Illegal Killing of Elephants and Economic Sabotage in Africaby kenya on Jun. 27, 2012, under Life
June 25, 2012
By Corinne Dedini, Atlanta Girls School (traveling with St. Gregory)
What comes to mind when you think of Africa? I think of beautiful and colorful people, a lone acacia tree against the backdrop of an expansive sky and, of course lions and elephants! Our trip to Samburu National Reserve included all of these, the National Geographic version of Africa. But the international press corps feeds Africa’s underbelly to an insatiable Western audience: An Africa plagued by famine, drought, corruption, AIDS, poaching, women’s inequality and tribalism, shaped in part by the destructive remnants of the European hegemony. Our trip to the Northeastern part of Kenya gave us a glimpse of this world, too. But we are left hopeful that, by protecting its wildlife and educating its children, Kenya’s young democracy is growing into National Geographic’s Africa.
Traveling down in altitude and up in latitude, we left the cool Mt. Kenya air and warm Kikuyu people behind and passed through Isiolo, a bustling, dusty and eclectic town with a border feel. Here disparate cultures—Samburu pastoralists and Muslim Somalis—not only coexist, but welcome tourists on their way to one of Africa’s true treasures: Samburu National Reserve.
The reserve is named for the local Samburu people, herders who live in compounds of round huts made of branches. In ethnography and lifestyle, the Samburu are the Maasai’s Bantu speaking, northern counterparts. The anthropology is as much a part of the safari experience as is the ecology. Camping along the Ewaso Ngiro River facilitated an easy transition between game drives, swimming adventures and campground downtime (more on this from Hanfei!) Not only did we see the elusive leopard and lion, but we also spotted the iconic elephant, zebra, giraffe, oryx, impala, gazelle, gerenuk, dik-dik, crocodile, baboon, jackal, warthog, savannah monitor, leopard tortoise, ostrich and many other interesting birds.
A visit to the Save the Elephants field station helped us appreciate the essential roles of education and local partnerships in reducing elephant mortality rates. While reserves ostensibly protect what remains of the African elephants’ fragmented habitat, the Asian ivory market and global economic downturn fuel illegal poaching. An inspiring model of collaborative work towards sustainability, Save the Elephants partners with local farmers and schools, international teams of scientists and activists, and the Kenyan government to try to prevent the extinction of African elephants in the wild. Festus Ihwagi of Save the Elephants explains why the “illegal killing of elephants raises alarm. If conservation of elephants is threatened, so is employment, security, and donor funding for the communities surrounding the conservancies. Illegal killing of elephants is a form of economic sabotage for the development agenda. Wildlife is intended to enhance livelihood options, meet real social needs, and address environmental priorities.” As a keystone species, the elephants of Samburu teach us that human exploitation of resources could cause ecosystem, and therefore economic, collapse. Interest peaked? You can learn more about Save the Elephants and its esteemed founder, Iain Douglas Hamilton, at www.savetheelephants.org.
Camping safaris are not for those with a weak constitution. This adventure built not only appreciation for different cultures and natural systems, but also personal resiliency. St. Gregory and Atlanta Girls’ School families, I admonish you: Take time to listen carefully as your sons and daughters recount their experiences in Kenya. You will surely find that they have discovered much about themselves and the world. After our three day safari, we all agree that Samburu National Reserve is quintessential Africa!