Lion Fun Days
In 2009 we had the first of our Lion Fun Days Festival and they are now an annual tradition. Every November we organize a two-day community conservation fair for the children of Mbamba village. We partner with the Houston Zoo and Utah’s Hogle Zoo. Houston Zoo holds a Lion Fun Day of their own during the same period – but thousands of miles across the world! The children at the Velasquez Elementary School in Houston collect change every year for lion conservation to support our efforts and deserve a special thank you.
The aim of these events is to make conservation fun and to raise awareness of the plight of the lion and Niassa. During the Lion Fun Days, we share strange and new fun facts about lions and other animals with the children – facts to make them laugh, make them think, amaze them, or simply let them identify with the animal a bit more. Did you know that lions may sleep for 18 hours a day? That each leopard has a different coat pattern so you can identify different individual leopards by their spots? Did you know that hippos can’t swim but instead walk on the bottom of the river? That a bat can eat more than 1,000 mosquitoes in a day and still have time to pollinate our mango and cashew trees?
Our team bring their extraordinary energy together to organise races and other fun competitive games with conservation themes that include both children and adults – theatre, art, races, car toy design and race, three-legged relay game, women running with a bucket of water on their heads and the goat and corral game. We make masks, rosettes, kites, and flags. The children love to paint and only get to do so once a year. Prizes are given for the main races and include medals, bicycles, home ware, cellphones, seeds and farming implements. All the children who take part in activities receive prizes, including simple items for their families (salt, toothbrushes, soap, spoons, pens and pencils, notebooks, clothes, seeds, bags, bracelets) and we also give a gift to the participating schools. Theatre is a great way to spread conservation messages and the school children under the guidance of two dedicated local teachers put on conservation plays for their community about sleeping in safe shelters, the effects of too many fires, and other pertinent issues.
The Lion Fun Days have become a celebration of conservation, fun and games to build collaboration and release tension. About 500 people from the community participate in the festival as well as local dance groups, Nsegue and Reza, who develop special anti-poaching dances around culture and tradition.
We are working to change the perception that conservation is only about saying “No!” to local lifestyles and practices. Instead, we use these festivals to spread important positive messages about safe behaviours, safe shelters, and the importance of all animals. Most of all the aim is to remind the community that conservation brings benefits. Lion Fun Days are all about celebrating conservation, honoring the name of our project “Niassa Carnivore Project”, having fun and binding the reserve and its communities together.