Developing an informed and empathetic ‘constituency’ is essential for the long-term conservation of the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin (Sousa teuszii). That is the conviction of SOS Grantee Tim Collins working with IUCN Member Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Mayumba National Park, Gabon and the Conkouati-Douli National Park (CDNP) in Congo.
Some of the conservation issues affecting Sousa teuszii in these areas can be tackled with direct intervention. Recent work with artisanal fishers to free the coastal strip and to intercept trawlers is a good example. Changing attitudes can be trickier, however.
So the prospect of participating in a week-long Festival de la Biodiversité in Congo’s second city, Pointe Noire, seemed an ideal opportunity to capitalize on the ongoing stakeholder engagement activities taking place in CDNP.
Opinions among fishing communities can be strong and the lack of awareness profound according to Tim. Project stakeholders range from children in rural villages to senior parks management officials and the methods needed range from informal discussions to fully developed curricula and stakeholder meetings.
Thus far, the main effort had been focused on children and fishers. This is because fishers are engaged on a routine basis as part of the project’s monitoring work and during routine stakeholder meetings convened by the park management.
Further, outreach officers using a curriculum developed as part of this project regularly visit children living near CDNP. Both approaches work, but require patience and energy. “Sharing messages can be a challenge, especially in places where environmental values are largely utilitarian and fatalistic; many people believe that nature provides according the whims of a higher power, thus removing themselves from any responsibility to manage their actions”.
The festival was sponsored by the l’Institut Français du Congo and co-organisers included the NGOs Renatura and Styl’Oblique as well as the Regional Directorate of the Environment. Held in in three different locations in the city over the course of the week, participants included local schools, local authorities (including the Mayor), businesses, the public and media.
Using art and short theatre performances the project team’s objective was to present and promote the educational work conducted in the villages of CDNP. These were in general well attended by a wide range of festival-goers while festival organizers estimated a total attendance in excess of 100,000 people, including the television audience.
“The level of participation was hugely encouraging. We were able to share the good news on a local level. People, and particularly children, were very engaged in our activities and many of them went home having learned about the very rare dolphin that lives secretly on their shores”.
What is more, the visibility made an impression back at the project location. With news of the festival relaying back to fishers near CDNP, the humpback dolphin constituency just got a little stronger.
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