Storytelling for conservation action

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Anti-rhino poaching campaign

May 1st 2014
Asked to comment on a project proposal for an anti-rhino poaching campaign, I noticed that it was very much an activity driven project proposal. My reaction was: “next time before starting to fill in the donor’s template make a short concept note that you circulate to others to get input”. Now it is difficult to give strategic advice as there is no real strategy. The project proposal immediately focuses on activities that seem to be fun and not on desired results in specific audiences. For me the main reasoning of such a concept note in should be something like this:
All signs indicate that Rhino poaching in Namibia will be an increasing issue in the very near future. The entry of international organized crime into Namibia will not only threaten species and decrease Namibia’s natural heritage and capital, but it also will introduce other forms of crime and corruption, damage Namibia’s reputation as a tourist destination, negatively affect the life of people in local communities to name only a few consequences. Legislation, law enforcement and economic measures alone will be insufficient to adequately tackle the issue. In reality what mostly happens is that politicians call for committees or expert meetings; national enforcement officers put an other priority on their list; local enforcement officers are confronted with again another priority and continue business as usual; other ministries look away as do small and medium enterprises who may suspect their clients are involved in illegal wildlife trade. In short these instruments may not work without a serious investment in awareness raising, attitude and behaviour change of a number of actors.
This project offers an opportunity to help realize a future without Rhino poaching in Namibia. A future of Namibia as an African country where rhinos and other wildlife flourish. A future where parliamentarians are keen to set the right priorities for appropriate legislation and governance. A future where law enforcement institutions and officers are aware of the challenges, are immune for bribes and motivated to take these challenges  head on. A future where the relevant ministries mobilize funds to provide financial incentives to local communities to monitor wildlife and immediately report crime or criminal intruders. A future where there is a broad support in Namibian society for all efforts to prevent, reduce and eradicate poaching, where travel agents, hotel owners, car rentals, restaurants and shop owners  do not facilitate in any way the stay and operations of people involved Rhino poaching. Where media give positive feedback on rhino conservation successes, where they provide education and are a channel for messages from local people and bottom-up initiatives. Where media make rhino conservation the talk of the town and stimulate word of mouth. A future where rhino is a broadly shared national emotion!
The vision of this project is that to reach such a future, one needs to raise awareness about the uniqueness of the rhino, its innocence, its beauty, its place in folk tales. People also need to know of the heroic activities of normal community members and organizations who in the past and today already are conserving the rhino, the opportunities for many in Namibia to better capitalize on the current rhino population, the negative impacts that wildlife crime will have on society if no action is taken, the concrete possibilities people have to contribute to rhino conservation. The way to raise this awareness is not by telling people what is good, but by appealing to their traditional value systems and link these values with the Rhino issue: how the rhinos in our community make us happy; how it is a longstanding tradition and normal in our society not to kill rhinos; how we view in our culture rhinos and other wildlife as integral part of our natural environment almost like family;  how we protect the innocent rhinos against poachers who want to earn a quick buck; how we see rhino conservation as part of our social justice in Namibia, how we see it as immoral to in anyway assist poachers and illegal traders.
The strategic initiatives this project offers – when designed and executed fast enough and well enough will make the vision described above a reality. The initiatives comprise activities of compiling and distributing local stories, individual stories, children’s drawings, songs, poems, music events, campfire events, competitions and other cultural activities that illustrate how traditional and cultural values link with rhino conservation. Some activities are focused on the general public and distributed through mass media. They provide the general messages and create the feel, emotion and motivation for a Namibian future with Rhinos and without poachers. Other activities are tailored strategically to specific audiences, e.g. schools, universities, parliamentarians, law enforcement, tourism SMEs etc. They appeal to specific emotions and values of each target audience and convey concrete messages of how they can contribute to a future of Namibia with rhinos and without poachers.  The activities are initiated by a coalition of government institutions and NGOs and coordinated by Natuye, with strategic advice of IUCN CEC. The costs of such a project far exceed the current budget of the proposal. If that is a problem you make this a pilot project that shows how it can work and explores ways to roll it out over the whole nation.

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