SAN DIEGO, California — Many countries in Africa, such as Kenya and Rwanda, are facing a decline in wildlife species, whether from animal poaching or habitat loss. Some species, such as reticulated giraffes, have declined about 50% over the last 30 years, which impacts ecosystems as giraffes serve as pollinators. Furthermore, many communities in Africa rely on the wildlife economy for their livelihoods and income. For these reasons, wildlife conservation helps communities improve their quality of life.
Organizations such as the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance work in conjunction with communities around the world, especially in Africa, to not only preserve wildlife species but also enhance the quality of life for these communities. The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has similar priorities in northern and coastal Kenya. The ALU School of Wildlife Conservation also created a report that offers suggestions to enhance the wildlife economy of African countries and partnered with Conservation Capital as part of the Tourism Revenue Sharing program in Rwanda.
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) Takes Action
The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Kirstie Ruppert, a scientist in community engagement for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA), who works with pastoral communities, or communities that live in “shared space with wildlife [in]places like Savanna ecosystems,” in northern Kenya. She noted that in pastoral communities, “keeping and herding livestock is really closely tied not only for economic reasons, though that is an important livelihood for many pastoralist families, it’s also a practice really closely tied to their society.”
These communities face difficult challenges when sharing the same space and habitat, especially when it comes to large carnivores and elephants. In the last five years of working with these pastoral communities and being part of a leopard conservation program, Ruppert and locals have worked to “better understand the dynamics of livestock depredation in these areas and to develop community programs to mitigate that conflict.”
The SDZWA helped develop a women’s group that worked with more than 100 families to reinforce the bomas or “enclosures” local herders use to protect livestock at night. The women’s group will be a resource for local communities to refer to in order to better protect their livestock.
Ruppert also talked about jobs that wildlife conservation programs create, benefiting the local pastoral communities. The Twiga Walinzi, or “Giraffe Guards” program, has several team members. More than offering job opportunities, team members use the Twiga Walinzi vehicles to assist the elderly and people with disabilities while enabling access to livestock markets, food establishments, health care services and more, in remote rural communities. Team members also use the vehicles that SDZWA donors provided through the Twiga Walinzi Initiative to transport sick children and wounded herders.
The Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT) Assists
The Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT) is an organization that serves northern and coastal Kenya, helping communities improve their lives while conserving their natural environment. Around “1,360 people [are]permanently employed in NRT” and around “69,400 people [are]benefiting from 135 conservancy funded development projects since 2015.” The NRT makes it so wildlife conservation helps communities, providing ways to create and sustain livelihoods linked to conservation.
The ALU School of Wildlife Conservation Report
The ALU School of Wildlife Conservation released a report in March 2021 called “State of the Wildlife Economy in Africa.” The report’s overview states that a “wildlife economy offers a key growth opportunity for Africa,” encouraging more investment in that economic sector.
Many threats to all 54 African countries the ALU covers are due to “deforestation, land degradation, desertification, soil loss and water issues.” These threats exist because there is little investment in protection and natural resources. As such, the ALU suggests that African governments “step up their efforts to create an enabling environment for investments in the sustainable use of wildlife and natural landscapes.”
The ALU School of Wildlife Conservation also has also suggested that other sectors, such as tourism, be “rethought and redesigned,” especially because the COVID-19 pandemic hit the tourism industry particularly hard. One of its suggestions is to make communities more resilient by strengthening the links between wildlife conservation, pastoralist wildlife production and rangeland management.
Tourism Revenue Sharing (TRS) Program
The Rwanda Development Board (RBD) began a Tourism Revenue Sharing (TRS) program in 2005 “to ensure sustainable conservation of the National Parks with the participation of the neighboring communities by contributing to the improvements of their living conditions.”
The ALU School of Wildlife Conservation, in partnership with Conservation Capital, has taken charge of the project since 2020. The project, which calls for significant field research, required ALU to conduct more than 300 “community interviews around Akagera, Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Parks to assess the impact of the TRS on community livelihoods and attitudes. “
The TRS has three anticipated impacts:
- Conservation: Reducing illegal activities, such as animal poaching, while ensuring “sustainable conservation” and encouraging the community to take responsibility for conservation.
- Livelihoods: Reducing poverty by enhancing livelihoods, promoting community-based tourism, reimbursing communities “for loss of access and/or crop damage” and establishing “alternatives to park resources” for locals.
- Relationships: Strengthening the relationship between locals and parks by establishing trust, creating a sense of ownership, mitigating conflicts, empowering locals and increasing community participation in conservation efforts.
While these communities in Africa face losses of many wildlife species, they are also learning to coexist with wildlife and increase efforts in wildlife conservation. Working with various organizations such as the SDZWA, the Northern Rangelands Trust and the ALU School of Wildlife Conservation, these communities are not only learning to preserve wildlife but are also improving their quality of life. Many of these organizations provide job opportunities, whether by training giraffe guards or creating new organizations to reduce poverty within pastoral communities. Wildlife conservation helps communities flourish, not only sustaining endangered wildlife and ecosystems but also elevating people’s livelihoods.
– Jerrett Phinney