I'm going to say something that might be a bit controversial. I am not normally a big fan of children. I can't put a finger on why, maybe I have just become a grumpy old man before my time. With this in mind, you will hopefully understand why at first the idea of filming Alex give a talk at a school in front of 50 excited school children didn't exactly fill me with excitement.
The presentation was to be part of the outreach programme that ZSL is helping to run as part of the Mountain Chicken Frog Project here in Dominica. Engaging the local community in the conservation work going on to preserve the mountain chicken frog is a hugely important part of the work that the team do here and there are many different approaches being taken to achieve this. As well as going into local schools, the team have also done things such as create a mountain chicken frog costume for a Carnival Queen, organise a mountain chicken hike and set up a Mountain Chicken Frog Day. Later in the week I was even due to interview a local poet who had written a poem about the mountain chicken frog to highlight it's cause.
As we pulled into St Martin school I couldn't help but wonder what sort of reception the talk was going to get from a group of excitable school children who were having their last day before the summer holidays. I know at my old school if someone had come in on the last day of the school year to talk to us about a frog there is no way we would have paid it any attention. However, to my surprise when Alex started his presentation the kids not only listened and took notes but also engaged in it an joined in. The presentation covered everything from the disease that was threatening the frog to simply what a mountain chicken is and what it looks like. The sad fact is that around ten years ago the frog would have been widespread on the island and most of those kids would have seen them or at least heard their calls on a regular basis, yet today many of them had never seen or head a mountain chicken frog before.
At the end of the presentation there was the usual slight reluctance to ask questions as there always is at school, however after the first person struck up the courage to ask one the questions began to roll in. It was brilliant to see how interested in the frog these kids were. And not only that, but how much knowledge they seemed to have. Alex says he is constantly surprised by the type of questions he gets asked and the level of understanding these school children seem to have. The other thing I've learnt whilst I've been in Dominica is that although the majority of people in the UK have probably never heard of the mountain chicken frog before, let alone know how endangered it is, to the people of this island the frog is an important symbol. Not only was it their national dish, of which they were particularly fond of, but it was also an animal they were proud of. The frog can only be found here and on Montserrat and the sudden decline of the species has affected the people of the island.
Talking to the kids afterwards it was clear they had taken on a lot of what was said and in some cases the talk seemed to spark a genuine interest in the frog where they hadn't heard of it before. It is clear that this community outreach is just as important to the long term survival of the mountain chicken frog as the scientific field work or the breeding programme. It is these children who will become the custodians of the island's wildlife in the future, so by engaging them in this conservation effort now hopefully it will ensure the mountain chicken frog's fight for survival will one day have a successful outcome.
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