by Emma Carey | Program Assistant
It has been a lifelong dream of mine to travel to Africa to see all of the amazing wildlife that inhabits the continent. This past July, I was able to realize this dream through Miami University of Ohio’s Project Dragonfly graduate program, which took me to the beautiful country of Namibia!
During the program, we stayed at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), which is a research and education center dedicated to the conservation of cheetahs and other local predators, spent time in Etosha National Park, and even visited a local women’s conservancy. The focus of the program was human-wildlife conflict and the conservation of predators, and I learned so much about conservation, community engagement, and myself. We got to hear from educators about how they are striving to incorporate conservation into schools, leading conservationists about how to engage communities in conservation, scientists conducting groundbreaking studies on the tracking, monitoring, and rehabilitation of wildlife, and even local farmers about their relationship with the ecosystem.
I loved seeing so many incredible animals in their natural habitat – I screamed the first time I saw an elephant in Etosha (which is a big faux pas in the national park). One of my favorite experiences, however, was getting to participate in the CCF’s annual waterhole game count. The Cheetah Conservation Fund owns lots of land surrounding their facility that is preserved for wildlife, which includes 14 waterholes, and once a year they conduct a 12-hour count of the animals that visit them. We were paired off, and sent out to watch the waterholes from blinds from before sunrise to sunset. My partner and I actually didn’t see anything for the first FIVE hours of our count, but once things started showing up, it was awesome! Some of the highlights were watching warthogs wallow in the mud and seeing a young kudu (a type of antelope) leap through the water. Even though we didn’t see nearly as many animals as some of the other groups, I thought it was incredible to be able to contribute to the data that CCF has been collecting for years in order to track game populations.
Namibia taught me that conservation is not black and white – there is a lot of grey area in terms of who is responsible for conservation and what conservation of predators means to farmers who are just trying to raise their livestock to make a living. The farmers emphasized how conservation is a luxury, so sustainable practices need to be beneficial for everyone involved in order to be effective. As Johan, a cow farmer in the community, says, “If it pays, it stays!”
I am now in my second year of this graduate program, and will graduate in December of 2019 with a Master of Arts in Teaching in Biology after one more trip, and I am excited to see where I will end up next. I have already learned so much about people’s relationship with nature and I am eager to learn more about how to inspire others to participate in the conservation of our planet!