“This project has moved to the next level with the first shipment of equipment arriving in Botswana. It is an exciting time for this project.”
When the pandemic hit, the Great Plains Foundation immediately went into an analytical phase to try, as best one can, to predict where it might end up and quickly identified that we needed to stick to an old African philosophy that I have personally lived by as I walk through the bush: you look down at your feet frequently (or risk falling on your face,) and look at the horizon to make sure the direction (or future) is what you want it to be. Thinking about what we need to do now, or risk it all falling, we established Project Ranger 18 months ago, as an emergency intervention to secure the jobs of rangers and front line conservationists across Africa so that when it’s all back to ‘normal’ we would actually have wildlife that is well protected and safe. At the same time this initiative keeps rangers’ families fed and supported. Since the project began we have supported the salaries of more than 150 rangers and kept ranger teams moving through critical protected areas with support such as daily rations and fuel.
So many of your wrote to us saying that even though you couldn’t travel right now you wanted to keep a ranger in the field, so a big thank you for us and from those rangers. This is one of our keystone projects this part year.
Rhinos Without Borders (RWB)
Even more of you have supported this project and so far since inception, we have spent over $6,000,000 trans-locating and protecting rhinos. The poaching situation in Botswana since we started this protect (when it was non-existent) to what could be considered an outbreak today, is very disturbing. Our investigations show that for many reasons, none we could have predicted, the KAZA region comprised of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Caprivi (Namibia) has become a new illegal trade hot spot. As a result, our work has become more important now than ever. Or RWB monitors have conducted over 239 patrols covering more than 15,000 km (9300 miles) by foot, boat, vehicle and plane in this quarter alone! We encourage anyone concerned about rhinos and who want to continue this support to please reach out. Without the patrols and air support, the losses would be given greater. One bright spot in this challenge year are the rhino calves that continue to be born as the next generation of wild rhino on Botswana, more than 55 since the program began and two new young males in just the last few months.
The Solar Mamas initiative focuses on Ngamiland, Botswana, home to the Okavango Delta and addresses the region’s lack of economic opportunities and deficit of electricity. Nine Solar Mamas participants left their villages in Botswana to attend a six-month solar power training program in India through the Barefoot College International. The ladies returned from India just weeks before Covid-19 lockdowns began to kick-in. During the tumultuous year that was 2020, Great Plains provided seed funding for the solar mamas to start individual small businesses using the entrepreneurship skills they acquired in India. As leaders in their communities they also became COVID-19 ambassadors in their villages; educating on healthy hygiene practices and working on committees to identify community needs.
As lockdowns have eased the project has returned to its focus of supplying equipment for the Solar Mamas to electrify 950 rural households in this remote region bordering the Okavango Delta where only 35% of households are electrified. Solar electricity is a more sustainable energy source than paraffin, candles, or firewood which are dangerous and create harmful emissions. Electricity is also a natural deterrent to wildlife in this game-dense area, keeping wild animals at bay and alerting communities to their presence. The project also aims to increase community-wide level educational and economic activity after-dark and advance gender equality by supporting women to become entrepreneurs. Addressing all of these areas of community life with environmentally sustainable technology at the program’s center makes the Solar Mamas project unique in this area of Botswana.
This project has moved to the next level with the first shipment of equipment arriving in Botswana. It is an exciting time for this project.
Conservation, Education and the Great Plains Academy
Like much of the world in 2020, the Great Plains Foundation’s conservation education programs in Botswana and Kenya had to adapt to rapidly changing environment. Working with local healthcare professionals, local educators and our partner the Maa Trust, the Great Plains Foundation was able to continue its conservation education programs in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. The socially distant and pandemic responsible approach to the program implemented was truly remarkable and we are grateful for the creative problem solving of our friends and partners in Kenya.
We also found new and innovative ways to continue to support education and teachers. On the Mbirikani Group Ranch, in the area around ol Donyo Lodge, Great Plains supported the salaries of more than 20 teachers in 2020 despite extended school closures due to Covid. We also issued a grant to support the second season of the conservation education TV series Wildlife Warriors. When Wildlife Warriors, was launched in 2019 it reached 51 percent of Kenyans via Citizen TV Kenya and has been broadcast in 26 African countries via EbonyLife TV reaching millions across the globe! We are proud to have supported conservation education programing that can reach so many children and families in their homes during a socially-distanced year.
We are also proud to report that the construction of our Great Plains Academy in Botswana was completed in late 2020 and celebrated with a small, socially distanced opening ceremony. As part of the opening of the first phase of the Academy, a series of inaugural training sessions were held. The Okavango Community Trust, Village Development Committee, and Ngambao Junior Secondary School sent more than 40 participants to attend trainings on Professional CV writing and Interview skills.
Our conservation camps and children outreach, including bursaries and scholarships is ramping up as we start looking at that horizon where the future of Africa resides in the hands of the next generation, and we have a view that plans for fifty years out in the Great Plains Foundation, and that links to our Great Plains Academy. More and more, as we redesign the actual campus, and listen to the community we feel that it needs to satisfy the one big thing that everyone wants – job creation. So through this Academy, you can expect, as funding comes in, to see courses on conservation, hospitality, media, and IT, sectors that we have identified to grow in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya where we operate.
Tree planting, carbon offsets, sustainability innovations and re-wilding have all been given a boost by the return of Dr. Michele Hofmeyr, Botanist and Environmentalist who will be spearheading Great Plains’ sustainability programs across Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
We have a strategic plan, (feet and horizon) and you can expect elephant programs and big cat projects (in association with National Geographic Big Cats Initiative) as well as support for pangolins in the next 12 months because we see these key species, (alongside with rhinos, elephants and Great Apes) as being critical and iconic and ambassador species that we need to ‘partner’ with.
Once again, thank you for your kindness. There is a big difference between doing something and doing nothing, with your kind help, you have allowed us to do something.