Spreading Our Mission
The New Nature Foundation (NNF) is a non-profit organization that strives to protect wild animals and wild places through education, empowerment and an emphasis on creative solutions that promote people living in harmony with nature. In late 2017, the NNF contacted the Virginia Zoo about partnering together and applying for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) Nature Connect Grant.
This grant supports new projects that enhance the connection of kids and their families to the natural world. The Zoo, a current WAZA member, was drawn to NNF’s hands-on approach to creating a connection to nature for local Ugandans and promoting conservation – a key foundation in the Virginia Zoo’s mission. The NNF’s program is also very similar to the Zoo’s Conservation Youth Team, a volunteer and youth development program aiming to shape future environmental stewards.
The Virginia Zoo and the NNF submitted an application in December 2017 for the New Nature Foundation’s project “Wildlife, Trees, & People: The Kibale Science Center’s Conservation Action – Outside!”. Involvement with these programs has provided the Zoo with the opportunity to expand its education programs globally.
The Virginia Zoo is the project sponsor for the WAZA grant, and was awarded approximately $14,885, then contributed an additional $10,000 to the project. The Zoo’s Education Manager, Michelle Lewis, worked with Michael Stern and Rebecca Goldstone of the NNF to write and submit the grant application. This particular project was conducted by the NNF and concluded in August 2018.
To date, the grant has been used to fund activities for Ugandan families near NNF’s Fort Portal Science Center. This project expands the existing science center’s curriculum to focus more on sustainable cooking initiatives, creating educational, fun and moving opportunities for Ugandan families and students to enjoy the wonders of their own forests and backyards. Grant funds have also been dispersed to cover Ugandan staff time for the duration of the project.
The Fort Portal Science Center’s program provides four different types of activities for local people to experience nature in new ways, from urban nature walks to touring the nearby botanical garden, an opportunity to view chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, and a charcoal curriculum, which teaches eco-friendly ways to create charcoal, rather than cutting down forests. Visitors are given the opportunity to buy and try the eco-friendly charcoal briquettes. Families participated in an average of three different activities per visit.
The project surpassed its initial expectations, reaching more than 800 individuals. Around 702 individuals, or approximately 430 families, tried the eco-friendly charcoal briquettes and learned about the effects of deforestation, exceeding the original goal of 100 families.
Approximately 102 individuals went to visit chimpanzees in Kibale, which is usually seen as something that is too expensive and only tourists do, and most of those individuals were able to see chimps in the wild for the first time!
Visitors through the program had some amazing things to say about their experiences:
“I would like to return and see other primates and nocturnals like bush-babies, and I would also like to see species of butterflies. I really thank you for a wonderful and educative time.”
“Learning about different types of trees and their importance was the best part.”
“The place is just WOW!!!”
Overall, the project came in under budget and the NNF is planning to use the extra money to fund additional supplies and programs. Due to the success of the project, both the Virginia Zoo and NNF anticipate continuing the partnership to further both organizations’ mutual goals of nature appreciation and global wildlife conservation.