by Amy Hanna
After three and a half years of yearning to go back to the place I fell in love with working as a volunteer in 2006, I finally made it. Munda Wanga Trust is situated in the heart of Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, 15 degrees south of the equator in Africa. Munda Wanga is a diamond in the rough, with its botanic gardens, animal sanctuary and advanced education center. The place was as stunning as I remembered it, and many of the changes since 2006 were impressive.
There were two things that impressed me the most. The Discovery Zone learning center, where I spent most of my time in 2006 designing interactive murals with the other education managers and Peace Corps volunteers, is completely filled with amazing murals painted by local art students. Each room focuses on solutions to the human destruction of numerous ecosystems, like the sustainability of wetlands, grasslands and forests, and farming practices. (By the end of my 2006 visit only four of these walls had been completed—but there were five more rooms that needed to be filled.) Now, environmental education activities are posted in each room for school groups, and tangible demonstrations are at hand. These demonstrations include the reuse of plastic bags crocheted into purses, comparing types of ovens that use less wood for burning, and solar paneling.
The other thing I found to be very impressive was the focus on sustainable development through solar paneling, composting and recycling; there is an entire room dedicated to teaching about sustainability. Do you know what sustainability means? An organization called Rural Energy Foundation donated a solar water heater to the park to be used by the keepers. Another company donated a solar panel for a water pump for the irrigation system that keeps the animal areas and gardens green during the dry season. With the sun doing all the work, this energy is all for free!
My goals for this two-week visit were to continue what I did the last time —assist the education and animal sanctuary departments. I arrived with a plan to accomplish many goals. These goals were chosen based on what Joseph, the education officer, and Raffael, the lead animal keeper, needed done. I came out having accomplished a small portion of those goals, though there are about 15 other goals that the park needed accomplished. In Africa there is always work to be done, and being versatile is very important. Similar to my first volunteer stint, I worked with the education staff and animal keepers. Since my background is in both areas, and since the staff remembered me from the first time I was there, I was able to act as a friend and a trainer at the same time. This is a unique position to be in because working with the people is the most important way to gain understanding and acceptance in a new culture.
My goals initially were to:
- Introduce a low cost, inquiry-based education program targeting teachers with school groups, and public tours (this curriculum is called “Zoo Tracks” and was originally developed by the Lincoln Park Zoo [LPZ]). I also wanted to find a donor to support the low cost of printing pamphlets for the program;
- Introduce an animal behavioral study for grades 1-5 and 6-9 (also initiated by LPZ);
- Introduce educational materials within a conference CD donated by an established sanctuary—the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA);
- Send educational materials like pens, markers and books on animal natural history, American Association of Zoo Keeper (AAZK) monthly forums, and conservation magazines;
- Build a large compost bin for the park and teach how to compost;
- Introduce a video, donated by The Anti-Cruelty Society, on how to care for domestic animals;
- Teach about grant writing and find valuable grant websites, such as UNICEF and UNESCO, specifically for Munda Wanga;
- Develop ideas for pilot programs for the future.
Goals accomplished in two weeks plus additional things that got done:
- I brought all the materials in #4 above on all flights, which cost $80 extra;
- Watched The Anti-Cruelty Society video—Joseph decided it would be very useful for school programs;
- Explained “Zoo Tracks” but did not develop anything as yet;
- Updated the skull exhibit in the Discovery Zone;
- Wrote the second draft of a proposal that Joseph was working on for a large program;
- Hosted a workshop for the Zambian volunteer guides to change the 2:00 Feeding Tour to include small group themed tours. Each volunteer guide leads one theme and visits four animal exhibits. Current themes include, bushmeat crisis, human/wildlife conflict, animal adaptations, and pet trade;
- Hosted a Zambian keeper workshop to encourage the keepers about the importance of communication with management, animal records, cleaning and sanitation, enrichment, nutrition, and to introduce AAZK monthly forums and animal behavior magazines;
- Developed a Daily Animal Records template for the Lead Keeper;
- Recorded video on the Discovery Zone, solar paneling on grounds;
- Cared for a serval kitten neglected by its mother;
- Discussed the importance of training for keepers and volunteer guides;
- Replaced old exhibit furniture and enrichment from monkey exhibit and parrot exhibit with new wood, bamboo, etc. The fresh bamboo was very long and quite heavy!;
- Improved the tortoise exhibit;
- Made changes to a few species’ diets with Raffael, the lead keeper;
- Assisted in budgeting for new tools for keepers;
- Organized fish tank maintenance and monthly cleaning;
- Helped Manager with list for accreditation with PAAZAB;
- They already have a compost area, but it needs organization.
Zambians, Europeans and other international volunteers with environmental passions keep Munda Wanga running. Because Munda Wanga has impressive botanic gardens, an education center, animal sanctuary and entertainment area with pools and water slides, it accommodates many types of people: schools and families, Zambians and international visitors. The opportunities for education are endless.
More on the Education Department
The education department also hosts teacher and student workshops for all ages, as well as camps, fundraisers and other events. The education manager, Joseph, develops educational programs for all ages, schools and visitors, and he trains volunteers to guide visitors and schools around the park with themed tours. Again, the common four themes are: pet trade, human/wildlife conflict, animal adaptations, and bushmeat crisis. The 2:00pm Feeding Tour is a perfect way to get the word out about these important issues because it is a big hit with the locals on the weekends. There can be 500 people attending this tour at one time! All the animals at the park—including zebras, bush pigs, lions, African wild dogs, cheetahs, ostrich, and monkeys— are fed at the same time. The vervet monkeys and yellow baboons at Munda Wanga were confiscated by the Zambian Wildlife Authority from people who hold them as pets and pests. Gray parrots and tortoises are also rescued from the pet trade.
What Munda Wanga needs most is funding, capacity building and training on a consistent basis. This is a common obstacle in Africa. In this case, the keepers face husbandry challenges and could use more knowledge about the natural histories of the animals under their care. They also could use new tools and enrichment options for the animals. The volunteer guides need a formal volunteer training program, which can come in time and with experienced staff. And the education department could definitely use more paid management, as well as new environmental education programs. The passion of these employees are obvious, and they are doing the best they can with the resources available. Funding this amazing park is difficult, and it can always use more resources. Fortunately, there are a few local companies who are interested in sponsoring the park by donating some goods, like cement and petrol (gasoline).
Joseph, Raffael, and Fred (the project manager), all the animal keepers, volunteer guides, and gardeners are the greatest asset to Munda Wanga. I feel very lucky to be a part of this organization, I believe in it and I look forward to supporting it again in the future.
Zikomo (that's "Thank you" in a Zambian language).
About the author:
Amy Hanna works at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois.
Would you like to comment on this article?
View printer-friendly version