By: Stephen Aina/Somtochukwu Udo-Azugo

An energetic team of young conservationists from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) is changing the face of conservation in Africa through innovation and science. The aim is to create positive impacts, extend supports and build collaboration at local, national and international levels for the conservation of vultures.

No doubt, sporting events are veritable tools in bringing together people, especially youths, of diverse background to support a common course of action. It has the unifying powers to neutralize barriers imposed by religion, culture, race, gender, and language on shared values and goals.

Leveraging on the overwhelming influence of football; BirdLife/Birdfair (UK) has brought together a team to redefine existing approaches to advocacy campaigns and forge a long-lasting partnership among rural communities. The first of the Conservation-Oriented Soccer Tournament successfully held in Gashaka Gumti National Park (GGNP), with the support of the local communities.

The Young Conservation Leaders Award, an initiative of BirdLife/Birdfair (UK) is empowering young, energetic nature enthusiasts to drive contemporary conservation efforts in Africa.

Starting with the Serti and Goje communities of Taraba state, the group's Vulture Ambassadors organized a Conservation Soccer tournament to capture the young indigenes. According to the team lead, Stephen Aina: "Our experience so far in the communities visited showed that a vast majority of the people see vultures as just another bird with high nuisance value and of little consequence to their well-being.

“We are therefore engaging the community through the soccer initiative to educate, train and empower young vulture ambassadors to work closely with the officials of the national park to protect the remnants population of vultures in the communities.

"For us, the idea is Sports for Education, Empowerment, and Development (SPEED). Necessity has given birth to innovation
critical to endearing the young and old to jointly protect the rapidly declining vulture population."

The team has proven the effectiveness and feasibility of using sport as a tool for conservation education in fostering collaboration and partnership among the participating communities for vulture conservation, as well as for other biodiversity.

With more than 1800 people in attendance, including eminent personalities such as the Emir of Gashaka – His Royal Highness Alhaji Zubairu Sambo, Seidu Yohanna (Conservator of Park – GGNP), Ismail H/Gabdo (Special Adviser to the Governor of Taraba State), Jerry Mora (Nigeria Prison Service, Serti-Gashaka) amongst other dignitaries from the royal chamber, security agencies, political class and the national park management. Conservation efforts in Nigeria have received a boost.

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