By Anderson Ojwang
When Mayuye Manyaresa from Ikona wildlife management area in Mara River in Tanzania recently visited Mt Elgon, he was fascinated by what the community has done to conserve the national park within the area.
Alongside the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the community participated in constructing a 21km fence to lock in animals.
Back home in Tanzania’s Mara basin, conservation of the ecosystem is a major problem with the locals leading in the destruction of trees and rampant human-wildlife conflict.
“Our government is yet to talk to the people about conservation of natural resources. Without this knowledge, trees are cut down every day and disputes between wildlife and people are many. Poaching is a common practice in the region,” he says.
Manyaresa says when wild animals destroy crops, the villagers are so infuriated that they revenge by poaching the wildlife for food.
His fellow villagers hardly appreciate the role of the animals in bringing revenue to the country. Sadly, no one has shown them how they can actually live peacefully with animals.
So when he joined 29 other people invited by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission to study conservation at Mt Elgon, he didn’t know what to expect.
But the exchange programme was such an eye-opener to Manyaresa and the others that they promised to implement what they had seen back home.
Indeed for a long time, the Mt Elgon National Park had many cases of wildlife and human conflict as well as destruction of the natural resources by the neighbouring communities.
But this has ended, thanks to the efforts of the Mt Elgon Regional Ecosystem Conservation Programme.
But it is not enough to conserve the ecosystem if you have not ensured the people are economically stable so that they don’t interfere with the forest.
The programme empowers local communities through revolving funds and creation of opportunities for repayment.
The KWS senior warden in charge of the park, Zipporah Adagi, says they have integrated the community in the protection of the wildlife in the park.
“We have provided the farmers with tree seedlings to plant along the park and they no longer hunt for game. We have ensured that animals don’t trespass into their farms by constructing the fence,” says Adagi.
When raising money for constructing the fence, KWS also wrote proposals for funding of community projects such as planting of trees and provision of water. This enhanced the relationship between the park and the community.
Contrary to the norm where people went into the park to poach and fell trees, the situation has been reversed with the community leading in rehabilitation of the ecosystem.