography.