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Prague (AFP) Dec 8, 2012
Czech football legend Karel Poborsky is bracing for a new challenge far from the stadium turf as he prepares to head to Cameroon to encourage local youngsters to help protect the African nation's gorillas.
The iconic former winger is relishing the role, which he says sits well with his personal philosophy.
"When I take part in a project like this, I always want to go on site to check out the actual result," said Poborsky, the holder of a record 118 caps and a Euro 1996 runner-up.
"I really like this idea. I see it as beautiful and pure. The kids will learn that you need to protect these wonderful animals and, on top of that, I'm sure we're going to have a great time," he told AFP.
In January, the former Manchester United, Benfica and Lazio star will spend a week on a bus in Cameroon chartered by the zoo in the Czech capital Prague, where he also played for city rivals Slavia and Sparta.
The goal is to accompany a dozen kids from a school in the eastern Cameroon village of Somalomo to the Limbe Wildlife Centre.
After a 48-hour trip, the youngsters will spend two days coming face to face with the centre's gorillas and taking a range of classes.
Somalomo and other villages in the three-year programme lie near the Dja nature reserve, a registered UNESCO World Heritage site which is home to around a hundred mammal species.
The programme, funded from a cut of each entrance ticket sold at Prague zoo, also aims to bring hundreds of children to the Mefou natural park near Cameroon's capital Yaounde.
"I was pretty surprised during my first visit to these villages near the virgin forests that many youngsters had never seen a gorilla. Or only as meat," said Prague zoo's boss Miroslav Bobek.
Gorillas are the trademark animals in Prague zoo, and the Cameroon bus project is one of a string of programmes it runs aiming at protecting the great ape and the tropical forests of Central Africa.
The Czechs have already supplied equipment to the Dja reserve's wildlife rangers, who risk their lives to provide a round the clock watch on a priceless eco-system spanning more than half a million hectares.
The rangers are locked in "warfare" with poachers and illegal loggers, Bobek said.
He is due to head to Cameroon with Poborsky to join what is the gorilla bus's debut trip, along with Prague's mayor Bohuslav Svoboda and Cameroonian nature conservation experts.
The bus is to stop in schools along the way, with Poborsky's star power likely to be a magnet.
"In general, kids in Africa don't know a lot about the Czech Republic. But really often they know the names of footballers," Bobek said with a grin.
Having plied his trade around Europe, Poborsky said he wasn't worried by a potential language barrier.
"I don't speak French, unfortunately. I'll have an interpreter with me, but I think above all that football is a common langauge and we'll find the right way without a problem," he said.
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