More than 350 children recently congregated around Mbamba Village in Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve to celebrate lions. The occasion was the seventh annual Lion Fun Days, held by Niassa Lion Project (NLP). Lion Fun Days are partnered with Houston Zoo, which holds its own Fun Days at the same time, half a world away, so that everyone is united under the banner of lion conservation.
Art is one of the key components of the festival. Children color masks and a large cloth banner, and NLP staff members then act out stories based on the artwork. “Art works well because children take ownership of the stories, since they painted them. The murals allow for interactive storytelling in the local language,” said Colleen Begg, who co-founded NLP. By making conservation fun, NLP is actively working to change local perceptions about both lions and conservationists, as well as providing real, tangible benefits.
There is a wealth of other activities taking place, including fun races and games. Every child receives a small prize to bring back home, ranging from objects like spoons to toothbrushes and toothpaste—all items that are useful to the community. Theater is also an integral part of Lion Fun Days, with skits put on that teach locals about important topics like fire safety and illegal mining. By providing information in a fun manner, NLP changes the belief that conservation is all about restrictions and limitations. Instead, everyone gets to learn how they can work hand in hand with NLP to help better their world as a whole.
NLP’s founding principle has always been that there can be no conservation without community. By working directly with local people and addressing their concerns, NLP lessens the conflict between people and lions. They also take care to hire people from Niassa reserve on staff.
While Lion Fun Days are a challenge to organize and hold, the benefit they provide outweighs all other considerations. Over the past seven years, this event has truly become something that the community looks forward to.