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Blog week 3 Pioneers Program BTEH

It probably did not escape your attention that the new corona variant made traveling from South Africa tricky, and we have to be honest that we had some very stressful moments trying to figure out what the new rules would be. BUT we are happy to inform you that this last blog about the third week of the Pioneers Program is written safely from our homes. Three of our group that stayed a little longer are also on their way home right now!

The third week of the program was all about the community workshop and off course more research drives. After our free day on Monday, we were ready to start preparing the World Cafe community workshop on Tuesday. The pioneer group was split into three groups to divide our time more efficiently: one group to work further on the elephant ID data, one group to work on educational workshop data, and another smaller group to work on the World Cafe workshop content and agenda. The matriarch and community coaches visited us at the Kariega Conservation Center to discuss the Community Workshop with this smaller group. At the end of this day we got another presentation by Antoinette about previous community workshops that she did in another game reserve. Also, the small group that worked on the World cafe content and agenda filled in the rest of the group with what the plan would be for Thursday.

Wednesday morning we worked together on the last preparations for Thursday. At noon we were picked up for another research game drive. This time, we were less lucky with our wildlife sightings, and we did not see any elephants that afternoon! At the end of the day we were invited for a short visit to the Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) of the game reserve. Kariega started a collaboration with another organisation to introduce horses to the program. They explained why horses are important for the APU and we got to meet the rangers and the horses. After visiting the horses, the rangers took us to the dogs to explain more about the training of the dogs and the work they are doing. Itfelt very special that the rangers took time to tell us all about their impressive work!

We awoke for another early start on Thursday morning: the day of the World Cafe Workshop! We supported our amazing community leaders to host a group of about 45 community participants to engage and discuss different elements of the ‘One Welfare Approach’ to conservation and how it relates to them and their local community. The South African government adapted this One Welfare Approach recently, to make nature conservation more inclusive: conservation should promote human well-being, animal welfare and the environment. We explained the participants about this new approach first and then divided them into three smaller groups. The groups rotated along three different stations where each topic of the One Welfare Approach was further discussed.

There was a station about the correlation between human well-being and animal welfare, about human well-being and conservation and animal welfare and conservation. Although the topics were quite complex, The discussions were very interactive and the participants shared many ideas about these topics. Besides highlighting the One Welfare Approach, the workshop was also an opportunity to collect data for Antoinette’s PhD research and for the development of South Africa’s Elephant Conservation Strategy, and to share potential conservation jobs at Kariega Game Reserve with the participants. At the end of the workshop, three participants summarised what they had learned with the rest of the group, and shared how important it is to care about nature conservation. We hope that participating in this workshop inspired future conservationists and wildlife researchers to become involved with this important work that takes place in their own backyard! To celebrate a successful day, the community members joined the pioneers back at the reserve for another traditional South African braai.

Friday turned out to be a stressful day. We woke up with the news about the new corona virus variant and a possible travel ban. We decided to stay at the Kariega Conservation Centre to be able to follow the news. In the meantime we kept ourselves busy with organising and entering the data from the day before on the computer.

Saturday and Sunday were again our research drive days, and we were very aware that these would be our last drives for a long time! Unfortunately, on Saturday we had to head back early because enormous rain showers surprised us. Luckily the sky cleared up in the beginning of the evening because we had an evening drive planned. The evening drive was very exciting, we saw some elephants, followed the group of lions for a while and we were in awe of a beautiful starry sky. The Kariega Conservation Center manager Jumbo, an amazing man with an extensive knowledge of wildlife, was able to join us that night. He toldus a lot about the wildlife that we encountered that night.

On Monday, the first members of the group left the Kariega Conservation Center for Covid tests in order to travel. A smaller group stayed behind to finish up the program. A feedback session was held with this smaller group and the last data was organised. That night they went out for dinner on the last evening.

We look back to a very successful Pioneers Program, we learned a lot about elephant behavior and how to collect data on this behavior. We were able to identify a large number of the elephants living in the reserve. We had a very good collaboration with the matriarchs (Kariega’s all-female anti-poaching unit) and community coaches for the educational program and community workshop. We felt very lucky with all the volunteers, all the volunteers had their own specialties and we worked great together. Thank you Antoinette, BTEH and Kariega for having us!

Angelica Krouwer & Mara van Maarschalkerweerd,
November, 2021, Kariega Game Reserve, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Please help

Do you want to help the community and nature surrounding the Kariega reserve? Please consider making a donation to the Kariega Foundation via the “Walk with us campaign” or any other fundraiser at the Kariega website! Your help is vital during these uncertain Covid times. With your donation, however small or big, the foundation can keep contributing to invaluable conservation and community work, in collaboration with BTEH. Thank you!!

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