A collection of children’s leopard drawings with a photograph I took last year in Botswana.
Today’s blog relates to the culmination of our year-long intensive conservation and health education classes with a terrific group of 200 plus children and their classroom teachers. By this point in our program, we’ve spent an extensive amount of time explaining what makes Volcanoes National Park a healthy ecosystem and why the health of the forest has significance in our daily lives however challenging our days may be. Our students now understand that not only is the survival of the critically endangered mountain gorilla of great import, but the other forest inhabitants well-being is just as vital. Hence our recent and comprehensive look at the golden monkey, bushbuck, forest buffalo, and rodentia… a beautiful cast of characters!
Most of the forest animals have been seen by the children outside of the park which led the team and I to speak to this human/wildlife conflict with discussions and eventually possible solutions on paper as the hands-on activity. It’s always nice to come away with possible solutions rather than perpetual feelings of defeat or fright.
Yes, the leopard conjures up feelings of fright for the children but after viewing this animal in other ways I noticed the children were much more open to the concept of being its neighbor albeit with a certain set of respectful boundaries!
Learning about leopards.
We get to a point in our discussion when children and the AoC team alike share leopard folklore. The stories are priceless. Valerie shares with us her experiences of growing up in the Rwandan countryside as a member of the Abanyankuzo people which, by the way, the Abanyankuzo girls are known as being very intelligent, of course! Valerie, as a little girl, remembers hearing that when a mother delivers her baby a leopard will come round the house to kiss the newborn and then leave.
At a young age, Valerie was also told that it was taboo to say ‘leopard’ at night before going to bed because a leopard would then come and kill them in their sleep. If she or one of her siblings uttered the word ‘leopard’ they would quickly say, “Nkoze ku gahera ndi umugenzi nawe ukaba undi.” Saying these Kinyarwanda words would prevent the leopard coming during the night to harm them.
Also, when the bird called ‘rushorera’ in Kinyarwanda would call out its warning this would alert Valerie and her siblings that a leopard was near. Upon hearing the rushorera, you can be sure that Valerie and her siblings would immediately run to their house for saftey.
Innocent, Olivier, Eric, and Eusebe have also gathered invaluable stories about the leopard which we will continue to share with you.
Eusebe at the chalkboard leading the children in a leopard drawing.
I receive mixed information from children and adults as to whether or not leopards are still in and around Volcanoes National Park. It may be that they are found mostly on the DRC side of the Virungas. I also tend to think that our students get civets, genets, and African cats mixed up with leopards. Hopefully now after our lesson they have a better understanding of this beautiful and elusive animal and the many threats it faces. Excessive hunting and loss of habitat are two threats that all the animals are facing and which we hope our students fully recognize.
Our health and the health of wildlife is inextricably connected. We should feel it our duty to care and protect the forests and animals no matter what part of the world we live in.