The ACCF transitions poachers into new jobs, combats FGM, and hosts language camps for children: — We call it the “circle of life”
Taking on a holistic approach, the African Community & Conservation Foundation aims to educate Tanzanian communities on how to end poaching and build a better economic situation for everyone.
Startup Extreme Speaker Spotlight
A metal gate is opened — big, brown eyes blink at the first sight of the sunny Serengeti landscape behind the door. Eric the Eastern black rhino steps out of the cage he entered while in the US. His feet are now brushing against dusty sand, and he stops for a moment. Looking around at the grassy, wooded area in front of him, he seems to think: “What is this?” Certainly nothing like the surroundings he left on the other side of the Atlantic, back while he was an attraction at the San Diego Zoo.
There are only 750 black rhinos left in the wild — rhinos just like Eric. At the end of 2018, he was transported from the San Diego Zoo to the Serengeti in Tanzania, and a video was made to document his journey. A journey demanding safety precautions: He was on the highway and onboard a plane taking him across an ocean. Now, back where his ancestors have lived for millions of years, another kind of work begins — one which hopes to save the species from extinction.
To accomplish this work, funding provided by the non-profit, African Community & Conservation Foundation (ACCF for short) is needed. The goal of the charitable foundation is to fuel sustainable human impact and conservation. Peter Mattson, VP of Development & Marketing at the ACCF, says bringing a rhino from the US to Africa is hazardous work.
We now have two Eastern black rhinos on our property. By the end of 2019, we will have up to 15 Eastern black rhinos here, shipped from across the world. The Grumeti fund want to help re-wild them and help the species survive, and we both have great security and great systems for doing so. A lot of people don’t want to touch these translocation projects, because it is very dangerous and high-risk to transport the animals safely. It’s certainly a risky task — bad things can happen along the way.
A “safe zone” in the Serengeti ecosystem
The ACCF, in its role as a non-profit conservation charity, raises funds for African wildlife conservation projects. As the ACCF is part of the Grumeti Fund, they take part in rejuvenating and preserving the 350.000-acre Grumeti concessions. The property is a crucial part of the Serengeti ecosystem.
When the Grumeti fund was started in 2002, the area in Tanzania they operate in was nearly poached out completely.
It was a barren land, but through the great work of the Grumeti Fund, they brought the animals back. Now, this area is considered as one of the safest areas the animals can be in. In fact, we have 350.000 acres, which represent about five percent of the land in the Serengeti ecosystem. 20 percent of the elephants are on our property in the Serengeti ecosystem — and the reason that is, is because they know it is a safe zone. We call it the Garden of Eden, and there are no fences, but they know that’s where they are protected. There are still great poaching pressures in our area and in the Serengeti National Park. So, the safest place to be is on our property in our reserve.
Mattson says that the Grumeti Fund and the ACCF (which currently has almost 80.000 followers on its Facebook page) are working to help their neighbours and lead the conservation efforts in the surrounding areas too.
If we help our neighbours, that will help the entire ecosystem as well. We are becoming one of the leaders in terms of saving the critically endangered rhinos, and the Eastern black rhino in particular, who are native to this land. We feel that we have a role and responsibility in helping solve that problem. It is a big conservation initiative, and a special project for us this year.
But as the situation stands today, a number of threats are approaching the rhinos and other endangered animals — both directly and indirectly. Poaching is one of those threats, one which can wipe out entire animal populations.
There is a human/wildlife conflict going on in many places.We have drones, and use them to find poachers and to keep our eyes on the wildlife. We also track “problem elephants” that might go across the protected boundaries and into the communities. Such situations are dangerous for both the elephants and humans living in these communities so we use the drones, tracking collars and our game scouts to get the elephants back into the safer zones. We actually use the Vulcan Earth Ranger software and drones donated by the recently deceased former Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen.
Saving the poacher — in the circle of life
A lot of organisations working to end poaching, poverty, unemployment, and other challenges in Africa are focusing mainly on one of the causes behind each issue. Taking on a holistic approach instead, Mattson says that the ACCF views several of these issues as so inter-connected that it would be impossible to end one without tackling the others as well.
If you only cared about poaching and you wanted to get rid of that, one of the ways you do that is through law-enforcement. But you also need to approach the issue of unemployment, by getting the poachers different jobs that’ll prevent them from being unemployed. Getting a good job that pays well means they are less likely to seek out jobs as poachers. All of our anti-poaching game scouts were once poachers themselves.
The underlying reasons of why someone turns to poaching rarely make it to the headlines, or even social media. In fact, people often cheer for the wild animals who kill, mutilate, and eat poachers. It is the idea that nature is winning, and that it is doing so by taking out the “bad people.” But a poacher looking for a lion, rhino or elephant to shoot is no less aware of the danger than anyone else. And yet, the systematic demand for products made from exotic animals remains hidden in the social media posts, and unknown to most people. But at the end of the hunt, a poacher is still a poacher — even when the dead animal enters the industry of illegal trade. The “big money” is being made by someone else in the line of production.
Providing a former poacher with a good job, one that pays well, is a big part of the solution. This means they can buy cattle, houses, and send their kids to school. And they won’t risk getting shot or arrested while doing the dangerous work of poaching. We approach this issue from all angles, because we feel all the challenges are connected — and that taking on each of them truly is the best way to do it. No other organisations are doing it that way, but there are a lot of great organisations that are doing anti-poaching work, conservation work or humanitarian work, but no one else is doing all three of them. That’s really a key differentiator for us, and we call it the “circle of life.”
Creating the communities that end poaching
The ACCF has “Community” as part of its name for a reason: In order to build communities, and individuals, that know how to help preserve animal populations in the future, all stages in the circle of life have to be taken into account.
Making sure the children go to school is not the only challenge the children face. In the Western corridor of the Serengeti which we serve, many children are struggling because because when they go from primary to secondary school, they study language changes. More or less everything is in Swahili while the children are in primary school, but then in secondary school it is all English. Until that point, they haven’t had that much English in their classes.
Making the change from Swahili to English means many children are struggling to hang on to their studies.
It is very difficult, because the system doesn’t really prep them with the English they need for that change in secondary school. A lot of students, who are really great students in Swahili, suddenly find school very challenging. Sometimes they drop out of school because of that, so we do language camps to help with their English. This gives them the opportunity to continue their studies.
It might not show in the statistics for a few years to come, but language camps like these are aimed at ending a poacher’s “career” 10–15 years before it has even begun.
Helping the girls succeed
The ACCF is also working to tackle the issue of FGM — “female genital mutilation.” As this tradition stands today, it undermines the free will and autonomy of girls in many communities. The view society has of women and girls — and what contributions they can make in a community — is affected by this tradition.
We also do a lot of girls empowerment programs. In this particular part of Tanzania where we work, FGM is being done to many girls. So we have a two-pronged approach where we want to bring awareness against that, and to raise money for safe homes to protect the girls who want to escape the FGM tradition. We help them get back on their feet, and learn life skills so that they can be independent and have a different future — without having the fear and the trauma of having gone through FGM.
In the same way, providing the girls with female period napkins can serve to keep them in school. Without these napkins, many girls choose to stay out of school instead of having to face the ensuing humiliation. But rather than their first period meaning the end of their childhood and their studies, the proper sanitary products may ensure they get to finish their studies — and possibly even go to university. The ACCF works to provide girls with these sanitary products — which might seem like a little service, but it is one that goes a long way. Communities, where women get to contribute in the same way as men do, are not only more egalitarian — they also turn out to do better economically than compared to communities where men are the main breadwinners.
We are doing the Serengeti Girls Run, which is meant to raise awareness for all these girls’ empowerment programs and initiatives. This happens from October 25th to October 30th. Women will sponsor, help raise money, do three half-marathons three days in a row, and then also do fun runs with the girls, as well as involvements to help a couple of thousand girls in the neighbouring villages with the aforementioned initiatives.
Going viral — and to Startup Extreme
Upload a video of a lion, leopard, elephant, giraffe or any other exotic animal onto social media — and you might earn yourself the viral “badge.” People all over the world are fascinated by the wilderness of Africa — and done correctly, it’s possible to make “big business” on each social media platform. However, thousands of ‘likes’ usually do little to feed the families in that community or to end the poaching of the exotic animals.
We are trying to figure out how to turn our social media followers into people who will be donating. We look at them like partners too: Some people can write a check, some people can raise money, some people can make introductions to us that will help us raise awareness or raise funds. And some people are celebrities who may not write a check, but they want to use their platform for good — and they can open up our platform to a whole different level and a whole new audience through their endorsement and their support.
Still, harnessing marketing in the correct way can turn out to be tricky. And in this day and age — where several groups, organisations, and people are trying to showcase their causes on social media, ACCF is hustling to meet the challenge of getting the funds they need to succeed on all their causes. Hence, at Startup Extreme 2019 the audience will get to participate in a “Pay it forward” workshop for the marketing of the ACCF. As Peter Mattson himself says, people are resourceful in different ways — and a workshop is committed to unleashing quite a lot of that potential.
We see a bright future, but not an easy road, for the work we are doing. It is going to take philanthropists, raw commitments, and technical experts who do the work on the ground. We also need people who care about these issues, people who can work with governments. Along with other investors and impact funds, we can help solve the problems. We see ourselves as peacemakers, and it’s not going to be done with just one of those groups of people.
Implementing innovative measures into the conservation work is being done as well, but not only with drone technology. Mattson says they are bringing together key partners, scientists, and investors to work on how to help reduce the value of poached animals.
From of the conservation standpoint, one of the things that we have been discussing with certain groups is how we could make a rhino horn replica, so that when it is crushed down and used in products, you could flood the market — and basically ruin the market and the demand for rhino horn. So that’s one angle for approach for the illegal trade of ivory, rhino horn, contraband, and bushmeat trade. The future is bright, but it’s a matter of connecting with well-known individuals to create an army of people who really care about the issue.
Peter Mattson and Brady Forseth are coming to Startup Extreme this year, where they’ll be hosting a workshop to help them get more value from their marketing efforts. To get your hands on one of the tickets for this year’s event — which entails the opportunity of meeting key people from the ACCF in person — go to this link and apply!