What do Rhinos, beadwork jewellery, HIV and football have in common?
After completing my two-week intensive conservation internship at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (Kenya) to become a Young Conservationist and Lewa Ambassador, I came back with more than just photographs and memories (via Honey Guide Safaris).
I came home with a more precise idea of what conservation is to me, and how I want to get involved. (Hopefully, this will start through the prolongation of my internship in London as more the just an ambassador).
Part of this role comprises of fundraising for Lewa, and I would greatly appreciate any donation. I also sell prints, the funds of which will go to Lewa! My new galleries will be online very soon ;)
PLEASE SPONSOR ME HERE: https://give.classy.org/AliceYoungWildAndLewa
For the time being, however, here are some brief thoughts about conservation and sustainable development, based on what I learnt, saw, felt and loved.
Conservation isn’t just saving animals for the sake of a happy family (or me) bringing home a picture of a lion, telling tales of beautiful sunsets and sundowners (does help though).
It’s so much more than that. Two beautiful quotes I heard during my time at Lewa perfectly summarise what I believe conservation should seek to depict and represent.
“Milking the rhino” - James, our Maasai Guide (note : SERIOUS eye opener)
The Maasai are famous for their ancestral traditions, and have always heavily relied on cattle. Milking the cow’s literal sense was derived by James to show how tourism can become the Maasai’s- or any tribe/ community’s - new main source of revenue. Lewa is so heavily involved in different community service programs, be it for water, health, education, youth, women empowerment, security through different programmes, such as their HIV treatment services, women micro lending programmes, youth football teams or spring water stations…
They have achieved an immutable form of respect from the neighbouring communities, who now understand the importance behind saving rhinos or any form of wildlife/ species/ ecosystem.
On rhinos, Lewa’s incredible security system (now used as an international and national example for wildlife monitoring and security software) and ranger training (they have 4 GORGEOUS tracker dogs) means the Conservancy has achieved zero rhino poaching rates over the last 3 /4 years. People from the community trust Lewa enough to warn them of any growing discrepancy amongst villagers or strangers.
“Making conservation about people” - Ian Craig
In a sense, this refers to James’ rhinos. But it highlights the key links between wildlife and people, creating a relational tie between humans and nature, rather than solely instrumental. This interdependence is especially explained through Lewa’s CEC (Conservation Education Centre), where man is presented to the pupils as an integral part of wider ecosystems, and how we can harmoniously co-exist.
This is a truly beautiful message, and I firmly believe Lewa’s avant-gardist model should not only be supported but studied to enable other communities, conservancies, nations to learn to sustainably manage people, wildlife, health, education, the environment….
More generally, I was extremely touched to see how driven the people I met who work at Lewa were about their wildlife. They had that same, burning passion in common, ready to give all of their energy in the name of protecting animals, both for the sake of wildlife but for what this meant for the lives of the surrounding communities. What does planting two trees when you destroy one mean if the one you cut down for firewood hosted a bird’s nest? Why not cut certain branches off the tree, and plant trees before you plan on cutting ?
I loved how part of the activities proposed by the CEC in their education programmes are planting trees. So interesting (and refreshing) to see relational education (what I call teaching children to build relational ties with the environment, see KWA, 2016) in practice. One of my most beautiful memories will be to have accompanied the children we met on a game drive, some seeing lions for the very first time.
In my time at Lewa, I learnt about how two different types of soil will have an impact on livestock, water, food, and wildlife. I saw water stations bloom in a land where the drought has been severe for the past three years. I saw rangers smile proudly when they explain that they do what the Kenyan police should be doing, yet don't get the credit for it (but they don't care, because they know the people know). I was lucky to see a newborn baby sleeping against his mother’s breast at Lewa’s main clinic, which provides some of the best services in Northern Kenya. I danced with Maasai women, who belong to a culture trying to adapt to modern laws, and ways of being. I visited Lewa’s backbone, the very unsexy logistics department, which holds the entire organisation together, but of which no one speaks about.
Driving conservation without seeking to include people who depend on the very land to be conserved and hosting protected species will most probably be vowed to fail, or result in poaching, illegal logging and, at times, violence. Wildlife manages itself perfectly well on its own if given the chance to. Which is why showing communities what saving rhinos can bring them is probably the smartest way in which the species can avoid extinction.
This model is slowly growing, but funding is, of course, key to its safekeeping and development.
So please, help me support this incredibly innovative and inspiring way to promote strong relationships between people and wildlife.