CAN THE AFRICAN CONSERVE THEIR WILDLIFE?
By Mutheu Mbeke
In every African country with substantial wildlife, there is an urgent scramble for any perceived free land by white conservationists in pursuit of setting up wildlife conservancies supposedly to protect the African wildlife from the African human. Well publicized campaigns have been run through both local and international media to create the impression that African wildlife is getting threatened and extinct because the local communities are unable to protect the world life. I find the pretext of these foreign conservationists and their heroic presentation quite disturbing because they are not based on ground facts but on a savior mentality complex. The same mentality that was used and continually is used to take control of and to illegally exploit Africa’s resources.
In Kenya for example, these conservationists target pastoral communities grazing lands in setting up their conservancies. More specifically within Laikipia, Samburu and Marsabit counties. Through the use of media and in collaboration with the postcolonial government, they have succeeded in painting these pastoral communities as the enemy of the Kenyan wildlife so much, such that the general public construe this narrative to be the truth. These pastoral communities continually keep on being pushed away from their open grazing lands as more and more of settler conservancies come up.
Each settler amasses thousands of acres which the pastoralists and their livestock are no longer allowed to step back in, consequently reducing their grazing lands. What the conservationists seem to care about is how much they can rake from these conservancies through international wildlife funding NGO’s and tourists. At first, it appears like they are coming in to rescue, but eventually, we are now able to see that it’s capitalism and possible re colonization of the nomadic spaces.
No one stops to think about what happens to the undermined economic activity of these communities. No one stops to give them an alternative. No one stops to think how these pastoralists can positively continue to coexist with the wildlife. Everyone thinks that they are underserving and that their presence only serves to hurt the wildlife. Which brings us to the question. How exactly did Europe destroy the greater percentage of their wildlife before 1900 yet the African wildlife seemed to thrive amidst the local population? Was it a case of the presence of a perfect food chain? Or was it because Africans took a more intentional approach to preserve their wildlife?
It has been observed that in most African communities, food wastage is viewed as a taboo and that hunting herbivores was done purely as a source of food. Another thing Africans would do is that they would always settle away from major wildlife paths and spaces to avoid constants attacks and conflicts from the wild animals. To avoid unending human wildlife conflicts, the pastoralist communities had studied the wildlife immigrations trends and seasons so well such that they would plan their pasture search movements to go after the wildlife had already left a certain grazing zone and get away immediately before the wildlife was back. Just like the way the carnivores plan their immigration to coincide with and/or to follow the herbivores. Most African carnivores stay hidden during the day when the herders are out and then hunt at night when the herders have taken their livestock back to the guarded Manyattas that are difficult for the wildlife to attack. Clearly, there was a synergy between the two, a synergy that is not yet dead. A synergy that can be revived and continued. Conservation of African wildlife is not a strange concept to Africa, we have harmoniously lived with them for thousands of years. It can be enforced, but it doesn’t need to be outsourced. Especially, not to land grabbing, profit seeking conservationists that are out to disregard the existence of human communities.
The possibility of wildlife extinction was largely introduced to Africa through colonization by European powers through introducing practices that directly threatened the existence of wildlife including; massive ivory trade, rhino horns trade, direct killing of wildlife in order to create space for settlers to grab huge pieces of land to create ranches and through introduction of trophy hunting, and killing of herbivores that attacked settler farms. The existence of wildlife parts markets in Asia and Europe, and trophy hunting remain to be the two greatest threats to African wildlife. White conservationists have been recorded to justify trophy hunting as beneficial to local African communities because after they harvest the valuable parts of an animal, they donate the meat to the locals. What Saviors?