North Carolina Zoo believes in the power of education both for our visitors and abroad. Through our UNITE for the Environment program, the Zoo is training Ugandan teachers to be better environmental educators and stewards of the natural world. With our support, teachers, their students, and wider communities can better protect Uganda’s forests and charismatic forest animals such as chimpanzees.
Our UNITEd Approach
The North Carolina Zoo’s UNITE for the Environment has been operating around Uganda’s Kibale National Park for over 15 years. Kibale National Park is a critical conservation area with the largest chimpanzee population in East Africa. UNITE employs three Ugandan staff members who run the program year-round. UNITE works in partnership with schools that are within a 5-km radius of Kibale National Park to improve teaching methods, to enable teachers to incorporate more environmental topics into the classroom, and to help the local community find ways to reduce their impact on the neighboring National Park. This is done through teacher workshops, school field trips, work with head teachers (i.e. principals), and creation of conservation clubs. The program is carefully evaluated through classroom observations, student evaluations, and school and home visits.
A Sustainable Solution
UNITE for the Environment has always focused on sustainable activities and incorporated these into existing trainings. While the program has been successful in creating greater environmental awareness among students and teachers, and in improving teacher performance, home visits to evaluate behavior change conducted in 2015 had demonstrated that sustainable activities covered in trainings were not necessarily being implemented at schools and at home. To address this challenge, UNITE has recently started focusing all its training sessions on a single sustainable activity. Behavioral changes are further encouraged by accompanying initial training sessions with follow-ups, discussion of challenges, lesson plan development around the activity, and problem-solving solutions. This allows for our program to be truly collaborative with the teachers and communities as we work together to find solutions to problems impacting both livelihoods and the environment.
Stoves that Protect the Forest
Since 2016, UNITE has focused on building fuel efficient stoves as one of its main sustainable activity. Use of these stoves should reduce the demand for firewood, and thus deforestation pressure in Kibale National Park, an important site for chimpanzees. To further help reduce deforestation pressure, UNITE has also facilitated a program for planting tree species that can generate the most efficient fuelwood for the stoves. Since this shift, 12 UNITE schools have built over 250 stoves at schools and in their community and planted over 3000 trees for fuelwood. To experience first-hand how efficient the fuel-efficient stoves are, participants during a June 2018 workshop compared the time and amount of fuel needed to cook a cup of rice using the traditional open-fire cooking method and the fuel-efficient stoves. One club patron mentioned how this experiment really open the eyes of the students to the benefits of the stoves.
Reducing Waste in the Environment
Another way the Zoo’s UNITE program protects Uganda’s natural heritage is through sensible waste management. Plastic debris and its improper disposal poses a threat to both human and environmental health. Teachers, student, and UNITE staff have been coming up with creative solutions to solve this problem. For example, in 2017 UNITE partnered with local teachers to build incinerators, which enables schools in the region to reduce the amount of waste such as plastic that can potentially be dumped into the environment after use. Part of this effort includes sorting biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste; this sorting reduces the amount of material that gets incinerated, while biodegradable material are turned into compost that can be used for farming.
Most teachers and students around Kibale National Park rely on farming for subsistence. Beginning in 2018, the UNITE program started a three year initiative focused specifically on sustainable farming. Teacher trainings and field trip activities will focus around ways to improve farming outputs while reducing environmental degradation. Initially the focus has been on ways to create effective kitchen gardens, where fresh vegetables can supplement other crops to make for a healthy diet. By focusing on sustainable practices, the community can reduce its use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that can damage environmental and community health. Improving farming practices is another great way to reduce habitat degradation in Kibale National Park and thus protect the chimpanzees and other wildlife.
An Award-Winning Program
The UNITE for the Environment has received several awards in recognition of the work we do with communities to make a difference for conservation. For example, in 2015, UNITE staff member Tinka John was awarded the Disney Conservation Hero Award in recognition for his efforts to protect wildlife and wild places and engage communities in conservation and the program was awarded a substantial Disney Conservation Fund grant. Then, in 2017, UNITE staff member Bruce Ainebyona was awarded the Charles Southwick Conservation Education Commitment Award by the International Primatological Society in recognition of his commitment to conservation education and the success of our UNITE program.
Partners: Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Kibale National Park, Uganda Wildlife Authority