Youth for Conservation desnares Tsavo

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2000:

NAIROBI––Youth for Conservation, with the motto “Wildlife Our Heritage,” describes itself as an association of “post-school young persons regardless of race, creed, or gender who abound in conservation interest and wish to perpetuate it.”

Care For The Wild managing director Chris Jordan describes it as “A group of young lawyers, teachers, accountants, and programmers who are too well qualified and not well enough connected to find places right now in the Kenyan economy, who are too much attached to their love of the Kenyan environment to want to leave it and seek their fortune elsewhere. Many of them got their education abroad, and came back,” Jordan emphasizes. “These young people are the future of the nation. Rather than stagnate and wait for the economy to need them, they pitched in and put their talents to work.”

Jordan averes that the YfC members are some of the most dedicated people he’s met in conservation anywhere. For facilities they have only a closet-sized office at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust animal orphanage. Material assets consist of a second-or-third-hand computer, and a newly received grant of $1,000 from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

But their snare removal projects in Nairobi National Park and Tsavo National Park have saved thousands of animals’ lives, and their ability to influence public opinion both in Kenya and worldwide, is beginning to attract respect and notice.

The core personnel are chair Josephat Ngonyo, vice chair Joseph Gitonga, projects coordinator Sammy Maina, secretary Gladwell Mwangi, deputy secretary Sheila Munguti, public relations officer Peter Muigai, treasurer Okong’o Ogutu, and librarian James Ngigi.

None of them have ever been paid. They plan activities around the concepts of doing as much as possible with little or no cash outlay, and of alternating social occasions such as group hikes and picnics with less pleasureable work such as snare removal, picking up litter, tree-planting, and orchestrating protest against cruelty and corruption harmful to animals. They also lobby politicians and guest-lecture at schools.

“We believe that each individual effort can make a difference. The noble task of conservation should start from within,” says the YfC introductory letter.

Isack Maina, Ngigi, and Wambua Kikwatha spent five weeks during the summer of 1999 living out of knapsacks in the Tsavo desert, removing illegal snares from alongside railway tracks and the Mtito Andrei River. With them were a local guide and two armed Kenya Wildlife Service rangers: poachers in the same vicinity at almost the same time killed a ranger who had little if any chance to defend himself.

They pulled out 779 snares, just over half of the total of 1,300 snares that YfC members found in Nairobi National Park and Tsavo National Park altogether. Maina showed them to ANIMAL PEOPLE– – a wicked snarl of wire loops that he guessed might eventually be made into some sort of educational exhibit, perhaps a sculpture, welded so that no one could salvage any of the snares for further use.

“About 70% of the snares were meant for small game like dik-diks, impalas, etc.,” according to the comprehensive report Ngigi produced about the effort.

Many of the other snares were set for birds, especially guinea fowl, but imperiled all ground-running species, including the extremely rare ground hornbill––a flightless possible survivor from the late Cretaceous era.

“The snares were distributed in tracks leading to the river,” the YfC volunteers found. “We established that poaching along the river is most prevalent during the dry season. This is because during this time all the water holes in the park are dry, and animals depend upon the river for water.”

Ngigi noted “Some signs of snares being removed” by poachers as the desnaring project continued. “On two occasions poachers took to their heels on sighting us,” Ngigi wrote. “Most of the poachers were confirmed to have been collecting their catch early in the morning. Most of the hardwood in the area had been felled for charcoal burning and logging. It was confirmed that snaring was done not only for subsistence purposes but also commercially. The game meat is sold in the nearby villages and Mtito,” the nearest large town, Ngigi explained.

“Charcoal and fish are mainly transported to Mtito,” he added. “There is a very high risk of bush fire outbreaks” because of this activity, Ngigi continued, “since most poachers roast the snared meat in the park, and the fishers also dry their catches using fire. Charcoal burners usually leave burning charcoal in the open areas, and honey harvesters also use fire in the park. Spades, gunny bags for charcoal, cooking utensils, water containers, pangas, and polyethylene bags were found stored in the park”––a sign, Ngigi said, that the poachers felt secure.

Maina, Ngigi, and Kikwatha estimated that about 3% of the snares they found might have caught an animal on any given day. “This translates into 168 animals in a week, 720 animals in a month, and 8,640 animals in a year within an area of 18 miles of park boundary,” they concluded. “If the situation is not arrested immediately, this will completely destroy the Tsavo ecosystem.”

Asked the cost of running YfC for a year, Josephat Ngonyo reluctantly allowed that they might have spent about $3,000. ANIMAL PEOPLE pressed him for an estimate of how much it would have cost if all the key staff had been paid for their labor. $18,000 would have covered everyone, Ngonyo eventually calculated, estimated in terms of survival needs rather than in terms of professional qualification.

[Contact Youth for Conservation c/o POB 15555, Nairobi, Kenya; 254-02- 891996; fax 254-02-890053. Donations made specifically for the desnaring project should be sent to the same address c/o The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.]

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