Dr Joanne Millar and park ranger (Norbu Yangdon) visited Merak school (140 students) on 20th October. We started off by talking about Australia and the koala using drawing and posters. Then we posed the question “What animal do you have in your forests that is about the same size as koala and also sleeps a lot?” Answers from the children varied from Bear (too big!), tiger (too fierce!), leopard cat (getting close!). With the prompt that the animal is red, a couple of bright children shouted “Amkhar Dongka!”, the Dzongka name for red panda. We talked to the each of the six classes about red panda feeding, breeding, habitat, threats and need for protection. Most children knew that red pandas eat bamboo but were unaware of other foods in the diet, where they nested or how many young they could have. Each child was given a simple fact sheet developed by WWF Bhutan which was also distributed as posters, to take home and show their families.
On 22nd October, the BBC documentary “Cherubs of the Mist” was shown to classes 3-6. Students were very enthusiastic and interested in following the introduction of captive red pandas and tracking of wild red pandas in Singhalila National Park in Sikkim. We will return to the school in 2017 to show camera trap evidence and conduct educational activities using drama, singing and art. If red pandas are identified in the project area we will run a naming competition.
The BBC documentary was also shown to herders during training, creating great excitement and intrigue, particularly the breeding and raising of young in the wild. Posters of red panda were displayed around the community hall during training.