Kenya looks to kids to save wildlife

Pro­tect­ing ele­phants will fall to next gen­er­a­tion

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Tonny Onyulo

Gabriel Lepariyo

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.”

PHO­TOS BY TONNY ONYULO/SPE­CIAL FOR USA TO­DAY

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.

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