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Towards a deeper understanding of the social perceptions of selected youth populations within Southern Africa surrounding conservation and rhinoceros poaching.

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The issue of rhinoceros poaching in Southern Africa is a complex and dynamic wicked problem (Henk & Koen, 2014). Statistics show that despite numerous interventions, the number of rhinoceros poached continues to grow. According to the WESSA website, poaching has increased from 333 rhinoceros in 2010 to 1215 in 2014 (Anon., 2014). This suggests that these interventions have not been successful, especially in the short term. A concern is that a number of these interventions have been aimed at the education of children that are attending school, without fully understanding the perceptions that these youths have towards conservation in general and rhinoceros poaching in particular. An in depth study into the social perceptions that youth of Southern Africa have towards this issue is needed to develop a more holistic understanding of this aspect of the overall wicked problem of rhinoceros poaching. The basis for this study lies in the drawings and messages written on children’s art that were collected as part of an existing project run by Project Rhino KZN and the Kingsley Holgate Foundation. The analysis of this “Rhino Art” was supported and supplemented by the answers to surveys that were conducted as an extension of the same project. The aim of this research is to explore whether Theory U is beneficial in leading to a deeper systemic understanding of the perceptions that selected youth populations within Southern Africa have towards rhinoceros poaching. The objectives of the research are to: 1. Identify key themes in the youth perceptions that emerge about rhinoceros poaching from the analysis of the art, art messaging collected and surveys conducted. 2. Seek patterns that emerge based on the geographic location of where the art was collected from within selected populations within Southern Africa. 3. Employ the lenses of Theory U to better understand how selected leaders, who have developed into a network of co-thinkers are transforming their perceptions on rhinoceros poaching based on the key outcomes that emerge from the art, art messages and also surveys. Throughout this study, Scharmer’s Theory U was used as a guide to deepen understanding of the perceptions that emerged from the analysis of the “Rhino Art”. Within the broader framework of Theory U, a content analysis approach using an iterative process and grounded theory was used to identify patterns and trends in the art and the messaging. The art was rated on a scale of 1 – 6 ranging from poor to excellent. A total of 22 elements that appeared in the art where recorded and analysed using the above approach. A further 52 key themes emerged from the art messaging that were then broken down into 10 sub categories and three main categories, namely; Economic, Conservation and Cultural. A content analysis process was also used to analyse the responses to surveys that were conducted at two consecutive “Youth Rhino Summits” held in September 2014 and July 2015 as an extension of the “Rhino Art” Project. This provided a deeper insight into the beliefs held by the children attending school. Open ended questions about specific conservation issues surrounding rhinoceros poaching were asked. The outcomes of these surveys were used in conjunction with the “Rhino Art” Messaging to provide a more well- rounded view of the perceptions that the youth hold. Throughout this process, key learnings were shared with members of the “Rhino Art” team who are actively involved in rhinoceros conservation. Their reflective responses and experiences regarding the children’s perceptions were gauged using Theory U to guide and inform learning. The observation and recording of the “Rhino Art” team’s responses was conducted in order to gauge how selected leaders transformed their perceptions on rhinoceros poaching through the study of children’s art. The evolution and growth of the “Rhino art” project itself was also documented to illustrate the various cycles of reflection and action that have taken place within the team. The use of Theory U was shown to be beneficial in how the analysis of the art lead to a deeper understanding of social perceptions that youth in selected populations of Southern Africa have towards rhinoceros poaching. The children’s art and art messaging revealed patterns and key themes including views on economy, conservation and culture. Many of these themes were linked to geographic locations. The difference in quality and themes that emerged between the art collected from urban areas versus rural was significant. As seen through the lense of Theory U, these observations brought out new insights in leaders that worked with the art. These insights have shaped the way the “Rhino Art” project has evolved and grown. The understanding of how conservationists have transformed their perceptions towards the youth in terms of rhinoceros poaching could, through further studies, lead to the development of more appropriate interventions aimed at school going children.


Master of Science in Environmental Science.


Rhinoceroses--Effect of poaching on., Youth--Attitudes., Theses--Environmental science.