A week before Kenya’s historic ivory burn, Five tribal leaders flanked by their tribesmen – the Maasai (and Ndorobo), Samburu, Taita, Kalenjin (Pokot and Tugen) and Turkana – gathered, many in full regalia at the Serena Hotel for the first ever Conservation Community Leaders Meeting. The aim of the meeting organised by the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) and Conservation Alliance of Kenya (CAK) was to draft a social contract entitled “Reconnecting Wildlife and People.“
In the lead-up to the ivory burn, the feeling is that there has been a shift in attitudes and tolerance of wildlife, even among people who have lived with them for generations. From the story of Mohawk the lion and his sad demise, to elephants killing children in crowded conservation areas, there has been a strong sense that the ground has been slowly shifting underneath our feet. As part of CAK, STE along with other interim board members had noticed that the communities so far have only barely been involved in this event, and so wanted them to have a statement that can help instruct the President’s address.
Myths and Legends
The most significant person invited was Laibon ole Mokompo for the Loita forest, arguably the most senior living liabon or Maasai spiritual leader. Led by the Laibon, all the community elders gave addresses about what they felt was happening. It was with almost magical mysticism that each recounted myths, legends and traditional ecological knowledge that had been passed on for generation; the age-old respect for wildlife, and funny tales about elephants, lions and rhinos were told.
Others were a bit more candid about the trouble their people were facing with predation and destruction of property, many of their positions seemed quite similar with commitments to lead their communities “back to Eden.”
After the elders spoke, panels were engaged to tease apart how indigenous knowledge can be mainstreamed to resolve the wildlife loss problem. The role of tourism and county governments were highlighted in resolving the big issues of wildlife and habitat loss
Getting down to the nuts and bolts, the adequacy of the current land and natural resource policies and laws and the new Act in tackling conflict with wildlife was discussed.
STE’s main contribution was about the role of research in assisting communities to secure space for wildlife. Our work in NRT conservancies with elephant tracking to show the safest conservancies, the planning of landscapes using elephant data in the Mara report and potential of geofencing in Tsavo are all ways in which research played a vital role in community areas as we struggle to create a balance between conservation and development. In the ensuing discussion, there was a major push to mix science with community participatory approaches, so that there is quicker uptake when the work is presented to county governments.
At the end of the day, all these discussions were captured in a 3 page document which was whittled down to a one-page statement from Community leaders. It was delivered to the President and formed part of his address to the journalists at the ivory burn after all the ivory was set ablaze. This was just the beginning. With new fire in their bellies having been given a chance to interact and air their concerns, the community members plan to continue to engage and come up with frameworks and strategies to harness benefits while preserving their rich culture conserving wildlife in concert with KWCA and the Conservation Alliance of Kenya.