Brush with the wild side of life

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD Tshepiso Mathole was all confidence when she stood up to talk about how urban development damages nature and how children should learn to appreciate wildlife.

"There has to be concerted efforts to arrest overpopulation, reduce unfriendly emissions and cutting of trees, so that our natural heritage is not destroyed," she warned.

There was almost a swagger in her voice when she told of how those close to Kruger National Park had been blessed with the establishment of the Kids in Kruger Programme and how it was changing their lives, shaping their future and giving them a better understanding of the environment.

Tshepiso is a Grade 7 pupil at Skukuza Primary School.

Introduced in September 2003, Kids in Kruger is a pilot programme for the My Acre of Africa Trust, a unique initiative aimed at funding conservation and providing environmental education, particularly for those who live on the borders of the park.

It has former president Nelson Mandela as its patron emeritus.

My Acre of Africa executive director Busi Mkhize says children from communities around the park are given educational day trips that integrate history, culture, tourism and conservation.

"A total of 24528 children have benefited from this programme. This number does not include members of the community and teachers who have also come through it," she said.

She said the programme's vision was to inspire future generations to ensure the survival of wild life in the world's largest nature reserve.

Though the My Acre of Africa project is run in partnership with South African National Parks, with important sponsorship from Total SA and others, it encourages individual sponsorship through their Buy a Brick campaign.

Each special brick, with the personal inscription of the buyer, represents one acre of the Kruger National Park.

Its covers 4692914 acres, so nearly five million bricks are available for sponsorship.

Total last week took the media to meet some of the children and become like them for a day and the "become a kid for a day" turned to be quite an experience!

Journalists were driven through the park, where they were tested on their knowledge of all types of wild life, from insects to elephants, as well as indigenous flora.

The tour through the park was complemented with lessons and exercises on survival in the jungle. This ranged from how best to gather water, hunting for food - and how to communicate your position to search parties if you became lost.

The Real Kid stuff came when journalists participated in an environment conservation game with the children from Skukuza Primary School.

The games involved identifying animals and trees from packs of specially created cards.

The children also formed small groups to workshop different topics relating to the environment.

This was when Tshepiso and her group excelled, showing how well they knew the importance of caring for the environment.

"It shows that we must all get to learn more about wild life and all the trees and how to preserve nature and culture," Tshepiso said.