“What Makes a Community?” is the big question being asked this week at Chevron Open Minds Zoo School by grade 3’s from the Calgary French and International School. They have investigated many parts of their zoo community: observing penguins, finding endangered animals in the Canadian Wilds and learning about Swift Fox conservation from a Calgary Zoo conservation research expert. But perhaps the most significant insight into what makes a community came from travelling to the Eburu Forest in Kenya with the help of some vivid storytelling by Andrea Beaty, Zoo School Coordinator, who recently returned from the area. The students wanted to find out how the Calgary Zoo is helping to save the Mountain Bongo from extinction and learn more about this elusive forest antelope.
In the Eburu Forest we met our guide and community conservation expert, Donna Sheppard. She is the Calgary Zoo’s Community Conservation Specialist who is working with the local people to help save the Mountain Bongo. There are less than 100 Mountain Bongo alive in the world, perhaps only 10-12 in Eburu. Donna Sheppard has a challenging job, alongside trackers from the local community they go into the forest to search for Mountain Bongo, setting camera traps in remote jungle forests to take photographs. They face long days trekking through thick bush, avoiding stinging nettles, safari ants and the large, and often ill-tempered, Cape Buffalo!We also learned about another side to saving the Mountain Bongo, working with the local community. Without community support and understanding of the conservation work being done, Donna’s job would be much more challenging. Donna works tremendously hard to build relationships with the local people by visiting schools and wildlife clubs in the local area with her co-worker, fellow environmental educator and local Kenyan – Peter Munene. Working together, Donna and Peter help to share the important conservation story of the Mountain Bongo and seek out ways to better the lives of the local people along the way. At Kambura-Ini School in Kenya, the students were asked to share through art, what they love about nature in their community. We discovered that what they loved about nature shared some common themes with our students from Calgary French and International School – trees, mountains, forests, animals, fruit, and lakes were shown in the displays from both countries. There is a Swahili saying in Kenya “Tupo pamoja”, which means “we are all together.” This simple art display demonstrates how students on two different continents can come together in their own communities to share their love and knowledge of wildlife, connected through the conservation of a species.
So, when asked the question: “What makes a community?” hopefully the students from Calgary French and International School might tell you - working together for a common purpose makes a community. To ensure the survival of the Mountain Bongo and other species around the world, it certainly takes a global community.
~ Dawn Hardy, Zoo School Assistant Coordinator