Tailoring Helps Protect Elephants in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park
Just before I left for a visit to Liwonde National Park earlier this year, I read the International Fund for Animal Welfare strategic plan for our work in the elephant habitat protection project there.
The plan is comprehensive, laying out all the interconnected elements needed to protect this beautiful park, from ranger training and conservation education for local people to providing the communications equipment, patrol boats and off-road vehicles needed to improve park security.
But one line-item in the plan struck me as odd: Establish a tailoring workshop? It wasn’t a costly item but it was listed as one of the first things to be done.
After a few days of exploring the park, I asked Mike Labuschagne, our on-site project manager, about it.
“Our top priorities in Liwonde are to secure wildlife habitat, stop poaching and save elephants. What do tailors have to do with any of that?”
“Who,” Mike asked, “is going to secure the park and protect elephants? Rangers, that’s who. And to do it, they need uniforms.
“To gain the respect of the local people, and to be recognized and feared by poachers, park rangers need to be immediately identifiable as wildlife law enforcement officers. They need to look smart and be dressed the same,” he said. “Not only that: reliable, good-looking uniforms increase motivation and esprit de corps in the ranger force itself.”
“The park’s tailoring workshop also helps in other ways. First, it saves the project money that can be used for the removal of wire snares set by poachers or the repair and extension of protective fences. Rangers are hard on uniforms so they have to be well-made and repaired often.
Second, it provides local people with jobs. That’s important, too. The tailors and seamstresses go back to their towns and villages and spread the word that this project will help people as well as wildlife.”
IFAW provides the growing force of well-trained and motivated rangers in Liwonde National Park with more than the shirts, pants and packs the tailoring workshop produces.
To operate effectively in the African bush, each ranger is fitted with all the equipment (except weapons and ammunition) needed to successfully carry out their duties, from boots to radios.
I realized after Mike’s having answered my question, that in order to truly help animals, we sometimes need to begin by helping the people in closest proximity who can best affect the change we seek.
For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save animals in crisis around the world, visit http://www.ifaw.org