Picture this: It is a Thursday morning two weeks before exams and you’re learning about factors influencing the distribution of wildlife in East Africa. Your teacher is throwing around phrases like ‘spatial dynamics of landscapes’ and ‘grazing behaviours’. The wildest animal you have ever seen is your neighbour’s cat that makes strange noises at night outside your bedroom window. The wildest landscape you have ever seen is your uncle’s back yard. Your classmates are all looking confused because they too have never seen wildlife or landscapes and so you raise your voice with confidence and shout, “Yes! Wild landscapes exist in Nairobi!” Your teacher laughs kindly and says, “No, let’s go out on a field trip and will I show you what am really talking about”.
On leaving the classroom, you are guided to a bus with the words Laikipia Wildlife Forum written on the side. In two hours’ time you are at a conservancy gate, and you begin to realize what a different kind of experience this is going to be. The guide at the gate welcomes you to the conservancy and explains what is in store for you. Before you know it, you are seeing zebra, elephant and rhino, all in their natural habitats. Things which previously came alive to you in pictures or in textbooks now are right in front of your eyes, living and breathing. You are overwhelmed and you feel a little nervous, but it is also really cool. Will these animals attack us? You wonder inwardly, but the feeling of excitement quickly takes over as you and your classmates are shown how to hand-feed a black rhino. This is what is called ‘experiential learning’. Learning by seeing, touching and experiencing.
Laikipia Wildlife Forum, supported by EKN and USAID (in partnership with Conservation Educationists in Laikipia and Northern Kenya) has for a significant period of time invested in experiential learning. This special kind of learning has enabled young people, predominantly from Laikipia County, to enjoy firsthand experiences of Conservation Education; and this is what we now call Wild Class.
In an effort to transition Conservation Education into a more sustainable land-use activity, Wild Class allows kids from various economic backgrounds, both locally and from all over Kenya, to participate in handson, experiential learning. More than ten conservancies in Laikipia and northern Kenya have come together to develop Wild Class. The conservancies all offer their own unique experiences, from learning trigonometry through making origami in the wild to embracing Conservation Education through Art and Art Forms; or being able to learn about endangered species whilst getting a chance to actually touch them. Through structured experiences and activities targeted at various age groups, the Conservation Education programs enable youngsters to fully comprehend in a tangible way how natural resources and ecosystems affect each other as well as how these resources can be used wisely. The experiential learning process encourages critical thinking and challenges the learners to develop their own theories about conserving the natural resources that surround them, and which are part of their heritage as Kenyans.
Back to our narrative: As you head back to school you feel like an environmental guru. I mean, you fed a black rhino, got to see wild animals you have only seen on Animal Planet, walked down a river bed, and then you saw llamas (not endemic to Kenya, obviously) and exotic birds without leaving the country! At this point you are back at school and the Laikipia Wildlife Forum Conservation Education officer gives you a recap of the day and tells you that the next adventure will be travelling to learn about Wetlands and Biodiversity. Leonardo DiCaprio has nothing on you at this point, because now you are a member of the Wild Class!