Wildlife conservation should not be a Western import

| 20th December 2017

The Mountain Bongo of Kenya is the world’s largest forest antelope where approximately only 100 are left in the wild

The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy is empowering a new generation of Kenyans to reclaim the conservationist narrative. HUMPRHEY KARIUKI, a patron of the society, explores how wildlife conservation in Africa is harmed by a Western dominated approach.

Respecting and using local knowledge in conjunction with environmental education is the only way wildlife preservation can thrive. The success of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conversancy is testament to this approach.

The debate over fox hunting in Britain is a binary issue that has polarised opinion in the pub and parliament alike. Similarly, discussions on wildlife conservation in Kenya have historically been cast in black and white terms: Western wildlife conservancy is “good” and indigenous human activity is “bad”.

The narrative treats local communities as enemies of conservation. Local people are blamed for environmental mismanagement and seen as at odds with their own landscape.

Endangered species

The problem with this model is that it dictates that the African wilderness is to be saved largely by non-Africans. Or, to take it one step further, the ‘white saviour’ is considered the only actor capable of protecting native wildlife. This discourse is clearly rooted in Kenya's colonial legacy. It is a narrative in which the Kenyan people have no place. 

Denied a role in wildlife management, and not sharing in its economic benefits, impoverished Kenyan citizens have been pushed towards illicit land activity. In other words, if one is struggling to put food on the table, poaching and illegal grazing can seem the only viable solutions.

Wildlife protection efforts in recent years have begun to challenge Africa’s most damaging conservation myths. A new emerging debate recognises that communities are an integral part of the surrounding nature and are best placed to manage its biodiversity.

Respecting and using local knowledge in conjunction with environmental education is the only way wildlife preservation can thrive. The success of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conversancy is testament to this approach.

You most likely won’t have come across the Mountain Bongo. The Mountain Bongo is the world’s largest forest antelope, distinctive in its red chestnut colour and white stripes. With approximately 100 left in the wild, the Mountain Bongo is a critically endangered species. Kenya is the only place where this magnificent creature is found in its natural habitat. 

Education initiatives

The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy is working to protect and breed the Mountain Bongo using a community-centred approach. After years of unrestricted hunting, poaching, loss of habitat and disease, in 2004 we initiated the only bongo-breeding programme of its kind.

Now, 68 bongos can be found in Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy’s semi-wild environment. Working with the Kenya Wildlife Service, the National Bongo Taskforce and the Kenya Forestry Service, we are on our way to repopulating the Mountain Bongos in their ancestral wild homes. 

Crucial to this aim is the participation of local community, the true custodians of the wildlife with which they share their lands. We recognise that the responsibility for conservation lies with the Kenyan people themselves.

The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy is proud to be collaborating with the local community, government agencies and having dozens of Kenyans in its workforce.

Integrated approach

Beyond this, we recognise the critical need for conservation knowledge from a young age. The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy has developed environmental education initiatives, and over 10,000 Kenyan students visit the facility each year.

Our outreach programmes help to introduce these local issues into the school curriculum, cultivating a more holistic understanding of the environment and wildlife.

From recognising the economic value of the landscape to the simple aesthetic appreciation of their environmental heritage, students are empowered to preserve the wildlife for future generations. Indeed, many go on to work in conservation and use their expertise to create a richer and more sustainable conservation agenda. 

Kenyan citizens are the key stakeholders in the conservation fight, and their local knowledge about the natural world is paramount to its success. This is why we take an integrated approach to wildlife education. As our programmes develop, so too does respect for the environment and wildlife. Ultimately, conservation goals can be conducive to all.

This Author

Humphrey Kariuki is a patron to Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, whose mission it is to save endangered species. 

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