Making a difference

Dr  Jane Goodall  on a previous visit to Orokonui, gets to smell Kiwi poo. Photo by Neville Peat.
Dr Jane Goodall on a previous visit to Orokonui, gets to smell Kiwi poo. Photo by Neville Peat.
Mr Roto, the friendly kaka greets Tahu Mackenzie.  Photo by Laslo Peter.
Mr Roto, the friendly kaka greets Tahu Mackenzie. Photo by Laslo Peter.

Tahu Mackenzie reports on an exciting new development in her work at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

I love my job. Every day I am given opportunities to converse with an array of inquiring minds as to the best ways we can show our love for the world around us. Working with learners of all ages at Orokonui is so fulfilling because of the pupils and students themselves, the beautiful environment in which we adventure and the possibilities for developing new projects to support lifelong learning.

Working alongside Enviroschools, our latest step forward is to launch and deliver an internationally recognised programme by Dr Jane Goodall.

Dr Jane Morris Goodall DBE is a world-famous British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and United Nations Messenger of Peace. She is one of my ultimate heroes and role models. Considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, Dr Goodall is best known for her 45-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. Dr Goodall has inspired people worldwide and galvanised them into action with her message for the past 40 years and, at 80, she is showing no signs of stopping. For 300 days every year she travels and reminds people of their innate capacity to choose to save the world and their inherent ability to do so.

In her words: ''Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.''

That message of individual responsibility for the environment is integral to the ethos of the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, a project involving the efforts of many community volunteers working alongside a small skilled staff of rangers.

Through the Ministry of Education-funded ''Learning experiences outside the classroom'' (LEOTC ) eco warriors from early childhood to university experience an exquisite living classroom, nestled between the mountains Mopanui and Mihiwaka, and protected by the 9km pest-resistant fence that has stopped the decline in local native biodiversity which is now characteristic of the New Zealand environment.

LEOTC and the Enviroschools programme, in which a number of local schools participate, are closely integrated with the standard school curricula, but set out to encourage hands-on participation in restoration work done in our local communities. As the forest at Orokonui becomes ever lusher and the orchestra of birdsong increases, students come to understand what has been lost elsewhere and how we can restore it. At Orokonui they now share space with some of our rarest taoka, species that have survived human arrival. These treasures are going about their business quite undisturbed, as Orokonui's motto ''wildlife on wildlife's terms'' decrees. Takahe, kiwi, kaka, tuatara, Otago skink, jewelled gecko, saddleback, and South Island robin are stars on our list of translocation triumphs; local populations of birds are booming now they have a safe place to nest.

Orokonui is testament to the power of passionate people. A most important part of the mission is to share our vision, and our hopes for the future. We need to communicate what we want so convincingly that people who listen want to help us.

Dr Goodall is an expert at this. We are thrilled she is visiting Orokonui on June 19 to celebrate the launch of her international conservation education programme in New Zealand. Called ''Roots and Shoots'' in the northern hemisphere and ''Solutionaries'' in the southern, there are now more than 10,000 groups in 100 countries. The programme empowers young people to work with community groups to help protect the precious natural world around them. Our local group, Solutionaries Otepoti, is already working with Orokonui Ecosanctuary, The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust and Working Waters Trust planning and carrying out hands-on environmental action events such as waterway clean-ups and planting days.

Dr Goodall's programme comes replete with superb resources to help pupils plan school or community-wide advocacy and fundraising campaigns. One of my favourite aspects of the programme is that pupils are connected to a global network of young conservationists from whom they may draw inspiration and support and share their own triumphs through blogs and social media. I look forward to seeing how our Solutionaries Otepoti group chooses to make international connections.

Within the walls of the Otago Daily Times-sponsored Learning Centre, Dr Goodall will be meeting 20 pupil representatives from Dunedin secondary schools who will share their conservation accomplishments thus far and their solutions for the environmental problems they identify locally. A commemorative tree planting will take place inside the sanctuary.

Along with Enviroschools-appointed facilitator Aviva Stein, I am honoured to bring this programme to New Zealand. Dr Goodall's message requires us to see ourselves as capable, intelligent beings, responsibly seeing our lives as a series of choices.

''We have the choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place, or not to bother''. She warns: ''The greatest danger to our future is apathy.''

- Tahu Mackenzie is LEOTC education officer at Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Wild Ways runs on the first Saturday of the month.

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