Biologist, Conservationist, & Portlander. My passion lives in Africa.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Meet Asaba Mukobi: Founder of the Kasese Wildlife Conservation Awareness Organization.

9:14 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
I was given a whole new perspective on American vs. Ugandan childhoods on Thursday. Inspired by his story on the Oregon Zoo's website, I contacted Asaba Mukobi to find out what his Kasese Wildlife Conservation Awareness Organization was all about. Why did he start it? How does it work? What are his goals? He answered all these and so much more as we talked over lunch on a cold Portland day.

Asaba grew up in Uganda about 20 miles away from Queen Elizabeth national park. Like the rest of his village, he never had much of an interest in animals until a job opened up at Queen Elizabeth to work at a chimpanzee sanctuary. He worked with the Jane Goodall Institute as they raised money to reintroduce 50 chimpanzees to the wild, which is where he met his wife, an American who was volunteering with the program in Uganda.

He moved to the U.S. and worked at the Columbus Zoo before moving to the Oregon Zoo, and it was there that he started to truly develop a love for animals, and a desire to conserve them. He thought if he could teach the kids in Uganda about the wildlife they live right next to, and the jobs that the conservation field offers, he could change some of the attitudes Ugandans have about their surrounding environment.

You see, growing up in the United States, there was never a question of why I liked animals and why I wanted so badly to go to Africa. All my life I have been surrounded by National Geographic, zoos, Animal Planet shows on big screen TVs, and stuffed animal toys. I read books about lions in the Serengeti, and was amazed by the speed of a cheetah and the memory of an elephant. I had the time and resources to leisurely investigate the animal kingdom and was never worried about where my next meal was coming from or how the family farm was doing. But this is not the case in Uganda. Asaba said he was surprised when he moved here by the amount of people that volunteered at the Columbus and Oregon Zoos, simply because they liked animals and cared about them. So, he set out on his mission to bring that same kind of awareness and passion back home, thinking that he would have his one little  program in a village school, but here he is 10 years later as a registered non-profit in over 400 schools in Uganda (which is equivalent to about 400,000 kids!).

An example of one of the trading cards
His teaching tools? A TV, a generator, a pack of animal trading cards, stuffed animals, puppets, animal masks, maps and globes. The generator powers the wildlife documentaries shown on TV, and the cards, with a picture of an animal and its facts, are traded, cherished, and passed down to younger siblings among the kids. These simple programs have already done so much to change the attitudes of these communities, and the schools have even started wildlife clubs. Asaba hopes these families start to see the national park not as potential farmland or hunting grounds, but a source of revenue and jobs through ecotourism and conservation, and a home for the animals they've learned about.

Now KWCAO is reaching even further. They are taking field trips into the park where even the teachers are seeing some of Africa's most iconic species for the first time. They are approaching the parents of these communities with informational brochures, and lightly tackling tough topics like family size and agricultural traditions.

Friends and supporters of KWCAO are often telling Asaba that he needs to tour around the U.S. and tell people what he is doing, but he responds, "Why would I tour America when $10,000 would go so much further within the schools of Uganda?" (Not to mention the other resources we have available here such as websites and Facebook that are also used to tell people about his program.) To put this all into perspective a little bit, Asaba told me a story of taking his mom to the Uganda Wildlife Education Center when he visited home. He said first she questioned the price, and she started listing all the food she could get for her children with a $1.50 (the cost of entrance to the Center). Then she said "OK, so I go and see the animals, then what? What good does that do me?" But once she was there, she was intrigued by the similarities between people and other primates.

So I can't help but to agree and appreciate the use of Asaba's awarded grants and donated funds, and instead I am hoping to help him spread the word through social media and of course, Roots and Shoots at NCSU.

If you would like to know more about this organization, please visit their website, "like" their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @KWCAO. If you would like to help KWCAO, you can contribute to a school visit or student field trip here. Thank you!


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