Kenya looks to kids to save wildlife
Protecting elephants will fall to next generation
Park warden of Samburu National Reserve
SAMBURU, Kenya – Wearing traditional, brightly colored beads and robes, a group of warriors recently sang and danced in this central Kenyan region as part of an event to encourage the protection of elephants and rhinos.
“There will be no more poaching in my area,” said James Ntopai, 25, a Samburu warrior and a project coordinator of Kenyan Kids on Safari, a conservation program for children. “The community now understands the importance of conserving elephants and other wildlife.”
Kenyan Kids on Safari provides Kenya’s youth with the opportunity to join tourists, medical volunteers and others on safari to experience the local fauna. The idea is to discourage poaching fueled by the high prices of elephant ivory and rhino in the United States, Europe and China.
Ivory is generally used for piano keys and jewelry. In China, ivory is used for stamps to sign official documents, and rhino horns are an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.
“When these kids get the opportunity to view wildlife, they realize that they are not enemies with the elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo because these wildlife bring many tourists to their lands,” Ntopai said. “We train these kids to become conservationists because they are future leaders who will determine the fate of Kenyan wildlife reserves for the world.”
Killing elephants is illegal in Kenya. A government crackdown has reduced the number of elephant deaths to 60 last year from 96 in 2016. The number of rhino killings declined from 14 to nine in the same period, according to the Kenyan government.
But the carnage continues. The elephant population in Kenya has dropped to 415,000 — or 110,000 fewer than a decade ago, officials said. According to the World Wildlife Federation, black rhino populations in Kenya and nearby countries have risen from 2,600 in 1997 to more than 5,000 today thanks to conservation efforts. But hundreds of thousands once roamed the region.
Kenyan Kids on Safari also takes care of young elephants abandoned by their parents after they fall into watering holes dug by locals that the animals can’t escape. Some members search for and destroy elephant traps laid by poachers. Others report suspicious people in national parks to the authorities.
Officials said targeting kids and warriors in the fight against poaching could help to end the slaughter of elephants and other wildlife.
“If we train kids on conservation, we are going to win the war against poaching,” said Samburu National Reserve park warden Gabriel Lepariyo.
Rather than gaining money through poaching, Lepariyo works to convince local tribespeople they could benefit from a booming sustainable tourism industry if they safeguard wildlife.
“I want to encourage the community to keep the wildlife as their source of income in future,” he said.
Wildlife-based tourism generates nearly $10 million annually, or about 14% of Kenya’s gross domestic product, according to Kenya’s government report released last year. One in 10 Kenyans works in the wildlife tourism sector, the report said.
“If we train kids on conservation, we are going to win the war against poaching.”
Samburu girls in northern Kenya dance after attending a training session on conserving wildlife.
Conservationists are turning to local communities in the battle to save Kenya’s remaining elephants and rhinos from poachers.