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The Living Desert Blog

We Are the World, Zimbabwe Edition

Dr. James Danoff-Burg November 6, 2019

After a really successful workshop in Botswana last week, I am here in Zimbabwe for workshop two! The closest town is Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, or across the bridge across the chasm that forms the incredibly beautiful Victoria Falls, is Livingstone, Zambia. However, we are deep into the bush, and well off the grid here in Sizinda, Zimbabwe, where Painted Dog Research Trust (PDRT) is based.

Although The Living Desert has only become partners with PDRT this year, they are our host for this edition of our Building Community Conservation Success social science workshop. While definitely rustic, the facilities definitely put you in touch with the land and its solar, hydrological, and thermal cycles! The people in the workshop, myself, and my super skilled co-instructor Dr. Kathayoon Khalil have all acclimated to the setting and are clicking along on all cylinders now that it is the start of Day 3.

Our workshop, devoted to developing the abilities to collect data from communities jibes well with the conservation work in the five countries of this region. There are points nearby where someone could walk between four countries in a day – Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana. This is such an international region that there is an organization called KAZA (the Kavango Zambezi Trans-Frontier Conservation Area) that works to harmonize the human and natural needs among these four countries and also nearby Angola. The participants in this workshop are all drawn from KAZA affiliated organizations and are leaders in their countries.

Each workshop has an emergent character or narrative. Here, the unique aspects include three main things. First, at least half of the participants are pursuing either an MA or PhD in conservation-related fields, which warms the cockles of my heart, which is too academically nerdy not to get excited! Second, The Heat. It’s nowhere near as hot as in Palm Desert, where we get up to 120˚F for a few months in the summer. However, the 100˚F we get daily can be tough without air-conditioning, particularly when our workshop space heats up at least 10˚F hotter than the peak heat outside. Third, we have a nice-sized workshop with 21 participants working in five countries. However, our total participant count is greater than 30, if you count the chickens that come in and out of the workshop several times a day. And, Dr. Kathayoon and I have had to compete with the clucking of the chickens while speaking. I believe that this may be my first time competing with chickens.

In any case, the teams are currently sifting through the 40-90 questions that they each created yesterday to use to assemble a first draft of their surveys. We have six teams that are working on projects ranging from reducing roadkill in Zimbabwe, to implementing an elephant coexistence plan for Angola, to encouraging community support for lion conservation in Namibia.

It’s an exciting morning, because at the end of today they will all have surveys that have been reviewed three times, and then pilot tested and improved. The emergent surveys should have further the coexistence goals of KAZA across this beautiful region, blessed with stunning wildlife and lovely humans.


Life is very good.

Hope you are well.

Yours in Conservation

Dr. James

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