Uzbekistan: A training ground for young conservationists

Uzbekistan: A training ground for young conservationists

Natalia Shivaldova, Ekomaktab NGO,

In the last few weeks of the summer holidays children from steppe clubs across Karakalpakstan had the chance to share ideas and get motivation for the next academic year at the Saiga kids camp in a picturesque valley not far from the Chatkal Nature Reserve. The sweet-smelling mountain herbs, the fresh mountain air and the crystal clear mountain streams, as well as the great diversity of animals and plants and the wonderful mountain lake made the children fall yet deeper in love with nature and discover many new things.

The programme was highly diverse. This year, apart from excursions, lessons and outdoor activities, it included three courses to choose from. The course on ecological design conducted by Tatyana Gritsina taught children to see even the simplest thing as a piece of art; the boys and girls used ordinary pebbles from mountain streams to create interesting art works and made wonderful images from coloured river sand. Their creations were displayed in an exhibition at the camp. The course on 'ecological theatre' allowed children to show their artistic talents by staging a puppetry performance. Alexandra Zaslavskaya first helped the students to write a scenario. Each child offered their own version of a story, which were integrated to form the general storyline. The plot was based upon the new Saigachy Reserve in Karakalpakstan, which had been opened on 22 June 2016 (see above). Protecting saigas from poaching was also an important subject. The story featured a number of interesting characters and miraculous metamorphoses, a great amount of magic and a struggle between good and evil - in which friendship and good creatures were always the winners… The ecological theatre course also included master classes in puppet making. The performance of the play was just more proof for us teachers that the genre of ecological puppet theatre has great educational power.       

Young ecological journalists, participants in the third course, carefully observed the activities going on in all the other courses. The budding journalists were first taught the basics of the profession; how to write stories, interview people and make video and photo reports. After that, they started their journalistic activities, collecting materials for wall newspapers. 

The teachers participated actively in all the events, acquiring new skills and methods for ecological education, which will help them organise events during the upcoming academic year, such as the Day of Migratory Species, Protected Areas Day and Saiga Day. The celebration of Neptune Day at the kids camp was an unforgettable event for the children, providing a good example of how to organise an ecological festival. The theme was the tragedy of the Aral Sea. Assisted by Neptune, the king of water, and other fairytale characters, the students found a way to save the lake. Every day in the camp was associated with a definite theme: Biodiversity Day, Nature Conservationist Day, Clean Air and Good Health Day, Water Day and Friendship Day.          

The organisers did their best to let the children feel free and easy and to make the activities interesting and exciting. Ecological games, such as 'Ecosystem', 'Predators and their Prey' proved effective. New ideas and skills, which the organisers had learnt during a teacher training programme at San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, proved effective. Our colleagues from San Diego Zoo also helped us develop and test a teacher's guide and pupil's booklet "Saiga: Spirit of the Steppe".

The ten-day Saiga kids camp flew by. The children and their teachers returned to their villages with a lot of new information and full of happy and memorable impressions and, most importantly, an ardent desire to make a contribution to saiga conservation.    

This is the second year that the kids camp has taken place in Uzbekistan. We have accumulated some experience, developed educational approaches and formed a creative team of enthusiasts united in the pursuit of a common goal. The ecological camp was organised with input from organisations including the 'Barkamol Avlod' Children's Centre for Regional Studies and Ecology (Ministry of Public Education of the Republic of Uzbekistan), 'Ekomaktab' Ecological Resource Centre and scientists from the Institute of Gene Pool of Plants and Animals of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan, with the support of Club Penguin, Disney Canada and the Saiga Conservation Alliance.