The people and conservation staff at the Letaba Rest Camp have their work cut out for them during school holidays. A few years ago they noticed there are often more staff children in the camp than visitors' children. They decided to involve the staff children in similar activities to those available to young visitors. Most of these programmes have an environmental message and were well received.
In June 2008, they chose eight children to take part in the first Letaba Bush School, a programme that was developed specifically for the staff children. "It was felt that many of the children would spend time here but very few understood anything about the environment in which they were living," says Kirsty Redman, interpretive officer based at Letaba.
The children were taught the basics of ecology, including 'the pyramid of life', interactions of wildlife, predator prey relationships and the importance of plants. With a basic understanding of how the environment works and how everything in it is connected, they were ready for fieldwork.
Section ranger, Joe Nkuna, assigned some of his field rangers who showed the children how to identify and interpret the bush sounds and smells, and other signs like spoor and dung. They identified mammals, birds, bugs and reptiles. All the learners had to attend all five days of the school and complete an assessment to receive a certificate at the celebration function.
In December 2008 the people and conservation team had sorted a few teething problems and chose two groups of eight children to do the school consecutively. This December will see the same children attending an 'advanced' programme. They will get a taste of how river scientists' do theirresearch, how working for water staff clear alien biota, spend a day with a ranger at work and explore the wonders of astronomy. They will also join the Junior Honorary Rangers and Steenbokke in a mass clean-up day of the Nxanatseni region.
By Pearl Makhene and Kirsty Redman