Lessons in Conservation trip: Beyond Borders

Vet Books for Africa is very excited to announce a friendship forming between us and Lessons in Conservation! Lessons in Conservation is a non-profit organisation that believes in educating children from underprivileged communities about conserving the natural world. They feel strongly about creating a lasting connection between people and wildlife. They also work to fund FGASA courses for deserving outstanding students in rural communities. Two of our members had the amazing opportunity to join the Lessons in Conservation Team on their own trip up into Africa this November and December!

Day 1 – 24 November 2019

They first arrived in the town of Musina to get some supplies and to fill up their gas tanks before entering Zimbabwe. On both sides of the border there were magnificent Baobab trees lining the road that gave them a taste of Wild Africa and what lied ahead. At the Beitbridge border post important lessons were learnt about how to cross African borders; valuable knowledge that will definitely be included in planning our 2020 Vet Books trip. Right after the border, the team encountered the dry, sandy Mopani bush that eventually gave way to scenic, green koppies absolutely covered by abundant bushes. After hours and hours of driving, signs of civilization became visible in the increasing number of villages and towns along the wobbly old road, until they arrived in the Capital. After a whopping 1600 kilometers, they ended their first day’s journey up at the home of Anesh Campbell, who treated them with a warm plate of food and plenty of tips on how to manage in the city of Harare.

Day 2 – 25 November 2019

The second day began with a Zimbabwean shopping experience, which was more challenging than a normal shopping trip with the added complexity of the Zimbabwean currency situation. This was something that we would have to keep in mind for our own trip next year. The day was spent at the Emerald Hill Children’s home in Harare, where they presented their first lesson to the children. Our members saw the LiC team in action for the first time and found them to be very impressive in the way they presented. One of the activities included making a food web by walking around and finding any ecological specimens. They were very lucky to find a flap-necked Chameleon, as it gave them the opportunity to show and explain their importance in the ecosystem, making a small but important break through their misinformed fear of reptiles.

The lessons were concluded with fun games with all the children. For the Vet Books members who have never worked with children to this extent, it was an amazing experience where they learned just as much from the children as they learned from them. After a very emotional goodbye they headed back home, feeling very proud of what was achieved. It was encouraging to see the children’s enthusiasm to broaden their knowledge about conservation. Vet Books can contribute a lot to the home and discussions already started with the staff of Emerald Hill on a possible visit during our time spent in Harare

Day 3 – 26 November

They departed from Harare with two very full cars en route to the Kanyemba border into Mozambique. They drove through the most beautiful countryside and every now and again stopped to take some pictures.

At the border they were met by Alex and his team who assisted them in getting their load of luggage and supplies out of the tightly packed vehicles and onto the two boats that would be their transport across the border and to their accommodations for the next week.

They found themselves at the point where the mighty Zambezi and Luangwa rivers met to mark the borders of Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. After a lovely cruise on the boats, they arrived at Chawalo Safaris and cooled off in the pool while absorbing the magnificent African sunset.

Day 4 – 27 November

The LiC team had discussions with the Chawalo staff about LiC’s mandate and what would be expected of them in the coming lessons as they knew that they were going to rely heavily on the staff to act as translators and mediators between them and the locals.

That afternoon they met with a few high-ranking government officials from the Zumbo area, who seemed delighted to have assistance with the increasing issues relating to overfishing, poaching and bush burning in the area. The day ended with some planning for their upcoming excursion on a boat cruise on the Zambezi and they were yet again treated with a spectacular sunset.   

Day 5 – 28 November

In the early hours of the morning, the team waited excitedly for the group of 15 children from Zumbo Secondary School to arrive, whom they would be working with for the next week. This group ranged in age from 13 to 22, but in general all had a basic understanding of the conservation problems facing the District of Zumbo and appeared to absorb the given information easily. Mike, the translator and one of the trackers from Chawalo Safaris, fetched the children in a converted Land Cruiser and arrived at camp at about 07:30. They escorted the children to the upstairs section of the main guest area where the lessons would take place. After an introduction of each person present at the lesson, they asked the children to complete a survey, to establish how much prior knowledge they had about conservation. Their first lesson titled “Nature Working Together” demonstrated how limited the earth’s resources are and explained how each organism is interconnected. They all took a break for biscuits and some juice before launching into the second lesson of the day, explaining the importance of the Big Five (In Africa, the Big Five game animals are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo).

The activities covered during the two lessons included creating their own food web, a race to determine who the “cheetah” of the group was, a lion hunt and the children themselves presenting some strategies to reduce extinction in the area. The children loved the activities and the team concluded that the children were the highlight of the day. The language barrier was as expected; however, Mike did a brilliant job of translating everything into Portuguese, ensuring each concept was relatable to the children. The LiC team drew hope from some of the ideas presented by the children on ways to conserve the resources of Zumbo and they hoped that these ideas would be spread through the community. At the end of the day, the LiC team feel very strongly that they didn’t want those children and their communities to co-exist in harmony with the natural environment because they had to, but because they wanted to.

In preparation for the next day’s lesson on insects, the team had the children set up insect traps, with the idea to let the children discover for themselves just how many insects there truly are in nature. The team concluded with the take home messages and a sandwich before bidding farewell to the excited group of children.

The LiC team and our two Vet Books members ended the day with a fun trip into the river channels, past several crocodiles and hippos. They felt a sense of freedom roaming in the waters beneath them and said that these were some of the fondest memories they brought home with them of Harare.

Day 6 – 29 November

This day combined a terrestrial excursion to a nearby waterhole and a short lesson about insects and the little five. The team briefed the children about what to expect on the walk they all would be embarking on and then split the children into two groups. They explained how to use reference books for birds and trees and then showed them some pictures so that they could practise their recently learnt skills. The excursion was successful largely due to the knowledge of the local guides, Paolo and Mike, and the chief of Zumbo village, Mr. Cordeiro. During the walks they found the spoor of several animals, a dung beetle rolling a dung ball and demonstrated the importance of water holes to the animals in the dry areas away from the river.

After returning to camp and having some refreshments, both the children and school teachers had a lot of burning questions. This was very encouraging as the children were clearly interested in all that they had found during their excursion. The walk focused on insects and so after the questions were answered they launched into the third lessons titled “The smaller things in life.” They explained and demonstrated the metamorphic cycle of insects, why insects are so important and introduced the Little Five (elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion, rhino beetle, buffalo weaver). They ended the lesson and the day by getting the children to dig some pitfall traps, the results of which would be analysed in the morning using the reference books. The day ended in a spontaneous football match that proved to be fun for everyone involved; the kids were extraordinarily fit and even competitive!

Day 7 – 30 November

The LiC team had by now established a good relationship with the children and their teachers and in the atmosphere they felt a general, much needed mindset shift in favor of preserving wildlife. Lesson four was all about “River systems” and was of important knowledge to impart on this particular group of locals, as the Zambezi River is a crucial lifeline to the region. The people relied heavily on the Zambezi for food and employment. The lesson began by asking the children why they believed the river was important and the team was very impressed by the quality of answers. Next, they identified some of the animals that make the river their home and provided information regarding the ecology of two of the most prevalent species in the region; hippos and crocodiles. They then created an aquatic food web and discussed the impacts that over fishing and other human activities have had on the health of the river system. The lesson ended with a discussion of possible threats to the river and forming solutions to these problems. One of the teachers mentioned how in Zambia the government has created regulations pertaining to fishing seasons and how this has been an effective strategy to maintain large populations of fish. We discussed this idea but identified the lack of proper implementation of current fishing laws as the major problem in this situation.

The fifth lesson was an eye opener for the children as they delved into some of the positives regarding snakes and spiders, creatures that are often cast in a negative light by community members. This lesson was enhanced greatly by the capturing of a Western yellow-bellied sand snake, a beautiful rodent-eating snake found in the area. Many of the children were frightened at first, but soon grew to appreciate the beauty of the snake, with some even mustering the courage to hold the reptile on their own.


They ended the day by demonstrating how crocodiles hunt their prey in a small pond not far from the lodge. This turned into a full-blown mud fight and an experience that will stay with the LiC team and the children for years to come.

Day 8 – 1 December

The final and potentially most important lesson of the intervention – creating awareness about employment in conservation – took place in the afternoon. Through this lesson the team relied on the staff of Chawalo Safaris to explain to the children what they do on a day to day basis. A highlight was the explanation given by game scout and tracker Paolo about the responsibilities involved in his profession. We also switched roles and got some of the children behind the lens of the camera, taking pictures of their friends in the soft glow of the early afternoon. The lessons were ended by Mr. Cordeiro, who affectionately became known as Madala, giving speech about the importance of conservation from his perspective and he gave instructions to each of the children to go out and spread the lessons they have learnt through this week with their friends and family. He said that he was extremely grateful for the Lessons in Conservation team coming and, following his observations of the children, was hopeful for the future of conservation in the Zumbo region. Following a safety briefing the children hopped on the boats for their second excursion, a trip along the river looking for some of the biodiversity they had learned about in the previous lessons. The children absolutely loved this, quite literally jumping for joy when they arrived on a sandbank to explore the smaller streams and channels. The way in which they responded to the questions asked and the subsequent questions from them to the team really demonstrated the impact these children experienced in such a short space of time. The teachers expressed the gratitude during the goodbye and asked if they could get access to the slideshows that was used to present the lessons so that they could continue to teach the children about conservation. Emotions were tangible from both sides as they said goodbye to an incredible group of young men and women, and the team could not help but notice that despite the language barrier, wildlife had once again transcended boundaries and united two groups of people who under normal circumstances may never have even met.

Teacher interview comments:

“Thank you for LiC coming to teach about conservation as previously we knew nothing about conservation. Please will you come back and help us to teach more children. We now understand why we must conserve rivers and animals, you are Fantastic. We will do our best to keep teaching the children about conservation and we are sure that your work will help increase the wildlife.”

Day 9 & 10 – 2 & 3 December

The team had an unexpected two full days for themselves, since the lesson plans were finished with the children sooner than expected. They used these days to catch up on administration, finish up their reports and promote their sponsors. All the while they soaked up the amazing piece of Africa they were surrounded with.

They visited a particular Baobab tree that one of the LiC members wanted them to see, with the plan of taking some pictures for a few of the LiC team’s sponsors: Ruggedwear and Mopani Pharmacy. Once the team reached the tree, they stood in awe at how immense the tree was. It was massive, looking like a few Baobabs had converged into this single mass, creating a giant of a tree standing tall and wide and proud.

On their last day, Paulo guided the team up to the top of the local Zumbu mountain. They began their journey quite early in the morning to avoid some of the day’s sweltering heat. Their viewpoint at the summit granted them an unparalleled view into the floodplains of the drainage basin where three countries met. The team was humbled by this amazing, sacred view of Africa.

Day 11 – 4 December

The team departed from Chawalo safaris and made their way back to Harare from the Kanyemba border post, were they were treated with the beautiful landscapes of Zimbabwe. After arriving at Harare, the team regained some needed energy in anticipation of teaching at Emerald Hill Children’s Home the following days.

The town of Zumbu was a bit less rural than northern Zimbabwe that the team had experienced the week before. They found a makeshift marketplace along what they assumed was to be a road, hearing interesting music playing and reducing the whole team into a bunch of dancers, entertaining the locals with their moves.

Day 12 – 5 December

The team had an early morning filled with shopping for food and supplies for the second leg of the trip. The LiC team had put our two Vet Books members, Xander and Zandré, in charge of organising the menu and budgeting for the food in order to help us prepare for our own 2020 trip. This was encouraging to hear, as they both share the portfolio of Routes and Itinerary and would need the practice!

At 1 pm they arrived at the Emerald Hill Children’s Home in Harare to set up and prepare for the  lessons at 2 pm. Being the last day of school for the kids before the Christmas holidays, we initially observed a lack of enthusiasm but after the first activity which consisted of finding an ant and giving it a name (the goal of the activity being to show the kids how plentiful ants are found all across the world) they went back into ultimate focus mode and their previous passion returned. It is believed that the cumulative experience at the home was a huge success, proved by the very emotional and heart-breaking surprise the kids prepared for the team… After playing various games with the children after the lessons as usual, the team was called back by the children to the make-shift classroom where they prepared a thank you and the song.

Every single LiC member had a hard time trying to keep tears from flowing, as it made a huge impression on all of them. It meant especially a lot to our two Vet Books guys as vet students who has been mainly exposed to the animal side of the story throughout their entire lives, they had never felt such a connection with other humans after making such a big impact in these kid’s lives. Realising that these orphans have gone through so much and hide so many scars of their pasts and through animals, education and ultimately conservation that they are able to recover and find their place in the world.

Again, we realised how important it would be if we could try and make a difference during our 2020 trip with supplies and even just a short afternoon filled with some teaching and good old fun and games.