Out of a rangeland of approximately 7,000 km2 only 23% is protected for wildlife conservation through community conservancies and the Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR). Outside the conservancies communities do not earn income from having wildlife present on their land which leads to conflict and negative attitudes toward wildlife.
MEP works with partners to change attitudes of communities living with wildlife through sustainable income generating projects and conservation education projects. The key is to clearly link these projects to elephants and wildlife conservation because research shows there is a clear need to link community development projects with wildlife conservation.
As MEP addresses poaching and increased human-elephant conflict, we plan to influence the community’s attitude toward wildlife by developing projects which we tie directly to harmoniously living with wildlife and the benefits that accrue to the local community as a result of the wildlife and associated tourism.
With this in mind, MEP has developed a strategic partnership with the Maa Trust who works with communities living on the borders of wildlife conservancies in the Mara. The Maa Trust supports a number of community development projects including primary school bursaries, water harvesting for schools, community water points, school infrastructure development, supplying textbooks, wildlife education and health projects.
A core message of the Maa Trust is “Esiaai Tenkaraki Ing’uesi” meaning “work because of the wildlife.” All of the projects they engage are directly happening because of the wildlife they coexist with. The Maa Trust has developed a beading and honey harvesting project that engages over 500 women surrounding the Olare Orok Conservancy. It allows these women to earn additional income when it is not often encouraged in a male-dominated culture.
MEP also works in the Rekero, Ol Donyo Erinka and Ole Moncho areas, which historically have been some of the worst poaching hotspots and continue to be one of the worst human-elephant conflict areas. There are three primary schools in these areas: Ole Moncho Primary School, Rekero Primary School, and Ngoswani Primary School all educating a total of 1,117 children. All three schools share the need for basics like potable water, security, energy for cooking, lighting, classroom space, sanitation facilities, classroom furniture and textbooks.
“I’M TEACHING MY STUDENTS HERE THAT WHEN SOMEBODY KILLS ANIMALS WE CALL HIM A POACHER. MY PUPILS LEARN TO SECURE ELEPHANTS BY GO AND MOBILIZE THEIR PARENTS TO GIVE ELEPHANTS SECURITY.” Peter Nkuruwa, Teacher, Kerero Primary School
“ONE OF THE THINGS WE LIKE TO DO WITH THE WILDLIFE CLUBS THAT WE’VE STARTED IS BRING RANGERS IN AND SHOW TO THE CHILDREN WHO THE RANGERS ARE, GET TO KNOW THEM.” Marc Goss, CEO, Mara Elephant Project
MEP decided to help them tackle one of these needs while educating them about the plight of elephants. Through our time in the Mara, we have gathered evidence that shows that the trees that populate elephant habitat are also the specific trees being harvested for firewood, charcoal and building materials by the local villagers. These three schools in particular need to feed a large amount of children daily using firewood based burners to cook. So, at these schools, children are required to bring firewood from home to help the school maintain their source of energy.
“IF WE HAVE YOUNG PEOPLE THAT ARE DEVELOPING INTO THESE CUSTODIANS OF THE ECOSYSTEM, I THINK WE’RE MAKING A REAL DIFFERENCE.” Marc Goss, CEO, Mara Elephant Project
Currently, MEP is piloting a program at Ngoswani Primary School that plants and maintains a sustainable woodlot. The woodlot cycle is aimed at both providing alternative energy sources to schools but also as a learning tool for children to propagate at home. MEP plans to work with the school Wildlife Clubs and our partner, Woodlands 2000 Trust, to develop sustainable forests, which generate sustainable sources of firewood, charcoal and timber.
Another key to community engagement is collecting and using the available evidence that supports the social, economic and environmental importance of protecting elephants as a keystone species to influence key decision-makers at the local, regional and national level, within government, civil society organizations and within local communities. Individuals, government and communities need to be persuaded that there are long-term benefits to them as a result of protecting elephants and other wildlife.
Our trusted work with local tribal and community leaders has vastly expanded MEP’s reach in the Mara. MEP invests in education because we believe that by teaching local primary school children about the true importance of wildlife in the Mara, elephants included, they will view these creatures as an added value to their homeland.