African Nature Trail

Information

For over twenty years, the Chipangali Wildlife Trust, founded in 1973 by biologist Vivian Wilson, has served as a not-for-profit wildlife rehabilitation center and orphanage for Zimbabwe's injured, orphaned and confiscated animals. Many of the orphanage's larger inhabitants live in a 100 acre game park adjacent to rest of the orphanage. In 1995, the Walt Disney Company granted the Zoological Society of Philadelphia's ONE WITH NATURE conservation program $10,000 to support the development of a nature trail through the game park. By so doing, Chipangali would enhance its ability to educate Zimbabweans and tourists alike about the country's native wildlife.

The game park consists wholly of mixed woodland (predominantly Acacia species) habitat, and is home to a variety of captive orphans and free-ranging animals. The captive species are exclusively mammals and include: giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), zebra (Equus burchelli), greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), impala (Aepyceros m. melampus), and waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus). The free ranging animals include an abundance of invertebrates, a variety of amphibians and repptiles, over 100 species of birds, and a number of small mammals including the slender mongoose (Galerella sanguinea), elephant shrew (Elephantulus sp.) and scrub hare (Lepus saxatilis).

The nature trail project was conducted in two phases. I spent five weeks at Chipangali in August 1995 conducting a survey of game park animals and their spoor, doing research on the audiences the trail was intending to serve, and designing the actual trail. I returned to Chipangali in mid-November for four weeks during in order to supervise the construction of the trail, train a local guide in its interpretation and evaluate the project's educational effectiveness.

The project was a great success from all angles. The largest aspect of the venture, both in terms of effort and financial cost, was the reinforcement of the perimeter fence that was necessary before the introduction of small antelope species could begin. Those species included: klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus), steenbok (Raphicerus campestris) and common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia). The enhancement of the perimeter fence not only allowed the introduction of these species, making the game park fauna more complete in its representation of native wildlife, but also provided the added benefit of creating more open exhibit spaces for future orphans that will inevitably make Chipangali their home.

The survey element of the project was a collaborative effort included several local experts. Geologist Brian Thomson, Ph.D. provided his expertise on a variety of formations over and around which the trail passed. Botanical expertise was lent by Geoff Archer, Ken Blake and Betty Blake, who collectively identified nine species of Acacia trees alone.

In addition to researching the local flora and non-human fauna, I spent time researching the audiences the trail was intended to serve. The primary audience to be reached by the trail is schoolchildren with secondary audiences being casual visitors and tourist groups. Research on the primary audience involved in-school observations and interviews with local teachers. Research on the secondary audiences involved casual interviews with representatives of those visitors that were already coming to see the animals in the orphanage.

The final trail design incorporated a variety of ecological and geological themes including: predator/prey relationships, symbiosis, decomposition, plate tectonics, invasion by exotic species, and more. A total of eleven areas of interest were created, at which the guide stops and teaches a brief lesson about a particular concept. The trail is three kilometers (1.8 miles) in length, and with interpretation by the guide, takes 90 minutes to hike.

The two week period before the trail officially opened on December 9, 1995, was one of intensive training for Crispan, the local guide chosen to interpret the trail. It was also a period of evaluation of the trail's educational effectiveness. Over 60 students were "put through the paces" of the trail. All demonstrated learning as evidenced by a higher incidence of correct answers on post-tests given after the trail experience than on the pretests given before.

All parties involved in the creation of the trail are very satisfied. The staff at Chipangali is pleased not only with the design and effectiveness of the trail, but with a new source of income that will enable them to continue their work with endangered wildlife. Local teachers are happy that there is now a nearby facility that provides the children with an environmental education experience that is truly an immersion into local habitat. The children love the trail experience, rating "seeing the animals" and "being close to the animals" as their favorite parts. Of all sixty children, only one could come up with a way to make the trail better... the child asked if I could take away all the thorns that grow on Acacia trees.

Story by Heidi Jamieson

 


 


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