IFAW's Visible Impact on One of Africa's Great National Parks
On the ground from Meru National Park, Kenya the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Elephant Communications Officer Colleen Cullen files this report on the visible impact IFAWs work and funding have played in revitalizing this wonderful resource.
Cotton ball clouds drown in the horizon; the savannah opens up, far and wide. Air breathes in clean and easy; sounds flow through, melodic yet bold. Mothers scurry hurriedly with their young; while other males stand firm, holding their ground. Where am I? Thoroughly immersed in the wildlife community of Meru National Park, Kenya, where poaching is a thing of the past and residents are secure in their home, due to a successful partnership with International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
After having been with IFAW for only a couple of years, I had heard and read the stories of our important partnership with Kenya Wildlife Service and Meru NP, how we had made such a difference and helped bring the Park from near ruins to a top-of-the-line tourist destination. But, while I had heard so much discussion, I never fully realized the reach of NGOs like IFAW – that is, until now.
The mid- to late-80’s brought continued bloodshed for wildlife populations throughout Kenya, as poaching was at its peak and not surprisingly, Parks in Kenya could not sustain this rate of attack. They were simply out-gunned and under-resourced. Rhinos and elephants were among the hardest hit of the
resident wildlife at Meru National Park; white rhinos were almost entirely wiped out, while the remaining elephants were females for the most part, and/or those with smaller tusks. It was a grim situation for wildlife indeed.
By the time the year 2000 came to be, the infrastructure of the Park was in shambles, basic operations were far from satisfactory, wildlife was scarce, and as a result, the tourists were staying away. With no revenue flowing into the Park, it was facing a bleak future.
One thing was certain, the Park needed significant resources to undergo
a meaningful transformation. Enter IFAW. The partnership with Kenya
Wildlife Service totaled US$1.25 million over a period of five years,
2000-2005, and there was a lot of work to be done.
While visiting Meru NP, I learned just what it was that IFAW did, in
this collaboration, for the Park, and I was astounded by the measure of
our impact. Our resources enabled the creation of a Rhino Sanctuary
within the Park, where rhino numbers are growing now, and Kenya
Wildlife Service staff has been trained on appropriate monitoring
skills. These rhinos are under 24/7 surveillance and fully protected
from the bullets of poachers. There are now 37 white rhino and 17 black
rhino in the sanctuary. The elephant population is now also healthy and
The funds IFAW directed to Meru NP also meant the restoration of
appropriate infrastructure and Park operations, staff trainings and the
procurement of vital equipment for the proper functioning of the Park,
and the security of the animals. GPS units were purchased, along with
vehicles, hand-held radios, and various other essentials. Housing for
rangers was also constructed.
Kenya Wildlife Service was enabled by our partnership to work with
locals, and start community projects. Fencing around farms bordering
the Park was undertaken to protect citizens and animals from
human-elephant conflict situations, which can often be rife if not
The wildlife was replenished by translocations from other more abundant
populations across the country, and eventually tourists started to come
back, and by the truckload!
From what I can see and that which is truly evident upon visiting and meeting with the Park management, if IFAW had not stepped in to collaborate on this major restoration, the animals would still be in danger, and the local communities which now interact regularly with the Park would truly be at a loss, unable to experience the many benefits of living alongside a world-class tourist destination.
Obviously, this ‘restorative’ element of our collaboration with Meru NP has now ended, as we are now in 2008, but IFAW continues to work with Meru. In fact, resources for the local community’s children that have been created with the support of Earth Rangers and IFAW, continue to be distributed. These include posters on the importance of trees to the environment, as well as those on the role of game wardens. Newsletters were also produced for schools and communities around Meru Park. Educational bus tours around the Park are also ongoing due to this collaboration.
Additionally, over 2006 and 2007, in partnership with Earth Rangers, IFAW gave scholarships to four local children on the outskirts of the Park that had developed a keen interest in wildlife conservation. I don’t doubt for a second that these children are headed into this sector due to the relationship they have formed with this Park since its restoration and community outreach.
Ultimately, I can now say that I have seen firsthand how IFAW can most truly impact the lives of such a great many species, but also those communities living alongside them –
and I am proud to be a part of that.