“Ivory belongs to elephants! Ivory belongs to elephants!” the Maasai school children chanted as they scampered behind Jim Nyamu. Some of them stopped to stare curiously into our cameras before running off to re-join their friends, giggling.
Jim, of the Elephant Neighbors Center, is walking through community lands in the Amboseli region of Kenya, ancestral home of both people and wildlife. Although it’s a stretch to say that they have always lived in harmony, humans & wildlife have certainly co-existed for thousands of years, and robust wildlife populations have been able to rebound from occasional conflict with the relatively low human population. However, there is now increasing human-wildlife conflict thanks to:
- human population pressure,
- massive increase in poaching,
- the break-up of community lands into individually owned parcels of land that can be sold off,
- development of that land into small holder farms & housing with fences,
- habitat-destruction due to development.
Wildlife habitat is shrinking at an alarming rate, and pressure from poaching & livestock encroachment is at an all-time high.
Jim’s aim is to raise awareness within communities living with wildlife of the severe decline in elephant populations. Jim has been supported by organisations such as Amara Conservation, and the Kenya Wildlife Service who share his vision. Most of the people are completely unaware of the issues, one District Commissioner in central Kenya even saying, “why do we need to save elephants, there are a million of them!”
We joined Jim for a few days, walking with him and talking to the Maasai communities, rangers and villages living in the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro.
“Ivory belongs to elephants,” he told the school children gathered around us at our first school visit, “ivory is just the elephants’ teeth… just like yours!” he explained. He asked if any of the children had seen a rhino, and they stared at him blankly, shaking their heads. He explained that before the rhino poaching epidemic, there used to be rhinos in the Amboseli / Kilimanjaro ecosystem. However, they are now locally extinct! The children listened, wide-eyed. He took this same message to every school and community we visited, adding that the local people can also gain benefits from the wildlife through conservancies and tourism.
As we photographed and filmed each gathering, watching the reactions of the children and adults alike, we couldn’t help but feel that the future truly lies with sustained education, and providing alternatives to the local communities so that they benefit directly from the wildlife they live with. But how long will this take? Will it be too late by the time the message is taken to heart?
What do you think? Do we still have time, or is it too late? We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions & ideas in the comments below.
Learn more about Jim Nyamu and his work through the Elephant Neighbor’s Center in Kenya: www.elephantneighborscenter.org