For my PhD research I have met people from lots of communities in and around the Soutpansberg Mountains. Just over a month ago I went to a Sepedi community called Indermark which is at the base of the neighbouring Blouberg Mountain.
The Lajuma Research Centre has a long connection with this community through the work of Lajuma owner, Retha Gaigher, who was devoted to supporting the crèche. Since Retha passed away in November 2012, her husband, Ian Gaigher, has continued to support the crèche. However there has been very little face to face engagement from Lajuma researchers over the past few years.
I met with Fredericka who manages the crèche and she helped me to connect with farmers and traditional healers for my PhD interviews. Although I spent much of the day out in the community, the glimpse I had of the crèche impressed and inspired me. I asked Fredericka if I could bring some of our research assistants to visit and whether we could lead some environmental education about the animals we study with the small children. She accepted gladly.
Upon arrival, myself and four PPP research assistants were mobbed by smiling faces.
We created three laminated posters with photographs of animals from our camera traps to hang on the walls of the crèche. We made a predator themed poster, a prey themed poster and an animal alphabet poster. These were also shared at the landowners’ braai days before. We did a presentation to the children where we talked about the animals. Fredericka helped to translate what we were saying into Pedi.
Although the crèche is in close proximity to the Blouberg Mountain where animals like leopards, hyaenas, impala and baboons live, the children of the community have very little exposure to them. We hope that by seeing the photos on their wall they will learn more about the biodiversity of the area and become more aware of the wildlife. Below is the view of the mountain from the crèche’s vegetable garden.
In order to teach the children how the photos on the poster were taken we set up two camera traps in the playground and let the kids run around in front of them. We then showed them the photos on a computer.
To finish the day off we played a running around game with the kids and did animal face painting.
The research assistants didn’t want to miss out on getting their faces painted too. Here’s Marion the leopard.
Below is the PPP researchers with the crèche staff and children in a ‘Where’s Wally?’ style photo.
As well as hopefully helping the children gain a more positive and informed view of wildlife, I think the assistants learned a lot about life off the mountain and I think Retha would have been pleased that the engagement she campaigned so hard for has continued through the Primate and Predator Project.