Future conservation champions


Johannes Monyeki, an educator at the Lapalala Wilderness School discusses the importance of educating youngsters about conservation, hoping to create future leaders with a passion for our natural heritage

South Africa’s conservation challenges are daunting: the country is faced with rapid human population growth, and expanding agriculture, infrastructure and globalisation all place demands on its natural resources. To make things worse, climate change may already be responsible for extreme
weather events globally.

Given all these challenges, the Lapalala Wilderness School (LWS), located in the Waterberg region in the northwestern part of South Africa, has a crucial role to play. Some prefer to call it a school of life. We devote our time and energy to identifying and nurturing future conservation leaders – young people who will drive the agenda and spearhead innovative approaches in the field of conservation and wildlife management.

Youngsters get to face their fears and learn about different species.

The school is one of the greatest sources of potential conservation leaders, with around 3 000 children attending environmental education courses annually, and an additional 7 500 participating in the Eco-Schools Programme. A vital quality for a conservation leader is a passion for the environment, coupled with an enthusiasm for becoming involved in applied environmental activities.

The work of the school is made possible by the dedicated team led by director Mashudu Makhokha, who has built up a well-deserved reputation for running an excellent environmental education programme over many years.

Environmental education programmes emphasise the need to protect the biodiversity and ecosystems involved in supporting life – especially to the very poorest children from our rural communities. The majority of local communities in the Waterberg are directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. The key resources include grazing for animals, wood, water, and access to productive land, all of which are under pressure and threatened by increasing human populations. Other threats include widespread poverty, global inequality, inappropriate economic frameworks, and inadequate education and training facilities.


Teambuilding at Lapalala Wilderness School.

As the guardians of our future, young people have a critical role to play in conservation. South Africa’s rhinos pangolin, cycads and many other animal and plant species are under threat. We believe that the youth can play a key role in helping to save them. It is for this reason that we host a public speaking competition, in conjunction with the My Planet Rhino Fund on World Rhino Day each year. Grade 10 learners from schools in areas at risk to poaching prepare speeches on a topic relevant to the rhino crisis.

Sarah Seroke, an educator from EDL Rampola Secondary School in Limpopo says, “The competition has a huge impact on the participants, as it deals with the perception among local communities that biodiversity does not deliver tangible socio-economic benefits, particularly to the poor. It is through this competition that communities see social upliftment and empowerment of the younger generation to attain critical thinking skills and get involved in solving real issues like rhino poaching.”

Written by Johannes Monyeki. Photos: Johannes Monyeki and Mashaka Sadiki

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