SWT School Trips: Turning Children into Conservationists

Published on the 21st of April, 2022

“Are we together?” Sammy, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Community Outreach Officer, asks 20 secondary students. This is his signature rallying cry, always said with a big smile on his face. The class erupts into a chorus of cheers, and then everyone piles back onto our green bus — off on a grand adventure to discover their country’s natural heritage.

In our signature green bus, we are connecting Kenya's children with their natural heritage

In communities bordering Kenya’s National Parks, children grow up alongside wildlife, but they have precious few opportunities to learn about the natural world that surrounds them. Many only experience nature through crop-raiding creatures and the devastating effects of human-wildlife conflict. More often than not, children view elephants and other creatures as threats, without fully appreciating how they support our country’s economy and shape the very environment in which we live. It is vital that we give the next generation of Kenyans a reason to value their country’s natural heritage.

Everyone is all smiles as the bus sets off for our day-long adventure

That is why SWT school field trips are so important. Over the course of a fun-filled, fully subsidised day, we connect Kenya’s children with the incredible wildlife that live on their doorstep. Sammy and Dixon, our intrepid driver, are the two-man team who bring our school trips to life. Over the years, they have shepherded thousands of local students through Kenya’s most magical places. In fact, Dixon has been driving school trips for 16 years! While Sammy guides and teaches the students, Dixon makes sure that everyone stays safe and on-task.

At the entrance gate, the students look through the KWS museum exhibit of Tsavo West

Trips are tailored to the community we are serving. On this particular day, we are taking a class from a school near Tsavo West. Dixon and Sammy leave our Kaluku Field Headquarters at 5 o’clock in the morning, so they can pick the students up when they would normally arrive for school. Everyone climbs aboard the bus and we begin the journey to Tsavo West National Park.

The trip begins with a quick lesson from a KWS ranger

We begin at Tsavo Gate, where we are met by a KWS ranger. She spends a few minutes teaching the students about the history of Tsavo National Park and walking them through the creatures who call it home. She ends her lecture on an inspirational note: “Remember, you can become a ranger, too. One day, I hope to see one of you wearing my uniform.”

The trip doubles as a game drive, surrounded by some of the most beautiful wilderness in Kenya

And then, we are off! We print a special booklet for each student, which includes conservation facts, word games, and an animal checklist so they can mark off all the wildlife they see. The checkmarks start early: At the first waterhole we pass, we see 50 elephants having a drink.

The bus makes lots of stops, so the students can also explore on foot

The first stop is Sheitani lava flow, a striking expanse of folded black lava that covers 50 square kilometres. When the Chyulu Hills erupted several hundred years ago, the locals believed that it was the devil himself emerging from the earth — hence the name ‘Shetani,’ which means ‘devil’ in Swahili. Today, the lava flows are inhabited by klipspringers, tiny antelope who hop from rock to rock.

Sheitani lava flow is a relatively recent natural wonder in Tsavo West

The students explore Sheitani on foot, then Sammy gathers everyone for a lesson about the state of conservation today. He walks through the greatest challenges facing Kenya’s natural world, from poaching to habitat loss to human-wildlife conflict. This segues into a conversation about the importance of conservation, both for wildlife and the people who live alongside them.

Along the way, we see all sorts of creatures — from tiny klipspringers to big elephant herds

Then, it is time for a picnic lunch — but not before enjoying a scenic game drive along the way. The bus is abuzz with enthusiasm, as the students keep their eyes peeled for elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, gazelles, buffalos, and more.

Mzima Springs is always a highlight of the trip

The next stop is always a highlight. Mzima Springs is a natural network of springs and a veritable oasis amidst the arid landscape. Everyone takes turns sipping from the springs, savouring the crystal clear, ice cold water. The class follows a nature trail leading to an underwater viewing tank, where life below the surface is revealed. Barbel fish and terrapins swim by, while a crocodile slides over the sandy nest where she has laid her eggs. And of course, no visit to Mzima Springs is complete without saying hello to its biggest attraction, the resident pod of hippos. They are impossible to miss, with their loud snorts and grunts and dramatic splashes in the water.

Sammy teaches the students about how our survival is linked with our natural world

Accompanied by the hippos’ chatter, Sammy explains how Mzima Springs is also a reminder of how linked our survival is to the natural world: Not only is it a little oasis in the heart of the wilderness, but it is also a vital source of water for millions of Kenyans, supplying coastal counties with pure drinking water every single day.

Before heading home, we take a quick hike to the top of Chaimu Crater

“Are you with me?” Sammy asks one last time. Before it is time to head home, we have one final stop to make: Chaimu Crater, an inky black lava hill that bulges above the landscape. Sammy and some of the more energetic members of the class dash to the top of the mountain, while the rest navigate the climb step by step. At Chaimu’s summit, everyone joins in a celebratory dance party, as the vast plains of Tsavo unfold beneath them.

The trip ends just as it began: with smiles all around

These are experiences that turn children into conservationists. Through our class trips, we are working to connect Kenya’s children with their natural world — so they not only appreciate it, but find joy in it. As the students make their way back down to the bus, smiles lighting up their faces, we can safely say that mission was accomplished.

In a typical year, we lead more than 60 free school trips into Tsavo East and West National Parks, connecting thousands of Kenyan students with their country's wildlife and wild spaces.

While the pandemic put a halt to our much-loved program, we are back and better than ever. In fact, we even added a new ecosystem to our school trip line-up: Members of Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, a community conservancy bordering Shimba Hills National Park and Mwaluganje Forest Reserve, requested that we bring our school trip experiences to their local community. This area is committed to conservation, but traditionally has had very little engagement with the nature on their doorstep. We are very excited to connect even more of the next generation with Kenya's natural heritage.

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