First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has expressed strong optimism that the current global momentum to protect wildlife is unstoppable.
She said the protection of our natural heritage is becoming an increasingly prominent global issue and this momentum should be sustained to enable conservation efforts gain full steam.
The First Lady however said the success of wildlife protection lies in changing conservation strategies to involve all local communities who co-exist with the animals because they provide a valuable and the most important first line of defense.
“In today’s age, it is imperative that we find ways of effectively engaging local communities as equal partners, and stakeholders in the conservation movement,” she said.
The First Lady Spoke at a Nairobi Hotel Wednesday when she opened an international conference under the Global Wildlife Program.
The theme of the forum is: Engaging Local Communities in Wildlife Conservation in Kenya.
The three-day conference is sponsored by the World Bank Group (WBG) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and comes in the wake of the recent torching of over 106 tonnes of elephant tusks and rhino horns by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Besides the UNDP and the WBG, the conference also brings together other UN agencies, donors, Non-Governmental Organisations, academic experts and conservationists.
The forum is also being attended by representatives from several other countries to share their experiences on the success of involving local communities in conservation efforts.
The First Lady said past conservation strategies had failed and ended generating conflicts, resentment and apathy between rural communities and conservation agencies because they adopted a top-down approach.
The consequence of this approach is a rapidly declining animal population, said the First Lady.
“So we know that this unilateral way of approaching wildlife conservation is ultimately untenable.”
The First Lady said what is now needed is a more synergistic approach that harnesses the complimentary capabilities of diverse groups including policy makers, philanthropists, conservationists and local communities.
She said conservation efforts must first recognize and appreciate that local communities are often the most attuned to the wildlife landscape around them, they are the most affected and have most to lose from activities that endanger wildlife.
Because of the socio-economic “investment” the local communities have put in these animals, they are often able to innovate creative wildlife protection solutions.
The First Lady gave the example of the innovative Imbirikani women in the Amboseli National Park who are continuously working towards building sustainable lives for themselves whilst securing wildlife sustainability
“They are a great example of how communities effectively engaged in conservation can combat poaching. The Maasai people too have gone to enormous lengths to protect elephants,” she said.
As a result of this creative co-existence between the Maasai and the elephants, said the First Lady, Amboseli has the lowest elephant poaching rate in the country and is home to the longest running elephant research project in the world.
“I have learned so much from spending time with these amazing women from this community, including the many ways in which elephants are just like human beings. In fact, the Maasai view elephants as spiritual beings,” she added
The First Lady said such efforts should be scaled-up and replicated in all conservation areas.
She thanked the WBG and the UNDP for convening the conference and hoped workable, all-inclusive conservation solutions will be agreed upon at the conference.
Kenya Country Director for the WBG Ms Diarietou Gaye agreed with the First Lady that the recent torching of elephant tusks and rhino horns by President Kenyatta had sent the strongest statement that the animals were more valuable when alive than dead.
Others who addressed the forum during the opening ceremony included the Program Manager for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Dr Jaime Cevelier, UNDP Kenya Resident Representative Michael Balima, the Kenya Wildlife Services Chairman Dr Richard Leakey, and Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Prof Judi Wakhungu.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Secretary General Mr John Scanlon also addressed the conference.