Written by: Mikaela Tuck
Having LiC has left a life-changing experience in our area, it has lightened up the kids at Molumong primary”- Mapaseka
In November, a group of LiC members set off to put a new country on our LiC map – Lesotho.
In collaboration with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Wildlife Act, LiC were tasked with creating lessons all about the plight of vultures.
Over the last 30 years, vulture populations have declined at an alarming rate, mainly due to poisoning, electrocution, and poaching.
Lesotho is one of the last remaining safe havens for the Bearded Vulture, an important, although whacky-looking species.
Only 200 of these birds remain in southern Africa – and half of these reside in Lesotho.
Our team set out to teach this inaugural set of lessons, aiming to empower the children that hold the future of these remarkable birds.
After some hours of driving, with a short stop to swim in a waterfall, we arrived in Mokhotlong.
We met with our passionate team of vulture conservationists: Danielle du Toit, Mapaseka Makoae and Tabelo.
We were surprised also to be joined by corporate stakeholders. Mabari Lebamang from the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) joined to see the valuable work being done.
Although this added pressure, we were excited to show off the power of our approach.
The following day, we visited the school we were teaching at, near the Molumong vulture feeding site.
Here, Wildlife Act and EWT work to monitor and feed vultures, crucial for boosting populations.
Success in these initiatives relies on community understanding and involvement, a value LiC fosters by educating local youth about their environment.
The site is run and managed by Mapaseka or ‘Malinonyana’ as she is affectionately known, meaning ‘mother of birds’.
Mapaseka is fiercely passionate and provided an excellent role model for the learners to show what is possible for local conservation.
Introductions to the chief revealed a warm welcome and genuine appreciation for our presence.
In no time we had a classroom full of 27 eager learners waiting with excitement.
As usual, we started with a dance party to break the ice. Spirits were high as we began our introductory lesson on the basic concepts of conservation and ecology.
Although these are challenging topics, by the end of the day our classroom could do a full dance enactment of the definition of conservation.
We were pleased to be joined by the students’ teachers who were eager to engage with our content.
Although the school was only a few kilometres away from Mokhotlong, we quickly learnt that there are no short drives in Lesotho.
Winding up and down the seemingly endless hills, you must contest with the usual donkey traffic.
However, we took the time to do some birding and were treated with some incredible sightings of bald ibis, another whacky-looking bird sadly on the threatened species list.
Over the next few days, through lots of dance breaks and fun activities, the learners gained confidence and enthusiasm.
The classroom was always filled with laughter – a great sign of happy and receptive minds.
As an LiC member, one of the most rewarding experiences is witnessing a child ignite a spark within themselves—eyes widening with curiosity, uncovering a newfound magic in the world around them.
During this trip, we had the privilege of introducing these kids to binoculars for the first time, watching as they discovered a world through a whole new lens.
On our last day of teaching the learners were taught all about the threats facing vultures and how to protect them. With the help of our real-life conservationist partners, we could explain how vultures are tagged to help monitor them.
In true LiC style, we let the learners get the creative juices flowing and decorate their own personalised tag keychain.
As expected, when any stickers are involved, things get intense.
The learners were all so proud of their creations that the next day everyone had brought their tag either attached to their younger sibling, bag, or themselves.
On our last day in Mokhotlong we took the kids out of the classroom to view the feeding site for the first time.
Despite a long walk up a hill, all the boys reached the top in record time due to a competitive sprint race, instigated by our very own CEO.
At the feeding site, Mapaseka showed the real bones they use to feed the bearded vultures and the camera traps that video the hungry visitors.
Although as LiC team members we have to leave, we know that we have left the lessons in great hands.
Posters and all the materials and teaching guides were given to Mapaseka and they already have plans to teach the local shepherds who often mistake vultures as a threat to their herds.
Facilitating the continuity of lessons is crucial to make a lasting impact.
Unfortunately, vultures are often forgotten compared to their cuter mammal acquaintances.
But without vultures, our ecosystems would collapse, and diseases would spread. Of the 7 vulture species that occur in South Africa, ALL are either endangered or critically endangered. This is cause for incredible concern.
We urgently need to come up with long term solutions to halt this decline for good.
This initiative has shown just that. With the power of collaboration between conservation organisations and environmental education, we can raise awareness and instil a love for the environment in the future generation.
Witnessing the profound sense of pride and passion that our lessons and the vulture feeding site instilled in the learners was truly remarkable.
These young minds carry the heavy responsibility of shaping the future for the bearded vulture populations in Lesotho.
Our hope is that this empowerment will serve as a catalyst for positive change, and these passionate young hearts will become the guardians of the skies, ensuring the legacy of the bearded vultures in Lesotho.