News Release

On the Campaign Trail for Atlantic Humpback Dolphins

04 February 2015
Raising awareness among local stakeholders is integral to the project's success
Photo: WCS

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.

Low awareness and strongly held opinions among fisher communities represent real challenges for Atlantic humpback dolphin conservation Photo: T. Collins, WCSOpinions 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 Reaching a broader audience at the Festival de la Biodiversité in Pointe Noire also helps legitimize the message back in CDNP Photo: WCSbasis 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 There was a strong emphasis on audience participation, be it through songs, art or performance Photo: WCSaccording 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), Outreach officer Robert Nkala describes some of the species in the park to a festival goer Photo: WCSbusinesses, 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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Protecting threatened species is critical because in so doing we are protecting parts of our life support system. Wildlife and nature supply us with so many basic necessities from food to fuel and shelter, but also inspiration in art, language and design to name but a few examples. Right now we are protecting more than 200 species. Please contribute to SOS to help us continue to protect more of our natural heritage.

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