Andrew Kirkby, International Intern

Date Published

Hamjambo! I am one of the interns of June 2013. I am British/American, born in Kenya, but have been calling Uganda home since 1996 and Tanzania before that. I completed an undergraduate degree from the University of Sussex, majoring in Ecology and Conservation and have been spending this year gaining a diversity of experience before attending an M.Sc. course in Conservation Science at Imperial College London in October. So far, being here has been a great experience and I hope to be filling you in on some interesting stories and a few of my thoughts while I am here, the first being a community meeting, a mkutano (meeting) about anti-poaching.

The mkutano was going to be held at Attan village near the boundary of Buffalo Springs National Reserve, under a large acacia tree. On the way we got three flat tires and a total of about 9 punctures so we ended up walking the last part. My flip flop broke (not a great time), so I tied some rope around it and continued the journey, feeling quite satisfied with my handy work. Soon a Samburu saw my work of art, thought ‘is is not ok’ and leant me his spare set of sandals. It was very kind of him!

Under the acacia tree we met the elders, what had already taken their seats on the trunks of the big tree.

We joined members of the surrounding communities, conservancy representatives and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The speeches started and continued until the afternoon.

Members of different communities expressed their concern about poaching and how they acted as good citizens. Some were scared of reporting incidents to KWS and others wanted more employment within some reserves. A notorious ex-poacher of the area came and gave an amazing speech about his life poaching and how community members need to change their behaviour to stop poaching like he has. KWS spoke about revenue sharing projects and opportunities, the importance of tourism and that they would look into creating better relationships with the community regarding the reporting of incidents. David and George from Save The Elephants gave speeches about the uniqueness of the elephants in the area and how rare it is to get so close – a jewel for tourism. However, there was also the major concern that this could change with. The meeting felt like a success. Ties with the community, NGOs and law enforcement were strengthened and there was a positive atmosphere. I can easily see the importance of these meetings and it was great to witness one in the style of Samburu.

My deeper thoughts were a little bit disconcerting. I worry that the main driver being used for conservation in the community is money – tourism brings more money to more people for longer than poaching. Tourism is not currently at optimum levels in the surrounding conservancies such as Buffalo Springs National Reserve and might take a long time for it to be so. Then when the money finally does start coming in, it might take time to trickle down. I hope people will be patient enough.. and that a severe drought does not happen, which would try this patience. Immediate effects of conservation are here already. Some of these include stability and security (especially important for a region that experiences cattle raids and ethic land disputes), and in times of drought, the reserves provide a back-up for the livestock when all community land becomes devoid of vegetation (an example of an ecosystem service). I think we need to ask ourselves the question, why do people (including those who live in Kenya) come to these wild places and pay the money to spend time there? I believe it’s ‘mental medicine’ – a treatment for stress, a remedy for relaxation and hopefully a catalyst for happiness, to name a few. The results of these ‘getaways’ are almost impossible to quantify in economic terms and is often underestimated. It is one of the reasons why I decided to work in conservation! The people who work and live in and around these conservancies and reserves receive this service for free. Unfortunately, it is often human nature that we don’t realise how important something is until it is (or almost) lost. I don’t think it is necessarily the solution to try and teach people to appreciate what they have, especially when their basic necessities are not met or satisfied however, I think it is something that should not be forgotten.