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…and it’s a wrap!

Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg November 7, 2019

Well, after a very hot week, we have successfully completed our Zimbabwe social sciences workshop. Thank goodness that we had at least two days with ample rain to cool things down a bit overnight. There was a third evening with rain, but it was too little to make any difference. All of us were grateful for and enjoyed the lodging, facilities, and rustic setting provided by our conservation collaborators Painted Dog Research Trust. We all were at least as grateful for the breaks in the heat when they came!


Teaching a five-day event like our Building Community Conservation Success social science workshop is no small feat. When I have done them by myself, as in Botswana most recently, I am completely exhausted by the end. Keeping my enthusiasm for the material high is a challenge. As such all my energy, my mood, my sleep, and importantly to my sense of humor go into the workshop! Little things go wrong all the time – the tea breaks are late, there is a glitch in the projector, the inevitable post-lunch sleepiness, irrelevant discussions, and many others pop up daily. However, I feel the need to play up the “dog and pony show” while presenting the otherwise very dry and theoretical materials. Keeping the mood light and people entertained is essential to ensure that people understand the theory so that they can apply them to the practical applications that are core to the experience.


I did however learn after the last time that I taught two week-long classes solo, and back to back as in May earlier this year in Kenya and then Tanzania. I was able to hold it together until the evening of the last night in the second one. Then, I immediately came down with something that was like a two day long flu (malaria?) and shortly after that my back went out – for nearly three weeks. Yowza. I am slow to learn that I am not invulnerable, but even I finally was able to learn something there.


This time around, I was able to co-teach the first of the week-long classes that I have yet with my good friend and impressive colleague Dr. Kathayoon Khalil. Dr. Kathayoon (as everyone called her in Zimbabwe) was the best possible person I could have been blessed to co-teach with! She is funny, engaging, and of course whip-smart. Plus, she is also able to keep people interested, even when the room we had to use for the workshop was pushing 115˚F. People like Dr. Kathayoon are a rare and special type. We are already plotting our next co-taught courses! Maybe Uganda and Kenya in 2020? We will see…


In any case, our Zimbabwe workshop will hopefully prompt some transformations in how conservation is done regionally. The five nations that are a part of the Kavango Zambezi Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (KAZA) Network were all represented between the Botswana and Zimbabwe workshops – thanks largely to the recruiting efforts by Dr. Greg Rasmussen of Painted Dog Research Trust. Dr. Rasmussen is the founder of PDRT and also of Painted Dog Conservation – the two largest African painted dog conservation organizations in the world. He is seemingly connected with every carnivore conservationist among these five nations.


Dr. Rasmussen had hoped that our workshop would help to address two of the five major KAZA Network goals: improving community conservation and building capacity among organizations involved in KAZA. I do hope that Dr. Kathayoon and myself were able to make that wish happen.


Based on the evaluations of the 23 people from 13 organizations and five countries, it seems that we have been able to further those two KAZA goals. The workshop averages for the three questions about whether they will implement the project that they developed, will continue using these skills in their other work, and whether they will stay in touch with us were all 4.89 out of 5.00.


I am pretty confident that our impact will be as high as my mood and my body is as I write this. Currently, I am winging along over Turkey at 34,000 feet en route home. Plus, the heat has finally broken around Victoria Falls after a few days of measurable rain, so I hope that our newfound friends and colleagues are also excited about the drop in temperatures.


Happily, I am not ill and my back is also seemingly okay – thanks both to taking better care of myself this go-around, and to getting to teach with my fantastic co-instructor. Kathayoon: let’s do this again soon!


I feel really honored and blessed to work alongside some of the greatest scientists, conservationists, zoo staff, and colleagues I have ever met. This is true both for those at The Living Desert (Clearly, the best zoo in the country if the Yelp Reviews are to be believed, and for good reason, if I can be so bold!) and for the 126 people from 33 conservation organizations across 9 countries that have now participated in these week-long Building Community Conservation Success social science workshops.


I am optimistic that we are changing conservation by building the abilities for conservationists to include the views and participation of local communities into their actions. If we continue to be successful with these workshops, it will be very much for the better for nature and for people.


Thank you all for reading these notes. I hope that you’ve enjoyed that half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. More soon!


Hope you are well.

Yours in Conservation,

Dr. James

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