The Tail of Sylvester – July 2013
Many people fear predators, especially big cats such as lions, leopards and cheetahs. We are often taught to fear carnivores without understanding their unique behaviours, special adaptations, and essential roles in the maintenance of healthy ecosystems.
Our attitudes and misconceptions about these species have led to their population decline because many people deal with their fear by eliminating the problem, the predator. Endangered species exist in low-population numbers and need intensive long-term management in order to survive. If we hope to save these magnificent species, such as the cheetah, we need to work to shift people’s perceptions of these big cats. Through education about the reasons why species are endangered, we can all learn how healthy ecosystems are crucial and what will occur if we continue to pollute the environment and destroy habitats. Environmental/conservation education programs play a key role in working together to change the attitudes and behaviours that have led to the demise of predator species and help save them from extinction. Individuals can make a difference!
To appreciate predators, we must first understand their roles in wildlife communities. Due to the fact that predators must kill other animals in order to survive, many myths about carnivores have evolved over the centuries in many different cultures. The plight of cheetahs symbolizes the problems that many predators face throughout the world.
Cheetahs are on the decline because of:
- Loss of habitat and prey to commercial/free-hold farming and development
- Prosecution by farmers for livestock-killing/ conflict animals (Human/Wildlife Conflict)
- Poaching or the illegal taking of an animal
If we are to conserve healthy wildlife populations in the 21st century, we must understand the ways of animals and recognize their importance to our own survival as humans. Wild species maintain healthy ecosystems, provide us with food, shelter, and clothing, benefit us economically and improve the qualities of our lives by their existence.
While cheetahs were once found all over Africa, they are now limited in numbers in most of their former ranges. Cheetahs do not pose a threat to human life. People continue to kill cheetahs because they believe cheetahs kill livestock as well as other domestic animals, causing excessive economic loss. In reality, the amount of damage to domestic stock is exaggerated and is usually caused by a limited number of livestock-preying cats, or “conflict” animals, and inadequate livestock practices. Despite these problems, cheetahs do have a chance for survival on the vast farmlands of southern Africa.
Youth education and understanding the plight of wild animals are paramount to helping the cheetah of Africa win its race for survival. The ultimate success of projects such as the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust’s educational program depends on us all, but especially those of you who are teachers and students. By supporting our work you become part of an international effort to save this vulnerable species. Together we can work to conserve our world’s rich biological diversity. By participating in environmental education, you become someone who cares for our land, its wildlife, and the future young people today will inherit.
Luis Mutandadzi, Gift Siziba and Bongani Dhlodhlo are an integral part of our conservation projects. They carry out school projects each and every Friday with schools within a 40km radius around Victoria Falls. The conservation activity contains information on life sciences, social studies, and human wildlife conflict. Elephant encounters, as well as the use of Sylvester the Cheetah to show the children firsthand what it is like to see and feel one of these amazing animals is a key part of the conservation interaction. The hope is that the interaction will help motivate the students to think critically about individual and communal efforts to conserve wildlife and to act constructively to improve our world’s environment.
Educating the YouthYouth education and understanding the plight of wild animals are paramount to helping the cheetah of Africa win its race for survival.
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