Richard K.B. Jenkins
Take a few hundred youngsters, stir in some unsuspected facts and, for spice, toss in a colorful video in their own language, then add some paper and colored pencils. Top it off with a few prizes, and you’ve got a hard-to-beat recipe for bat conservation.
Two conservation groups in Madagascar found that teacher training in “Bats and the Environment,” coupled with visits to remote schools and a popular bat-poster contest, magnified their message well beyond children. Parents, officials and whole villages were drawn into their efforts to protect the Madagascar flying fox. This successful effort was funded in part by a grant from Bat Conservation International’s Global Grassroots Conservation Fund.
We focused our efforts on grade schools in an area of eastern Madagascar with both a rare intact belt of rain forest and several flying-fox colonies that are vital to the health of the island’s fragmented rain forests because of the seeds they disperse. Protecting these colonies will pay real dividends for the region’s remaining rain forests.
During teacher-training workshops, we planned the poster competition as an effective way for teachers to incorporate their new knowledge about bats into their classrooms. Each class was given 20 pencils, 20 sets of colored pencils and entry forms for the poster contest.
We also presented at each school a bat-conservation video in the Malagasy language. The video was a big hit, especially since the schools have no electricity and the children rarely see films. In addition to 1,034 students and 39 teachers, a total of 1,319 parents and others watched the video. After the film, the children were charged up and ready to work on their posters.
Nine regional winners, along with five teachers, received their awards at a regional World Environment Day celebration attended by top local officials.
Meanwhile, a local flying-fox conservation group – Arongam-pahiny Culture, Communication and Environment – and local-government authorities in the region agreed, in principle, to plan and enforce sustainable management of the remaining forest fragments and the flying foxes. This is especially important in an area where flying foxes are hunted for food.
Bat conservation is a new concept in Madagascar. Our initial efforts have been impressive, and have the potential to provide hope to other parts of Madagascar where local communities seek to conserve fruit bats.