December 14th, 2009
Earlier today the SEMP team paid a visit to Bonchugu, a village with a historically high number of illegal bushmeat hunters, and one which FZS has been working with for the past year. In that time, many bushmeat hunters have become members of a Community Conservation Bank, and learned to become business entrepreneurs, and most importantly, ex-poachers.
Our visit to Bonchugu today was for the purpose of fulfilling a request to our office from a group of self-organized footballers and self-admitted illegal hunters. In response to this request, we drafted a contract which stated that FZS would agree to support the football team with equipment and facilitate a tournament for those who agreed. However, to receive any support, they needed to sign the contract which stated that no member of the team shall partake in any activity related to illegal hunting of wildlife, including entering into protected wildlife areas without permission.
Quality Meats, a five star steakhouse in New York City learned of this program, and generously agreed to support the team and printed professional-grade football jerseys for the team. Each with a number, and the phrase “Tutokomeze Ujangili” printed on the back (translation: “We are abolishing poaching”).
More than thirty football players gathered in a classroom of the village’s primary school this afternoon, all self-admitted illegal bushmeat hunters. We explained to the group once again the rules of participation in the football team. They much agree to immediately stop all illegal hunting activities, and ensure that no one on the team continues poaching. In exchange, each would receive a jersey (red or black so they could field two teams), footballs, and eventually play in a tournament against the anti-poaching rangers from the National Park, with the winning team receiving a prize and a trophy.
While everyone agreed in principle, when it came time to discuss the agreement and receive the jerseys, there was some initial hesitation (although they had signed it previously, now was the time it was being enacted). We lead a provocative discussion about the trust within the team, and their ability to influence one another. “I agree to stop poaching and am ready to receive my uniform,” said one hunter, “but I’m not going to let you cost me an opportunity b/c one of you continues to hunt.” Some began to haggle over the agreement, citing that they didn’t feel it was fair to make them responsible for their neighbors. Finally, the leader of the team stood up. “We asked for these uniforms, and the footballs, and here they are. They’ve come all the way from New York City, just for our village, our team. I’m going to commit myself to sign the form, and take mine. If any of you are serious about wanting to play, I suggest you do the same. If you want to keep hunting, then do that. Let’s not waste any more time. We have a match to play!” With that, he stood up, walked to the front of the room. We put ticked his name on the agreement and handed him a jersy. He asked for number 7 from the red jerseys b/c that was his favorite number.
I mentioned to the rest of the room that anyone who was ready to commit to their signature should come up and take their uniform as well. Those who didn’t want to were free to leave with no repercussions. In the ensuing chaos of the long line at the front of the room, I suspect a few of them slipped out unnoticed as we crossed a few names off the agreement. However, when all was said and done, we added additional names. In the end, 33 names were on the agreement, and 33 uniforms were handed out. Afterwards we all went outside to partake in a traditional Wakuryia dance, and then played a match against their neighboring village on the pitch, overlooking the Serengeti National Park.
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