Nature Ambassadors – social research for environmental conservation

Nature Ambassadors – social research for environmental conservation

Nature Ambassadors research the desire for conservation

Today, wildlife conservation efforts are increasingly complex to organise. Because conservation implies respect and patience, and because wildlife, being wild, often does not arouse the tenderness that the images of dogs and cats that infest the internet can. All the more reason, therefore, if you want to organise such initiatives, as in the case of the Nature Ambassadors project, you need to focus on team strength. And the team is made up of people, people who feel involved and really care about the goal of safeguarding nature. That is why it is essential to question them, before taking specific action, to find out which species they know and feel they really want to protect, by fighting and getting involved themselves.


The research mission

The work of today’s research team is precisely aimed at this goal: “to assess the knowledge and conservation preferences of secondary school students, what factors influence their knowledge and their willingness to protect local species according to the Explorer’s Mindset,” explains Martina Panisi, conservation biologist. How did she do this in practice? With her team of biologist colleagues and educators, she visited six secondary schools in the Morogoro and Pwani regions. In the first phase, she involved 211 students, who were asked to identify photos of 54 local and introduced animals around the schools and then choose which species they would like to protect, which they dislike and why. A real ‘interrogation’ that turned out to be valuable and full of surprises, perfect for understanding in which direction to proceed.

Nature Ambassadors’ project member Mbago Kizega administers the survey to a student from Mboga secondary school.


Growing Nature Awareness

Another key objective of Nature Ambassadors is also to monitor changes in knowledge, preferences and willingness to protect before and after the outdoor environmental education activities carried out with their teachers. Another challenge for the research team was to measure the students’ level of empowerment and engagement in environmental outdoor education activities by cross-referencing this data with some demographic and socio-economic indicators.

Having recorded the starting point, it is now necessary to wait a few months to draw conclusions: “after the development of outdoor environmental education activities with their teachers, the surveys will be repeated to identify progress and changes,” explains Panisi.

A work in progress whose effectiveness has already been verified on the island of São Tomé in Central Africa. Martina was there, she is a direct witness, and in fact says that ‘in that area, the study thus conducted was important to understand that girls and students in urban areas are less informed about the local fauna. It allowed us to select the most suitable species to become the symbol of environmental education campaigns, based on the students’ preferences and justifications’.

This confirms that this is a replicable method wherever there is a need to better understand how children view and evaluate animals. Everywhere, but without any illusions of difficulty.


Local challenges and general hopes

Theodora Venance, Martina’s workmate from Tanzania, testifies to this: “Some interviewees have limited knowledge of conservation, so a question is necessary to make sure they have understood the concept effectively. This involves more time and patience but… it is worth it!”.

In time and in the right ways, valuable information can indeed be obtained, useful for informing decision makers about the level of awareness and understanding of wildlife conservation among students and teachers. “They can also use it to tailor their educational efforts and programmes and make them more engaging and effective in promoting any conservation action,” Venance explains. She adds that the results of their research will also impact educational strategies designed in primary and secondary schools to include more outdoor activities in the school curriculum. She then concludes with a very ambitious but not impossible hope: ‘community awareness and understanding of wildlife conservation could also entice local authorities to design community engagement programmes that resonate with residents (particularly students), fostering a sense of ownership and involvement in conservation activities’. There is no shortage of data, and there will be no shortage of data, and the desire for conservation can be cultivated and nurtured, with a mood that is perfectly in tune with the whole founding philosophy of SeedScience.


Students, teachers and staff members during a visit to administer research surveys at Gwata secondary school.


Article by Marta Abbà with the contribution of Theodora Venance and Martina Panisi.

Curious about other aspects of this project funded by the National Geographic Society? Here we talked about education activities.

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