Local communities have a powerful role to play in the survival of the rhinoceros but their understanding of some of the key issues is limited due to a lack of relevant information and training, along with incentives. As an attempt to resolve this, the Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT) is establishing a rhino conservation incentive scheme which is raising awareness of rhino conservation in and around communities neighboring the South East Lowveld (SEL) conservancies. The scheme aims to make rhinos more relevant to the communities living alongside them as tangible benefits will be delivered every year.
The entry points of the scheme are primary schools within 10km zone of the boundaries of Save and Bubye Valley Conservancies. Supplementary conservation education materials known as “Rhino Cards” were supplied to the upper grades of 84 primary schools in and adjacent to Save Valley Conservancy. These colourful, durable cards contain information about rhino conservation and are consistent with the environmental studies syllabus, so that teachers can readily incorporate the material into their routine lessons. Teacher training sessions on rhino conservation were held at each participating school to enhance the ability of the teachers to deliver rhino education and awareness. LRT then supported an inaugural Rhino Quiz competition during 2012 in these schools, which are grouped into 18 clusters.
I had a particularly memorable day at Chatama cluster composed of three schools namely Chamburukira, Tapudzai and Manyiri on the 25th of October. I had spent seven months on preparatory activities which included drafting quiz documents, rhino cards distribution, teachers training and numerous visits to districts education officials. Now, after three restless days of distributing quiz materials to cluster centres, the day I had worked and waited for with anxiety and curiosity had arrived. I got up early in the morning and prayed to God for the day to be a success. My mind was swinging between expectation and apprehension. I was not sure about what to expect. I arrived at Tapudzai primary school and I could not believe what I saw. For a moment I thought there was another function happening at the same place but after the school headmaster (Mr Dzoro) had welcomed me, I learnt that the amazing stage was set for the Rhino Quiz competition events.
Over 200 parents and thrice as many students had gathered in the school grounds to proudly watch various rhino education performances and the quiz competition. The children had been training for months in their chosen events – gymnastics, art, drama and the main event – the Rhino Quiz. The prime seats at the stage were held by the local Headmen and district education officials. After the gathering’s opening procedures, the children nervously took their positions to start the day’s performances. The rhino conservation message was graphically displayed through gymnastics, poetry, art and drama. The crowds were thrilled and were left calling for more.
Afterwards, the main headline event, “the Rhino Quiz” commenced. Three teams lined up to compete. The quiz began in positive style as all the schools answered their first questions correctly and received big cheers from the crowds. By round four, Tapudzai team had taken a convincing lead by answering all their questions correctly and also finessed three additional questions incorrectly answered by other two teams. After the ninth and final round of questions, the hosting Tapudzai school team was way-ahead of their competitors. In addition to certificates, the winner, first and second runners-up received rhino prizes in the form of appropriately sized bundles of school exercise books. Students that excelled in the competition won additional stationery equipment for personal use.
The value of the prize offered to schools winning the Rhino Quiz will increase in proportion to the growth in the neighbouring rhino population each year – linking community benefits to successful rhino conservation. In 2013 the program is being expanded to all primary schools neighbouring Bubye Valley Conservancy as well.