We interview some inspiring Kenyans who believe in and work from the soul in trying to generate conservation ethics that spread far beyond their own spheres of influence.
MT KENYA TRUST: EDWIN
Edwin is a community wildlife officer now but has always loved wilderness areas and grew up on the boundary of Mt. Kenya defending his crops against wildlife. When the invasive damage grew too intense, the community knew they had to come up with a long term solution and tried bee-hives, chilli-powder and grease rope fences until they finally partnered with the European Union in 2002 to erect an electric fence. The children could suddenly go to school safely and people started appreciating the wildlife because it was not invading. He then took on the role of research assistant for a PhD student and it was this that turned his world upside down, changing his wildlife perspective forever. Edwin believes in treating the issue not the symptoms and loves his work as head of the community scout team.
Human wildlife conflict is something you know a lot about. How do you suggest dealing with it?
It sometimes takes a full understanding of the animals before you begin to protect them but people will not protect if they are hungry, do not have a house or cannot send their children to school. These, then, are the first points of focus. They though must not deforest all the area around them as it leaves the wildlife hungry and dangerous.
If you could solve two issues right away what would it be?
Wildlife corridors: if we had preserved these throughout all our wild places in Kenya, we would have prevented 1001 problems. Snares: they are so horrible to the animals and create so much misery. What do you spend your days patrolling for? Snare foot patrols, illegal logging, cannabis farms, charcoal production, water obstructions, bushmeat hunting with dogs and lately fighting the fires in the Mt. Kenya National Park.
How closely linked is community engagement and conservation?
It is so closely linked and conservation will never be successful without community engagement. It is about educating about better livelihoods, gathering intelligence, sponsoring new ideas dreamt up by the community members themselves and finally really creating an understanding of the long term impacts of deforestation and backing water storage methods.
Why do you conserve?
I have seen so many young people wanting to leave Kenya to find a better life but when I look around and see what we have I realise we have everything we need. To make full use of it, I know that everything goes back to conservation and the management of our resources.
COASTAL: ‘SAMMY SAFARI’
Sammy should be a proud citizen in his role as community liaison officer within the local ocean conservation and turtle watch group, but he stretches himself further and works harder than most I know. From Mida Creek right out into the ocean to Roka BMU, Weyombo to Myungo in Malindi, Sammy patrols for turtle poachers and those buying and selling bushmeat from the ArabukoSokoke forest. Not only does he liaise, but he also changes perspectives (planting trees, which nets to use and why) and educates the young in his community. He builds up alternative earning opportunities in projects from moringa to collecting indigenous seeds and planting nurseries. He listens quietly to the poaching chatter and builds up evidence backed cases that lead to high profile arrests while the elephants visiting Mida are guaranteed safe passage because of the efforts of his team.
Where do you see Kenya in five years?
If Kenya can really implement its strategic plan to increase forest cover to 10% by 2022, then we can improve forest biodiversity and sustainable ecology, but only if there is a focus on indigenous species and sustainable harvesting.
What ways have you seen where traditional conservation methods have been combined with new technology?
Butterfly farming has combined new technology and traditional conservation methods. The number of people involved in butterfly rearing has increased vastly, and they wish to conserve the forest as they use it to sustain their earnings from butterfly harvesting. What place would you like your sons and daughters to take in conservation when they grow up? I have two boys that I would like to see take the path of conservation. I did not start at an early stage and was a grown up by the time my dad coaxed me into it. My children have now grown up seeing me involved in conservation activities such as tree nurseries, forest patrols, animal monitoring and maintaining the drinking waterhole in the Arabuko Sokoke forest.
If you could fix one conservation problem right now … which one would it be?
Turtle or elephant poaching as I want my grandchildren to see them. If people would like to support you how can they do this? Here are a few places where we are in need of support: resources for education and awareness, field visits and the training of new forest scouts that we have identified, data collection support and creation of income creating activities such as native tree nurseries and forest plots, butterfly farming and cassava farming, bee keeping and eco-tourism.
RIFT VALLEY: JACKSON RAINI
Jackson works from his base in Nakuru where he often raises his own funds to do the non-trendy but necessary work in conservation – chasing down the paperwork, checking NEMA permissions, requesting paper trails and documents that show the correct EIA’s have been done. Whenever he can, he gets out into the field to follow up and while there he has incredible patience in talking to people, educating them about his work and showing them what they too can do to protect their futures in a country that is hungry for development despite the environmental cost.
Why do you think conservation is so important?
The rate of species extinction is so fast and we are losing so many ways of life that we all have to act. There are so many unique habitats that need our attention… they give quality to our lives even if we don’t see it.
Who is your conservation role model?
Professor Wangari Maathai
How can we create more interest in conservation at a village level?
The development of environmental education packages for use in schools and adult literacy classes would be so helpful. The establishment of community and school outreach programmes lend to educational focus in the schools. We can also target farmers to become conduits of conservation education, find funding for self driven initiatives and bring women into conservation leadership roles.
If someone wanted to train to work in conservation how would he/she start?
First start by believing in what you can do. Develop a passion for the earth, hone your conservation skills through observation and believing in the cause.
Not many people know about one of the places you work, Menengai Crater. Tell us three interesting things.
Menengai Crater is a collapse caldera and is the second largest crater in Africa and in the top five largest in the world. Menengai is rich in floral biodiversity and birdlife. Some plants are totally unique to this special biome and we even get the Verreaux Eagle there.
LAIKIPIA: ALFRED KOECH
Alfred has spread his conservation spirit over the country from Naivasha to the Masaai Mara and now to Laikipia where his passion is raptor conservation. He rallies the troops to educate on the dire consequences of poisoning (intentional and unintentional), collects data on electrocutions, pushes hard against habitat loss and is beginning to feed the concept and language of eco-toxicology into pastoral communities. Vultures and their uncertain future turn his conversation into ‘fighting talk’ and one cannot help but be drawn into his conservation beliefs. What would a future without vultures look like? I cannot imagine it as it would be so full of diseases and old carcasses! A clean environment depends on vultures.
‘Exploitation of resources’ what does this phrase mean to you?
Too many people wanting too many things and thus threatening biodiversity. We can be happy with a simple life with a conservation outlook. In Kenya too many people are too greedy.
How are the public and communities supportive of you and your work?
In Northern Kenya the response of the public to my education work regarding vultures and poisoning has been positive and I feel that many people are changing their perspectives and working to predator-proof their own bomas.
What have you seen or worked with that has made you the most sad or happy?
It makes me sad to hear about owl persecution by local communities as the idea that they are bad omens is so far from the truth. Egg hunting for witchcraft, medicinal purposes and trading are devastating the populations and we have to educate more people about what is happening. Always my happy moments are releasing rehabilitated raptors, from buzzards and eagles to kites.
If you could give one message to our readers, what would it be?
Raptors are indicators of ecological health; the more we see in the sky the more healthy our land is. Do all you can to safeguard them and as apex predators they will safeguard you.