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The best books on Wild Animals for Kids

recommended by Margaret Darawanda

International Anti-Poaching Foundation

help end poaching in africa

International Anti-Poaching Foundation

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Children tend to be fascinated with animals, and wild animals particularly capture the imagination. Margaret Darawanda, an Akashinga ranger in the Lower Zambezi Valley, talks us through her pick of books for kids about animals in the wild.

Interview by Tuva Kahrs

International Anti-Poaching Foundation

help end poaching in africa

International Anti-Poaching Foundation

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Before we get to your five books, can you talk a bit about your work as a wildlife ranger? It’s really quite dangerous, isn’t it?

Right, our job is very risky. And we have to do it every day, you need somebody who is dedicated because it’s about getting your soul into it. When you’re working in the bush, the animals are dangerous, and also there are armed poachers that you can meet in the bush. So you have to get ready for anything, you need to be prepared and you need to commit yourself. These poachers, they don’t always surrender easily. They always look for new ways to get into the park. They are always coming in, but it’s not like long back when they knew that there wasn’t anyone who was protecting the field. We usually encounter the poachers when they’re putting some snares, or we can follow their tracks to where they are hiding from us. It’s not only poaching, sometimes we encounter them when they are doing deforestation, because we work near a community where there are villagers who want to get firewood.

Are the poachers usually from far away or people that you know?

Most of them are people that we know because it is the community that we grew up in. So we are dealing with our brothers, we are dealing with our uncles. But sometimes it’s people from other areas that come in knowing that they can find whatever they need. We also do information gathering. We do night patrols and sometimes we do extended patrols when we deploy far away from our camp, so that people will be there monitoring that area, knowing the exit and entrance points of the poachers. We do research about what they would be doing at that site and also about what kind of people were coming, where they are coming from and what they need. We can do some raids when we hear of a poacher who has killed an animal and is selling it, then we have to arrest that poacher.

Presumably you also work with the community?

Yes, we have some community liaison officers. They are rangers that live in the communities, they will be outside the camp gathering information, doing the campaigns and awareness about our presence, and also educating the school children about the importance of wildlife. So we work hand in hand.

Can you talk a bit about the animals that you work to protect?

In our area, we protect the elephants because most of the poachers do it for commercial reasons, they want the ivory to sell it and get some money. And also we protect the antelopes because people in the community use it for food consumption. We have the python snake, the poachers will sell the skin. We have a lot of animals that they come in for, like the buffaloes and zebras depending on what that person wants at that time.

Have you had any special encounters with some of the animals?

One time there was a lion that was lying in front of us. It was seeing us but we were not seeing it. We were not expecting it and it was the first time for us to meet a lion since we started. The lion tried to alert us: go away, go away. Everybody was thinking “we are now dead”, but we just managed to get away from it, slowly slowly moving away from it.

Can you see any real effects of your work now that you have been doing it for a few years?

Yes, for sure. When we started we saw old dung of animals. And now we are seeing many groups of animals that are coming nearer. In one week we can see a herd of elephants, we can see a herd of buffaloes and other new animals that are coming in that we were not seeing back then. Like the waterbucks and the impalas. This year, we are encountering a lot of them. So it’s a great change.

Let’s talk about the books. Your first pick about wild animals is a board book for very young children: Who’s Hiding in the Jungle?

This one is very good to know the animals in their habitats—which animal lives under the roads, which animal lives on the trees or in the caves.

It’s got lovely illustrations, and flaps to lift.

Yes, like moving a rock to see what’s under the rock. So it’s interesting, and I can recommend it for the young children to know about animals in their shelter.

Your next pick, Wild Lives, isn’t just about wild animals, it’s about individual animals that became famous through their interactions with humans.

This is a very nice book, because it talks about the history of the animals, their background. Children will learn about each and every animal, about its behaviour, how it interacts with the humans. A kid will be seeing photos of the animals in the book and know about their stories. Sometime she might come across the animal, and she has to know about it so that she won’t get into a dangerous situation.

The animals’ stories represent various qualities such as bravery, friendship and adventure, it seems like a good resource for teachers.

It’s about life lessons. The children will know about the good thing about working hard, the good thing about being brave, and being kind to others, things like that.

You’re quite far from the sea so I was intrigued by your next pick: Look and Say What You See at the Seaside.

Kids are very curious to know everything, so I was recommending this to those that are in love with the water, with animals that live near the water, what you see at the seaside, what you you can find there. We in the interior of Africa don’t have the sea, so there is nowhere where we can go and see the life near the sea. When you read this book it’s like you get to know the people that are there, what kinds of animals are there. When you get into the content of this book you feel like you are there, you get your soul like feeling being near the sea, feeling being closer to those animals. By reading it you get yourself into what life is like at the seaside, if you can understand me.

Definitely. You want to encourage children’s curiosity about all kinds of wildlife, not just the ones they can see right around them. Have you been to the sea?

No, I have never been there but I read books about the sea. I know I will be there sometime.

Let’s talk about your next book pick for children about wild animals: South African Animals.

South Africa is close to us so when we are talking about animals that come from South Africa, most of them we have in Zimbabwe. It is a book that anyone can read and understand about the animals from Africa, not only from South Africa.

Lindiwe Mabuza is a well known figure but I didn’t know she’d written a children’s book. Is my understanding correct that this is an alphabet book?

Yes, it’s an educational book. The little ones need to learn their alphabetics. At the same time, they will be learning about the animals in alphabetical order from A to Z. The children will enjoy seeing what animals we find. It’s like a game and at the same time informational for the kids.

Let’s talk about your final book pick for children: The Fascinating Animal book for Kids. It has some amazing wildlife photos.

This book is for the kids that like to be cool. There are cool facts, like saying that this jellyfish is never dead, it lives forever because after it grows up it shrinks back to be a baby. The kids will be like, “Ah, sure. Is that true?” Children who love discovering new things will enjoy it.

Can you recommend any books about wild animals for older children or teenagers who are interested in wildlife conservation? Some kids like to read quite technical books.

I like Smithers’ Mammals of Southern Africa: A Field Guide by Peter Apps, but that one is mainly for the adults because the vocabulary is not for the kids. It is very informational. You will know about animals and where you find them, their spoors, how you can identify it, things like that.

Are there any books about wild animals in Shona that you would like to recommend as well, maybe one that you loved as a child?

In my childhood I was told many stories with animals. If you want me to recommend a Shona children’s book there is a more recent one called Let’s go and see wild animals! Handeyi tinowona mhuka dzemusango! by Wadzanai Mabuto, translated by Janet Dube. It’s a nature book for young kids to learn Shona sentence construction about different types of wild animals. Children will have fun in trying to recite animal sounds that are in the book. The best part is it’s a Shona-English bilingual book. The kids will learn words in both languages, so it’s quick and easier for them to understand.

Do you want to share a brief version of one of the stories with wild animals that you enjoyed as a child?

Alright. Once upon a long time ago, when the animals could still speak, there lived all the animals of the jungle. It happened to be a drought and the rains did not come for the animals to have water to drink. So they decided to dig a well together, but the hare refused saying he could get some other means of surviving. All the others gathered around the chosen site and took turns digging. Fortunately they found water and were very happy. The animals took turns in guarding the well, but they suspected that the clever hare might be drinking in their well without their knowledge. The tortoise among them was very wise, he said “I am small and I can go under water so no one can see me, I will have to wrap myself with sticky stuff so that if anyone gets into the water I will catch him”. The very next morning, the tortoise took his position. As usual, the hare came slowly and carefully to the well so that he couldn’t be seen. He jumped into the water and got stuck below. He tried and tried to free himself but couldn’t. The hare was caught and now they had to decide what to do with him. There was chaos in deciding what to do. Some wanted him to be killed and some wanted him to be banned forever but the elephant said “no, we have to learn to forgive each other”. So the hare was forgiven and let free. He repented and from then onwards he made sure to be involved in the activities that benefitted them all.

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Is there anything else you would like to say about the books?

I think for these books that we were talking of, all of them have very good illustrations. You have pages where you can feel the face and the body of the animal, because they put a picture that is something like a real animal. So the kids can identify aspects, like “it’s rough, it’s smooth, you see this?”. So these books are very good for the children, they enjoy them and get involved. And also when you’re doing it as a family, you have to find time together, going through these books, enjoying your time with the kids.

And I guess you would hope that these kinds of books encourage children to be fascinated by animals and to grow up wanting to protect wild animals in their natural habitats.

Yes, and knowing the importance of these animals it’s better to teach children when they are young, rather than getting to educating them when they are old, because they will have a negative mind about wildlife by then. If you teach them while they are young, as they grow up they will be bearing in mind that animals are very important and you have to take care of them, you have to protect the environment for them, give them space. I think we have to grow up knowing these things, learning these values. It’s very good that children are taught about animals and read the books that have animals in them.

For more information about how the International Anti-Poaching Foundation works to defend wildlife in Africa visit www.iapf.org

Interview by Tuva Kahrs

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Margaret Darawanda

Margaret Darawanda

Margaret Darawanda was planning to become a teacher, but when the International Anti-Poaching Foundation established an all-women armed unit in 2017, she decided to join the conservation effort. She works to protect animals and habitats in the Phundundu Wildlife Area in Zimbabwe.

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Margaret Darawanda

Margaret Darawanda

Margaret Darawanda was planning to become a teacher, but when the International Anti-Poaching Foundation established an all-women armed unit in 2017, she decided to join the conservation effort. She works to protect animals and habitats in the Phundundu Wildlife Area in Zimbabwe.