Spotlight Africa: convincing communities to share their land is key to saving wildlife
Buying the vehicles was the easy part.
I had just handed the keys to new Toyota Landcruisers to the director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service as part of IFAW’s ongoing project to protect elephants in Amboseli National Park in Kenya.
It was hard to concentrate on the donation because we had just been asked to stand for a moment of silence in honour of a fallen ranger who had been killed in the line of duty just last Friday.
The ranger had died while trying to protect an elephant from poachers.
Had the vehicles been delivered last week it was entirely possible the very same ranger would have been here today celebrating their delivery.
The somber reality of our anti-poaching work sank in as we stood, side by side, ranger by ranger, and supporters such as Kristin Bauer van Straten, star of the HBO series “True Blood” who is here with us filming for her elephant documentary Out for Africa, together taking just a moment to remember someone who had given their life.
The vehicles that were delivered today will allow rangers to combat poachers but they will also allow the brave men of women of the Kenyan Wildlife Service to reach out to the Maasai community who live outside the park where much of the wildlife also live.
By African standards, Amboseli park is small, around 400 square kilometres and cannot begin to contain the wild animals that live within. In fact, the landscape around the park, all the way down into Tanzania, is critical to the survival of the elephants and other wild animals that roam there.
That land, and the people who live on it, is critical to the very survival of elephants in the Amboseli ecosystem.
There is now an urgency to our work here because the laws that govern land use are changing and the communities living around the park are for the first time subdividing their land and many want to sell.
That spells disaster for the animals.
The good news is that many of the elders are counseling their people to hold the land in conservation.
At the same time, though, the people are demanding that promises made years ago be honoured and IFAW is well positioned to answer the call due to our experience working in Meru National park and in Tsavo National park where we worked with the local communities who are so critical to the success of our work.
The truth is that the success of this project, and more importantly, the safeguarding of land for free roaming wildlife across the world, rests with our ability to convince local communities that sharing their land with wildlife is the only way that wildlife can continue to roam free anywhere in the world.
And simply, that is the right thing to do.