Lion Fun Day was developed by the Niassa Lion Project in Mozambique and is held once a year to educate local communities about living peacefully with lions through games and activities about living. At the beginning of this month we mirrored this worthy conservation effort here at the Houston Zoo to show our support to these communities and help our guests understand more about community-based conservation.
Guests of all ages were excited to participate in the same activities as the people in Mozambique. Carnivore keeper, Angie Pyle designed masks and coloring books for Lion Fun Day which were used by both children in Africa and Houston.
We also organized the same games, which included a tug-of-war activity that demonstrates the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Kids were split into two groups, the first, representing African animals in a protected park, were placed on one side of the rope and the second, representing the same animals in an unprotected park, were placed on the other side. Each kid wore a badge with a picture of the animal they represented. The kids tugged on the rope with both ecosystems intact (all kids/animals present) and saw they were totally equal. We then removed two animals from the unprotected park and the kids quickly saw the imbalance that resulted. This game is very popular on both sides of the world and seems to communicate the point that every species is of great value in nature.
Another game we played illustrates a technique conservationists offer to farmers in Mozambique to avoid conflict between livestock and lions. Several kids were selected to wear orange vests and pretended to be lions, a few were selected to wear striped vests and pretended to be zebras and several more wore brown vests to be goats. One of our staff members was a shepherd that took the little goats out to graze and it was explained that as the sun goes down the lions come around looking for food and find the goats out in the open. Mayhem ensued as lion children chased goat children. Once all the goats were captured the lions were asked to retreat and the goats were revived. We then reset the game and added the solution that conservationists provide for this situation. The shepherd herds the goats into a corral (here at the Zoo the corral was a portable cheetah cage, but in Africa it is a thorny barrier made of local vegetation) for the night. The lions then came by only to find that they cannot get to the goats. At this point they directed their attention to the zebra and a new chase ensued. The kids really understood that when the goats are protected the lions go for their natural prey (zebras).
We documented all of the activities held at the Zoo and we will be sending this footage back to the communities in Mozambique so that it can be seen during their Lion Fun Day in November. A couple of our staff will be traveling to Mozambique to help with the Lion Fun Day Festivities and will look for more ways to enhance and further connect communities in Mozambique and Houston.
Houston Zoo visitors love our handsome male lion Jonathan, but rarely do they know how much we do to ensure Jonathan’s species has a future in the wild. Events like Lion Fun Days help guests engage and connect with our efforts to protect wildlife outside of the gates of the Zoo.