Assessing human-snake conflict in urban Johannesburg

The goal of this project is to assess the relationship that humans have with snakes within Johannesburg as their numbers increase.

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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Hiral Naik

Initiative's representative date of birth

25/03/1991

Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • United States

Headquarters location: city

Sacramento

Where are you making a difference?

Johannesburg, South Africa (Hometown of the organisations Communications Coordinator)

Website or social media url(s)

Website: https://savethesnakes.org/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/savethesnakes/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/savethesnakes Personal Website: https://hiralnaik.wordpress.com/

Date Started

January 2019

Project Stage

  • Start-up (first few activities have happened)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • Less than €1k

Organization Type

  • Nonprofit/NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

Having a passion to work with an animal that most people dislike can present itself with challenges, especially when you are trying to educate them about not killing it. I love snakes! They are incredible animals and my goal is to educate people about living in harmony with snakes. Having worked for Save The Snakes, an org that supports people around the world to reduce snake killings, I am motivated to do the same in Johannesburg. Globally, it is becoming increasingly clear that many animals are adapting to urban environments, increasing the likelihood of human-wildlife interactions. Within Johannesburg, snake sightings have also increased but many of them are killed instantly with no reason. I decided that I need to make a difference!

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Snakes play a crucial role in ecosystems as prey and predators and in urban spaces, their role as predators is highly overlooked. As urban spaces are overtaken by humans, as our litter and waste increase, so do the populations of rats. The best natural pest control for rats are snakes! By educating people about the positive role that snakes play in this system, I can reduce the number of unnecessary snake killings. Snakes prefer to be alone and educating people about this is important!

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

My goal is to visit schools and give talks about snakes that live in the area and the greater Johannesburg area. Identifying a snake is the most important step in feeling threatened by it. When you know a snake is venomous, you leave it and let it slither away on its own without killing it. I will be providing training workshops to members of the community to educate them about the species of snakes that occur in the area and what to do if they find one. I will use non-venomous snakes as a demo that children and parents can touch. This is an effective method to reduce fear of snakes and creating a personal connect with the animal. I will use the Save The Snakes social media as an example of the reduction of fear of snakes that we have already established worldwide and display images of beautiful snakes from around the world.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

I will be using specific environmental education practices that focus on the behavioural psychology of people. This method of education has been developed through the Cornell Urban Environmental Education course that my colleagues at another organisation that I worked for had conducted and trained me to do. I have experience in giving talks through that organisation and would replicate that method for this project. My innovative approach is to be more interactive with the students and allow them to think for themselves in providing me with answers to questions. I will replicate the same approach with adults and compare results to assess any difference in the data.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

Our social media education work has already brought together collaborators in the form of citizen scientists from around the world. For this project, I will be working with Wild Serve, an organisation working on saving urban biodiversity within Johannesburg and Gauteng, the Gauteng Urban Environmental Education Forum, which works to create more environmental initiatives part of the current curriculum and university Professors that wish to see humans and snakes living in harmony. I will also be working with various existing community groups that work to conserve nature or care about nature and I will work with local schools through their Eco-schools programme. This will be a highly collaborative project that aims for long term sustainability within the urban biodiversity conservation space.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

Through our social media platform, we have already educated and created awareness about snakes and their importance on a global scale. That will lead into this project as an introduction on how successfully some people live with snakes around the world. During this project, I will be asking school groups to create posters and artwork on snakes, based on my talks and what they have learnt about snakes. I will also be conducting pre and post workshop surveys to analyse the impact of the workshops and level of understanding of snakes. This will be a good measure of progress and fear of snakes. I presented a talk at an international conference about our social media work and hope to do the same with the results of this project. Our current data shows that we have engaged with over 1000 people daily and increased our following on social media significantly in the past year. This shows that more people are interested in our work and excited to learn about snakes.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

I have several strategies to scale the impact of this project. I will be providing training workshops to various groups of people including students, community members and existing nature loving groups. These training workshops will be recorded and put on a dedicated YouTube channel for this project. I would also like to create a snake appreciation day, colouring competitions and nature photography competitions of where snakes occur. The photographs will then be displayed at an exhibition at the end of the project to showcase how many people were involved and where you can find snakes. The entire project will be video’d and photographed to make a short film. If successful, this project could be expanded to other urban areas and rural areas.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

This initiative creates shared value by contributing to reducing pests. Snakes are the best form of pest control of rats and mice and these pests are increasing rapidly in urban areas, spreading disease. By reducing snake killings and understating the role of snakes in urban areas, more people will realise that they will be able to live in cleaner areas and reduce the spread of disease. The value is healthier people that live healthier lifestyles. The benefit to the stakeholders is also a growing appreciation of natural areas within urban cities. The more natural areas that are retained, the less likely a snake will habit a home. Ensuring that people understand the balance is key!

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

The current financial plan includes but not limited to materials to conduct a talk including a vehicle, stationary, getting live snakes from local keepers, camera and photography material and exhibition costs. I have to consider costs of my assistants and catering for the events. The short-term goal is to start small and expand into larger groups of people which would be more expensive. We will start with money from donations and then appeal to funders. I will also be applying for additional grants. Securing sponsorship will also be a key part of the long-term sustainability.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

I am the principle investigator and leader of this project. I have a masters in herpetology focusing on snakes and hope to pursue a PhD on snakes (I may incorporate this data a human-snake conflict chapter). I will get assistance from my colleague at Wild Serve who is a National Geographic Explorer, Environmental Educator and Engineer. I will also include university graduate students to help and learn to gain exposure and translate knowledge they have about working with wildlife.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Search engine

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