How Students Are Working to Make A Difference in Wildlife Conservation
By Lindsey Mutz
The decision to include students in Snares to Wares has been transformational to the growth of the Snares to Wares project. As a Film Studies and English major in the College of Arts and Letters, I had no idea the scope of the issue of wildlife conservation in East Africa. After my professor Dr. Sandra Logan invited me to join this class, I jumped on board without really knowing anything about wildlife conservation. The class sounded like an opportunity to learn across disciplines and to collaborate with students who I never would have interacted with otherwise. But it ended up being much more than that. Working in this class has not only introduced me to new people, but to the initiative known as Snares to Wares. This initiative started out as an idea and quickly grew into a project spanning continents, operating both in Uganda and at Michigan State University. Snares to Wares is an example of the collective strength of cross-disciplinary collaboration, and proves that you don’t need to be an expert in conservation to make a difference.
Snares to Wares is a community based approach to the increasingly pervasive problem of illegal wildlife poaching in African countries. It was created by Dr. Robert Montgomery, an Assistant Professor in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department, and Tutillo Mudumba, a Ugandan graduate student. Under their direction, conservationists, rangers and researchers of Pakwach, Uganda venture into Murchison National Park to remove deadly wire snares designed to trap wildlife such as elephants, lions, and giraffes. These wire snares are then repurposed into wire art sculptures created by artisans in the community, which provides employment opportunities for those who previously relied on illegal wildlife poaching as a means for survival. Next, these wire sculptures are sent to MSU to be sold. Proceeds from sales go directly back into the communities from which this art came. Snares to Wares is not just a wildlife conservation project, but now a course that can be taken by students at MSU.
The class runs in a more experimental fashion than a typical course at MSU. We start each class reporting our progress, then spend the next hour and a half working with each other to add as much as we can to the Snares to Wares Initiative. Just as the Hub is a non-traditional space for learning, so is the style of our class.
The class, which meets twice a week in the Hub, is made up of students across departments and majors, including Fisheries & Wildlife, Film Studies, Professional Writing, Packaging, Business and Marketing. We are split up into four teams: Content Development, Sustainability, Digital Strategies, and Value Chain. Each team contributes to cross-functional goals and objectives in different ways like designing a digital strategy, planning events, and creating brochures. As students, we work together in our various areas of expertise to collaborate on the Snares to Wares Initiative.
Snares to Wares is taught by four faculty members, functioning as “coaches” for each of the four teams. Dr. Logan, Associate Professor in the Department of English, oversees the Content Development Team, Dr. Robert Montgomery coaches the Sustainability Team, Ron Iwaszkiewicz of the Packaging Department heads the Value Chain Team, and Ben Lauren of the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures works with the Digital Strategies Team. The high teacher to student ratio allows for individual support and hands-on engagement with our goals and objectives.
The Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology at MSU is a space for new ideas. It provides opportunities for open collaboration and experimentation, fosters teamwork and unique approaches to problem solving, and is a groundbreaking space made for groundbreaking work. This makes it the perfect place to host the Snares to Wares Initiative.
Since the class began in January 2018, Snares to Wares has provided opportunities to learn from and collaborate with African conservation scientists and authors. Our course text is the Big Conservation Lie, written by African conservationist Mordecai Ogada and African journalist John Mbaria, and it goes into great detail about the dangers of illegal poaching and Western exploitation of African science. Snares to Wares hosted an event at the MSU Student Union where Ogada spoke of his personal work in wildlife conservation and shared his experiences. Ogada also came to class to speak in greater detail about his career and the process of writing his book. He spoke of how the conversation surrounding wildlife conservation should be inclusive of the communities in which these problems persist, and emphasized the necessity of collaboration in sustainable initiatives between scientists and community members.
As a Film Studies and English student, I didn’t know about the depth of wildlife conservation issues before starting this class. It was a shock to hear how consequential illegal poaching is on the wildlife and surrounding community, especially in African communities such as Pakwach, Uganda. Since I joined this course, I’ve learned that you don’t need to be an expert to make a difference or to work towards a solution. You don’t even need to know a lot about conservation to be involved in an initiative like this one. Real, lasting change can come from committed, engaged students working together to ensure that Snares to Wares becomes not just an initiative, but a movement.
To learn more about the initiative, visit their website.