The Critical Role of Education There are many ways to contribute in the battle against poaching. I was lucky enough to get as close to the frontline as possible back in February 2018, manning the state-of-the-art Meerkat Wide Area Surveillance System. Identifying would-be poachers that ventured into our area of operations. Since returning from a holiday at the Timbivati Private Game Reserve in 2017 this was exactly the sort of opportunity that I was looking for and so I felt both privileged and proud to deploy on the ground in this capacity. It was an incredible experience, but I didn’t want that to be my one and only experience in conservation and with Veterans for Wildlife. And so, once I arrived back in London, I immediately got talking with the team about the possibility of doing a presentation on my time in South Africa at my son’s primary school. Veterans for Wildlife were keen, as were the school, and so I got planning! The key challenge was how to accurately and sensitively portray what I experienced in South Africa to a group of 5-11 year old children? After all, the situation on the ground is often brutal and you simply can’t expose young children to the level of trauma and violence that is typical of rhino poaching. So, choosing material and information that would tell the story as well keeping the children engaged was the most vital part in making this project a success. I wanted the children to fall in love with rhinos and Africa’s other stunning wildlife in the way that I had. So I included great visuals of rhinos playfully running after a jeep as well as explaining to the children (by getting them to look at their own hands) that a rhino’s horn is made of of the same substance as their fingernails (keratin) I also touched on the circle of life and explained how all animals play their part and how it is the job of all of us to make sure we look after the wildlife that live on this planet. It was important for me to explain to these children what is happening to our beautiful rhinos, in the most child-friendly way that I could; but I was also aware that even the youngest of this group knew that we had no naturally occurring rhinos here in the UK. So I wanted to take the opportunity, while I had their full attention, to show them ways in which they can help the wildlife that lives along side them in Britain. The first school talk was a huge success and the reaction from the children gave me a great feeling, even more so when the head teacher asked the kids if they would like to do something similar when they’re older. 380 little pairs of hands raised in the air! That was a special feeling. Now I’d be foolish to believe that because of this talk that most of these children will ultimately pursue a career in conservation. But, from all the schools I visit, if even one child is inspired to the point that they follow up on the dream of working with animals, then this whole project would have been a huge success. Personally, I was driving a bin lorry 6 months ago and so I know that anything is possible if you follow your dreams. Over and above raising awareness amongst children in my community I also hope that this project gets the children to see wildlife in a different way and respect what’s around them even more. At the time of writing I have completed 3 school presentations and have another 3 booked in. The feedback I’ve had from the children and teachers thus far has been unbelievable and is driving me to grow this project more and more. The support from the Veterans for Wildlife team has been second to none and we are now planning on how we can grow this project, which is more than I could have possibly dreamed off when I first started brainstorming all those months ago. As I mentioned earlier, there are many ways to contribute in the battle against poaching and wildlife crime, but I firmly believe that education is a fundamental one. The more people learn about what is going on not only in Africa but throughout the world, the more chance we have of putting a stop to wildlife crime. Children aren’t born poachers, they’re not born mistreating animals or to neglect the stunning planet in which we are lucky enough to live. Therefore, as adults, it’s extremely important that we nurture these children and raise them to love and respect the wildlife around them and throughout the world. We are on the verge of completely wiping out one of the most iconic animals to ever grace this planet. Rhinos, although not exactly the same as the ones which live in the African bush now, date back some 55 million years, but humans have been killing over 1000 rhinos a year, for the last 5 years, in South Africa alone. This is not sustainable, we have to be role models - role models to our children and role models to each other in order to prevent the rhinos from becoming extinct!