By Robert Godec
Protecting wildlife is a central challenge of our time. Far too many elephants, rhinos, and other animals are dying at the hands of poachers. Unless the carnage is stopped, our children may be left with no more than photos of many magnificent species.
If we work together with creativity and determination, it does not have to be this way. Last week in Nasuulu Community Conservancy, I saw first-hand one example of how hard work and commitment can protect wildlife while building peace and creating jobs.
Communities can solve problems; I saw it happening in Nasuulu.
After a day in Isiolo speaking with leaders and citizens, I was deeply impressed by what they had achieved. Thousands of people have better lives and new hope while many animals — including elephants, rhinos, and the elegant Grevy’s zebra — are thriving.
The Nasuulu Community Conservancy is the newest of the 27 conservancies that form the Northern Rangelands Trust. The trust uses a community conservation model that brings together villages and groups historically at odds with one another in a democratic, multi-ethnic forum to manage their own resources. Everyone involved has a stake in the outcome of their conservation efforts.
Clearly community conservation is only one piece of the larger conservation effort in Kenya. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and its dedicated employees are on the front line of safeguarding wildlife throughout the country, managing large tracts of protected land and fighting the scourge of poaching, occasionally at the tragic cost of their own lives. Their leadership is crucial to the protection of species in Kenya.
In addition to KWS, Kenya’s leaders and citizens are making important contributions. President Kenyatta signed the impressive Wildlife Conservation and Management Act in December.
The new law stipulates serious punishments for poachers and allocates greater resources to national parks and reserves.
Civil society also plays a critical role in conservation in Kenya. NGOs, funded and staffed locally and internationally, contribute ideas, help with wildlife management, and assist communities with conservation.
SIX TONNES OF IVORY
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is making a difference by supporting powerful initiatives such as the “Hands Off Our Elephants” campaign.
The international community has also stepped up to help. President Obama has made wildlife protection a priority and conservation is a top goal of the US embassy in Kenya. The United States has long prohibited the import of ivory and we recently banned domestic commercial ivory sales.
Last November, the US Fish and Wildlife Service crushed six tonnes of ivory to demonstrate our commitment to end the ivory trade and draw attention to the seriousness of elephant poaching.
Here in Nairobi, I meet frequently with government and KWS and civil society officials and other leaders in the wildlife conservation community. At the embassy, we have created a task force to focus our assistance and ensure that it has the greatest possible impact.
We provide support to community conservancies such as the Northern Rangelands Trust and training for both KWS and community conservancy rangers. Since 2004, the embassy has spent Sh4.4 billion to help wildlife and communities in Kenya. And, last year, President Obama committed another Sh250 million to the effort.
Of course, tough challenges remain. Still, there is hope. During my visit to Nasuulu, I was impressed by the commitment of the community and how fully it understands the value of wildlife. The people of Nasuulu recognise how protecting animals can bring peace, jobs, roads, and schools where there were none before.
Although it is not the answer for every problem, the community conservancy model is powerful. In making their community better and protecting our common heritage, the people of Nasuulu and the Northern Rangelands Trust have a lesson for all of us.
As a partner for 50 years, the US is fully committed to working with Kenya on conservation. Together, by marshalling our resources and working creatively, I am confident that we can succeed and protect Kenya’s wonderful wildlife for future generations.
Mr Godec is the United States Ambassador to Kenya.