Success Story: Setting the Scene for Successful Community Engagement

Community theatre groups take action against wildlife crime.

"The use of theatre enables the creation of a safe space and an alternative platform where people can dialogue about issues in their community and find lasting solutions." - Daniel Maps, Savanna Trust.

Hwange and Chizarira National Parks are home to some of Zimbabwe’s majestic wildlife. However, the area has been beset with wildlife crime, and communities and authorities are worried about the decline in wildlife populations. What’s more, the illegal wildlife trade brings devastating impacts beyond the loss of species, including the involvement of organized crime syndicates that target young men from nearby communities, the promotion of corruption, the undermining of security and development, and grave harm caused to the communities living near affected areas. These adverse effects made it clear that a creative intervention was needed, and the Acting Against Wildlife Crime Project was born.

USAID’s VukaNow Activity awarded a grant to Twist Theatre Development Projects (Twist), a South African NGO, to implement the Acting Against Wildlife Crime Project from December 2020 to September 2021 alongside Zimbabwean counterpart the Savanna Trust. The objective of the Acting Against Wildlife Crime Project was to bring together government agencies, civil society actors, and community members to create dialogue on how to respond to wildlife crime actively and collectively. These discussions were sparked through the performance of theatre plays that addressed the issue of wildlife crime. While reflecting on the work for the project during an interview with VukaNow, Daniel Maposa from Savanna Trust explained that wildlife conservation is a sensitive issue for the communities surrounding game parks, and the use of theatre enables the creation of a safe space and an alternative platform where community members can discuss issues and find lasting solutions.

The project conducted 12 performances, followed by post-play dialogues, in Hwange and Binga’s rural homesteads, where wildlife crime and human-wildlife conflict are prevalent. While lockdowns and regulations resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down implementation, Savanna Trust worked with the local authorities to ensure the safety of the implementors and community members, and all planned activities were completed successfully.

Community members who attended the performances indicated that they did so to learn more about the issue of wildlife crime. While many indicated that they had never witnessed any wildlife crimes themselves, some noted that they had witnessed crimes they had not reported due to fear of reprisal. As such, all participants were promised anonymity.

As a result of the plays and discussions, community members are beginning to value the importance of wildlife to their communities and to the nation at large.

Reflecting on the performances, David, leader of the Intembawuzyo theatre group in Binga, shared that he could feel the audience connecting with the story, noting the audience “could narrate the story, and some took up characters during the discussion. The community even invited the performing group for more performances.” Petros, leader of the Shangano Arts Trust theatre group in Hwange concurred, noting that the stakeholders and community enjoyed the performances so much that they are now requesting the group’s services. He added, “in areas we performed, such as Mabale and Lupote, some have started reporting wildlife crimes,” a sure sign of the success of the project.

Each community is now working on an action plan to combat wildlife crime in their own communities and to ensure that the areas around the game parks are preserved for generations to come. Dr. Emma Durden of Twist remarked, “this project has allowed community members to talk openly about an issue directly related to their daily lives, and we hope that the action plans they have created will continue to promote development in these areas.” As one community member from Hwange asserted, “every human being has a part to play in managing wildlife crime.”

Watch the Acting Against Wildlife Crime documentary here.