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15.5: Environmental Education and Leadership

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    Every year, conservation biologists acquire a vast body of knowledge from projects all over Africa and beyond. Yet, this information is often only communicated at small working groups and specialised meetings, published as technical papers in scientific journals with expensive subscription fees, or worse, not communicated at all. This leaves the general public detached from conservation work which, in turn, gives them (especially people living in urban centres) a sense that they live independent from nature and the knowledge gained by scientists. It also creates opportunities for wilful ignorance, where citizens can normalize the environmental damage caused by their activities. To avoid these scenarios, conservation biologists need to be more proactive in outreach and environmental education, which aims to raise the public’s awareness and knowledge about the environment so they can adjust to live more sustainably.

    One of the best ways to raise the public’s environmental awareness is to involve them in local conservation projects, especially those that include fieldwork and site visits. Citizen science projects, as discussed above, present one of the most effective strategies. The public could also be invited to a guided tour where they are introduced to your organization’s activities or provided with volunteer opportunities for stewardship workdays at a local protected area. During such workdays, ordinary citizens might help with tasks, such as invasive plant control, nest box installation, and recording wildlife behaviors. An effective public relations program can also connect people who want to engage with conservation; such a program may involve conservation exhibits in public spaces, articles written by conservation biologists for local magazines and newspapers, or public presentations.

    Children and youth are one of the most important audiences for environmental education and outreach efforts. Exposing children to the wonders of the natural world instils in them a personal sense of competence, ethics, and environmental awareness that will last a lifetime (Johnson et al., 2013). These children can also influence their parents’ attitudes and behavior towards environmental issues (Damerell et al., 2013). Ignoring children during outreach events, or recruiting ill-prepared teachers (Nkambwe and Essilfie, 2012), may however turn children against the environment, which they may see as a dangerous place detached from their own lives (Adams and Savahl, 2013). It could also lead to nature deficit disorder, a situation where spending less time in nature leads to behavioral problems (Louv, 2005). Consequently, many conservation organizations are now sponsoring and establishing schools to ensure young children are exposed to the importance of the environment. Others are working with children by hosting school groups, screening documentaries, publishing children’s books, and offering field programs and school outings to nearby protected areas.

    Exposing children to the wonders of the natural world instils in them a personal sense of competence, ethics, and environmental awareness that will last a lifetime.

    Environmental education and outreach cultivates the next cohort of conservation leaders. Today, young African conservationists can develop their leadership skills by pursuing funding opportunities to attend conferences and workshops, and fellowships to study at research institutes affiliated with local universities (Box 15.4). Some people might also be interested in the South African Wildlife College and College of African Wildlife Management, both which specialise in preparing students for a career in wildlife management. Several prestigious awards are also available that provide African youth conservation leaders with the resources they need to achieve their goals. Many conservation NGOs are also increasingly focussed on building leadership capacity through exposure to real-world conservation dilemmas. For example, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), combat pangolin poaching in Central Africa through a specially designed mentoring program in which young conservationists shadow experiences professionals to learn best practices in field assessments, legal protection, and demand reduction.

    Box 15.4 The Contribution of Education Towards Conservation in Africa

    Shiiwua Manu1,2 and Samuel Ivande1,2

    1AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI),

    University of Jos Biological Conservatory,

    Laminga, Jos-East LGA, Nigeria.

    2Department of Zoology, University of Jos,


    Improving the capacity of local people to appropriately manage natural resources in their domain is vital and fundamental for the successful conservation of biodiversity. This is usually a core objective of several environmental conservation organizations. Approaches to achieve this have often ranged from organising awareness campaigns, establishing sustainable livelihood programs, delivering workshops to provide technical support and training to individuals, local groups, government agencies and policy officers.

    One model to highlight is the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) model. APLORI, focused on academic training, founded a research institute and field station in 2001 to train graduate students at masters and doctorate levels in conservation biology, and to facilitate research in a tropical savannah environment (Figure 15.E). APLORI is in the Amurum Forest Reserve—one off Nigeria’s key Important Bird Areas—and was established following an understanding between the Leventis Foundation, the University of Jos, Nigeria Conservation Foundation, and the Laminga community of Jos East—the reserve’s host community.

    Figure 15.E (Top) Dayo Osinubi, contributor to the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbirds Action Plan, participates in a workshop aimed at developing local capacity to influence policy at various levels across Africa. (Bottom) Shiiwua Manu fitting a unique ring onto the legs of a masked weaver (Ploceus spp.) during an APLORI mist netting session. Photographs by Will Cresswell, CC BY 4.0.

    One key vision of the institute is to train and equip the students who will eventually be in the driving seat of ecological and conservation research and policy in the region. To date, APLORI has trained 104 students at the master’s level, with about 37 of these graduates going on to pursue doctorate degrees. APLORI is also host to many research projects needing a West African base; so far it has supported tropical ecological research for over 25 researchers from various leading universities across Europe and America. This also ensures that students at APLORI benefit from the expertise of visiting researchers.

    After 14 years of APLORI’s existence, its graduates have begun to occupy key positions working at the frontlines to advance ecological research in the region. Of the Institute’s 104 graduates, 88% are actively engaged in teaching and research and are influencing policy at various universities, NGOs, and governmental agencies across Africa at various levels. At least four of these graduates are in leadership positions in important NGOs in the region including BirdLife Africa, Flora & Fauna International in Liberia, and A.G. Leventis Foundation.

    The involvement of these graduates has greatly advanced the scope and quality of ecological research in the region. This is evidenced by the over a hundred published articles in international journals. A review of the research projects and publications from the institute indicates that the research scope is steadily advancing from simple biodiversity inventories and distribution updates to more detailed studies of population trends and dynamics, as well as aspects of animal behavior, foraging, breeding, and genetic and molecular studies of tropical species and Palearctic migrants.

    Much of APLORI’s research uses birds to better understand the tropical environment. For example, observing breeding and migratory movements of some Afrotropical species like Abdim’s stork (Ciconia abdimii, LC), black coucal (Centropus grillii, LC), rosy bee-eater (Merops malimbicus, LC), and the African cuckoo (Cuculus gularis, LC), have contributed to improve our knowledge of how seasonality influences their use of the Afrotropical landscape (Ivande et al., 2012; Cox et al., 2012, 2014). Similarly, studies of Palearctic migrants in the Afrotropics have revealed ecological flexibility in non-breeding habitat occupancy (Ivande and Cresswell, 2016) as well as high within-winter survival and site fidelity in species like whinchats (Saxicola rubetra, LC) which have returned to the very same winter territories every year (Wilson and Cresswell, 2006; Blackburn and Cresswell, 2015a,b). Constant Effort Site mist netting of birds, which was initiated at APLORI in 2002, has also improved our understanding of migratory passage times and survival in tropical environments (McGregor et al., 2007; Iwajomo et al., 2011) while other projects have used birds to highlight the effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity (Manu et al., 2005, 2007).

    The location of APLORI in the Laminga community represents an effective model of successful community development projects associated with conservation projects in an area. For example, all APLORI’s field assistants and support staff are employed from the community thus ensuring improved livelihoods as well as conservation skills for these individuals. This is in addition to the other community projects including: establishment of community woodlots, repair of access roads, construction of a community borehole for water, a police post, and a piggery, all of which contribute to livelihoods in the community.

    Certainly, Africa with its increasing population and the attending anthropogenic pressures still needs more skilled personnel to adequately manage and conserve its vast natural resources. The APLORI model highlights the vital contribution that quality academic training and education can make.

    Reaching people who are not usually attracted to nature-based activities remains a challenge. One option is to blend conservation education and outreach with attractions and activities without an obvious conservation link. Sporting events have proven very successful in this regard. For example, an annual half marathon hosted inside South Africa’s Kruger National Park has become an important opportunity to attract new people to conservation while also raising conservation funds. Another example is the Maasai Olympics, held every second year in Kenya’s Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, which raises conservation awareness within the local community. Local NGOs such as the Korup Rainforest Conservation Society (KRCS) in Cameroon raises funds from membership fees; these fees are then used to host football games between local youths and park rangers, and to buy farm equipment awarded to the winners in exchange for environmental commitments. Music concerts at botanical gardens (Figure 15.7) and national parks (e.g. have also successfully exposed new audiences to environmental issues.

    Figure 15.7 Conservation facilities such as Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, South Africa, are attracting new people to their work by hosting concerts and other types of entertainment offers. Photograph by Ivan Hendricks, courtesy of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, CC BY 4.0.

    Africa is in desperate need of the next generation of conservation heroes who are up to the task of addressing a growing list of complex problems. We have learnt much over the past few decades about how to better protect the natural environment in the face of growing human populations, increased consumption, and socio-economic transformations. We have also developed strong foundations in environmental education and leadership that will help us reach more people and cultivate stronger leaders. But many ecosystems continue to be in a state of distress, many species are facing extinction, and many people continue to live indifferent to their environment. The time for action is now.

    This page titled 15.5: Environmental Education and Leadership is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Wilson & Richard B. Primack (Open Book Publishers) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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