Can wildlife roam freely and live harmoniously with humans?

Workers during construction of a solar-powered electric fence at a section of the Mt Kenya Forest in Nyeri county on December 14, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In an age where wildlife conservation efforts have long relied on costly and unsustainable human interventions, a new approach is gaining

The International Fund for Animals Welfare, (IFAW) has aptly recognised the urgent need to take action and is actively advocating for the “Room to Roam” initiative.

Room to Roam concept aims at facilitating interaction between animals and humans to avert human-wildlife

At the heart of this campaign lies climate change, and inadequate conservation funding which stakeholders say have a devastating impact on roaming animals, such as elephants, whose home ranges are increasingly cut off by the encroachment of new villages, farms, cities, highways, and industrial growth.

According to the CEO and President of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Azzedine Downes, Room to Roam aims to provide wild animals with safe routes to freely traverse through counties and conservancies, while ensuring a safe distance from human

“The benefits of promoting “Room to Roam” extend beyond the animal kingdom, when habitats are effectively connected, communities also become more resilient.

The conservation efforts aimed at facilitating animal movement have a positive ripple effect, aiding in the preservation of ecosystems and the protection of natural resources that are vital for the sustainability of human communities,” he said.

He added that thriving of wild animals depends on their ability to move freely and access healthy habitats that offer essential resources such as food, water, and ample natural space for stabilisation and success, however, the fragmentation of habitats due to human activities has resulted in a critical need to connect these habitats for the well-being of

“Our approach leverages the power of climate-smart conservation, integrated landscape management, and ecosystem-based adaptation to deliver multiple benefits for nature, climate, and people,” he said.

The IFAW actively engages in education and outreach programmes to foster a deeper appreciation and understanding of wildlife among local populations. 

“We aim to secure and connect 12 critical landscapes each home to at least 10,000 elephants, by empowering individuals with knowledge about animal behaviour and the importance of conservation, IFAW aims to bridge the gap between humans and animals, forging a path towards coexistence,” he added.

According to the Africa director for IFAW, James Isiche, the “Room to Roam” initiative comes as a response to the growing concern over the fragmentation of wildlife habitats, which poses a significant threat to animal populations and their natural migration patterns.

“By creating interconnected corridors, this project aims to mitigate the negative impact of human encroachment and ensure the long-term survival of various species granting animals the freedom to migrate,” he said.

Isiche emphasised that the success of the “Room to Roam” initiative hinges upon the interconnectivity between game parks, game reserves, and conservancies. 

“Establishing these vital links will enable wild animals to traverse vast landscapes, ensuring the sustainability of their populations and the preservation of their natural habitats.”

“If wildlife is confined in one area, they will eventually face a grim fate due to limited access to essential resources such as food and water, however, if there is sufficient space for movement and migration, animals can not only survive but also thrive,” he said.

Peter Matunge, the CEO of Laikipia Conservancy Association said that approximately 40 per cent of the county’s land is dedicated to conservation efforts, but the growing impact of climate change has led to an alarming rise in incidents of human-wildlife conflict.

According to him, the escalating conflict between humans and wildlife has posed significant challenges to both the local communities and the indigenous wildlife populations.

“Encounters between humans and animals are not only becoming more frequent but also more dangerous, this is primarily due to the changing landscapes and shifting migration patterns caused by climate change,” he said.

“The conservation efforts carried out in Laikipia County are crucial in preserving the region’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife populations, through initiatives like ‘Room to Roam, we can create a harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife, ultimately minimizing the impact of human-wildlife conflict,” he said.