Wednesday, May 06, 2015

football's not a matter of life or death, it's nudge more important than that.

I’m not sure if this story that I heard at the weekend qualifies as a nudge or a full-on behaviour change intervention. Or something in between.

My 6-year-old boy and I were listening to the keeper talk at the giraffe enclosure in Melbourne Zoo, who gave us the gist of the following story.

The giraffes in the zoo have come from the Melako Conservancy in Northern Kenya, one of 26 community conservation areas managed by the Northern Rangelands Trust.

This area covers about 1500 square miles and, alongside the giraffes, it is home to approximately 40,000 Rendille people, semi-nomadic groups who’s main livelihood revolves around rearing of livestock.

In traditional Rendille culture, young men between the ages of 13 and 25 went through initiation to gain status and become a warrior.

Among the rituals the hunting and killing of the native animals such as giraffes, zebras and oryx.

The traditional role of the warrior had been to protect the community, acquire livestock and, as a by product, demonstrate their 'fitness' and gain subsequent status and reproductive advantages. 

The top boys would obviously become tribe leaders of the future, with all the perks that go with that role.

Times have changed, there’s less imperative for young Rendille men to become traditional warriors however old habits die hard and the lads tended to still cause trouble with rival gangs, hunt the wildlife, to jostle for group status.

The bigger problem now is that certain species including Beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, giraffe and gerenuk are now becoming endangered.

So the NRT people and representatives from Zoo’s Victoria came up with an intervention that they hoped would work with the need for the nascent warriors to compete for group status but divert it away from the behaviours that put the animals under threat.

It turns out that the Rendille boys other principle interest other than the activities mentioned, was soccer*.

So the NRT and ZV set about bringing in the kit needed to set up pitches, balls and strips.

The Melako league now consists of 16 teams.

The nudgey bit is that the teams are named after the wildlife that were previously under threat and incorporated into the team badges printed on the team shirt.

The NRT are measuring the impact of this in a reduction in what they call flight distance. 

When wildlife is feels stressed or harassed it is more difficult for humans to get close to them, resulting in longer flight distance.

When wildlife feel less wary of humans then the flight distance is shorter and it is easier to get closer to them, and to count the numbers.

According to our zookeeper friend, the numbers are improving.

*I'm using the term soccer so as not to confuse with the strange game that passes as football in Australia, ok?

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