Kids are back to school. Summer is over. Just the other day, a colleague asked how my summer was. I drew a blank and responded, “What summer?” Indeed, I work all year long, and for me a year is marked by only two seasons: the field season and the non-field season. Because my field season is about to start, I am busier than ever. And while we’re on the subject of school, let’s focus on the importance of education, more precisely, conservation education, since that will be one of my major undertakings this October.
In Guizhou, China, we are launching our second module of conservation education lessons and activities for the Little Green Guards, a program designed to promote habitat and species conservation by fostering positive attitudes toward nature and wildlife in rural schoolchildren living near nature reserves. Our program is based on the fact that a child’s knowledge about animals influences his/her beliefs and behavior toward them, and pro-animal learning experiences lead to pro-conservation behavior.
Last year, we completed a first-ever survey of Chinese rural schoolchildren’s attitudes toward, and perception of, wildlife. Similar to the results of surveys of schoolchildren conducted in the U.S. and other Western countries, these rural Chinese children preferred “beautiful” and domestic animal species over those they were afraid of, like spiders and snakes. Thus, the lessons and activities we are developing to help build positive attitudes toward animals must bear these existing preferences in mind.
For instance, because these schoolchildren can see monkeys in the wild, one might expect the monkey to be one of their most favored animals. And it was! This high ranking provides us with an avenue to explore the relationship monkeys have with plants and other animals in the local habitat. As for the more noxious species, we are also cultivating their understanding of the role each species plays in the ecosystem and teaching kids that “snakes need love, too” through our lessons.
Since we began the Little Green Guards program with our partner, Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve, we have attracted several in-country governmental and private entities—Guiyang Environmental Protection Bureau, Beijing Zoo, Wuhan Sante Cableway, and China Central Television—to help us broaden our efforts. This year our “Back-to-School Special” program will end on a high note—we are organizing a schoolyard concert that will involve students and teachers as well as family members. We are stepping out of the classroom and into the hearts of family and community to make conservation a relevant and engaging topic.
Our approach is effective because we are affecting those whose lives are the most dependent on the local natural resources; these rural people also represent the majority of the country’s population. The enthusiasm we are generating is not by chance. China is primed for conservation education. The time is now, and we are ready for the Little Green Guards’ second march!