Power to the people!

27 November 2022


Want to save rare species? Empowering local people and funding community-based conservation is the key, as Born Free’s Conservation Manager, Penny Banham, explains in her long read blog.

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Wildlife conservation is the preservation and protection of animals, plants, and their habitats. By conserving wildlife, we’re ensuring that we protect the planet for future generations and giving nature a chance to thrive. However, it’s a common misconception that conservation is simply about wildlife. Although the fundamental principles of ecology and biology of animals and their habitats underpins all our efforts, most wildlife conservation efforts are centred on people. 


Conservation Manager, Penny Banham

These are many of the same people that, as wildlife species decline, have been viewed as the enemies of nature – the common, but faceless, one-dimensional profile of the poacher, the hunter and the habitat destroyer. However, nothing is quite so clear-cut – when people suffer, nature suffers too.

There are several reasons that may drive people towards paths that hurt nature. Many people are wholly reliant on the natural environment for their livelihoods and when things start to go awry, for example, in times of droughts and rising costs, the seeming abundance of natural resources offers a solution.

On a day-to-day basis, there are tangible costs to living with wildlife: the heaviest of those costs, such as being attacked by animals walking to school, losing livestock to predators and crops being raided by elephants, are borne by local communities, of which many are marginalised and vulnerable. Over the last century, hugely damaging and immoral conservation practices across the world have sought to exclude and disparage communities, disregarding the critically important voices and needs of local indigenous populations.

For conservation to work, we have to recognise that people and wildlife are interconnected. Each and every one of us has a role to play in addressing the real and serious threats facing our natural world; threats that also endanger people’s traditional ways of life and their survival. But, conservation will fail when we do not recognise that the roles of local communities, who live every day alongside wild animals, are far more significant than anyone else’s.

Real and tangible support is needed to address serious issues such as poverty, lack of education and restricted access to healthcare. Conservation that aims for true equitable and inclusive outcomes that benefit people and animals is likely to be far more successful than outdated models that seek to exclude humans from nature.

boma ownerThis is why people are at the heart of all Born Free conservation programmes. In the Meru Conservation Area, Kenya, we’re working directly with farming and pastoralist families to reduce human-wildlife conflict, from the majestic lion to the iconic elephant. George is a farmer living next to Meru National Park and grows sorghum (a cereal grain) and other marketable crops to feed his family. His farm is located merely five metres away from a huge electric fence, designed and built by park authorities to keep elephants from entering farms, that separates George’s farm from Meru National Park. However, elephants still find their way through, either coming through broken parts of the fence or taking advantage of times when the fence is not electrified (due to costs or power outages) to break through.

As a result of repeated break-ins, a weary and frustrated George guards his farm every night with the hope of defending his precious crop. In a dry landscape, the possibility of a highly nutritious meal of food crops is so tantalisingly close and irresistible to elephants. Large and risk-taking male elephants aren’t frightened off by George and they feast quickly on the crop, leaving George and his family with little to sell or eat. With no other choice, George must gather the remaining crops he can and prepare for a lean season, only to enter this vicious cycle next year when he hopes for the best and plants more seeds in the ground with the chance that the elephants may return.

George is one of the many people who bear the brunt of the real-life consequences of living with wild animals and in an area that has a lack of resources and infrastructure. Our Saving Meru’s Giants programme is helping George and so many others like him to prevent crop raiding by constructing beehive fences around crops, which deter elephants from entering farms. With his crops safe, and a supplementary source of income from honey production, the economic stability of George and his family is far greater and the chance for peaceful coexistence with elephants is within sight. People, just like George, also have the opportunity to engage in our community-based programmes that aim to provide healthcare services, education, table banking and agricultural tools, which improve lives and in turn, helps people care about nature.

“Conservation that aims for true equitable and inclusive outcomes that benefit people and animals is likely to be far more successful than outdated models that seek to exclude humans from nature.”

Amina and Jaqueline

Amina and Jacquiline, Twiga Team

Our conservation programmes aim to build capacity and empower individuals by employing local people, giving them skills and providing income for their families. Jacquiline Ntinyari is one of our amazing Twiga Team rangers who patrols protected areas, removing snares and reducing poaching activities. Jacquiline was born in a village, known as Kanjoo, on the border of Meru National Park. Growing up here, Jacquiline saw the good and bad side of living with these animals. Nonetheless, she had a passion for wildlife and knew that there was an important role to play in conserving them.

“Women are very close to nature because their livelihoods rely upon the stability of the environment around them, and its decline has impacted women disproportionally to men. But it can be hard for women to get involved in conservation. Being a ranger is considered to be the most dangerous job and many women are deterred because they fear the animals and they believe this role belongs to men only. This isn’t true – every single woman can be a conservationist. I love my job and I will spend the rest of my life protecting animals so that they can live freely as they have the right to.”

Samim Kaari

Samim Kaari, Elephant Guardian

We have also now established a team of five Elephant Guardians who dedicate their time every day to working in their communities to make it a safer place for both elephants and people to live. Samim is one of our committed Elephant Guardians. She originally trained as a teacher, teaching young students in an area where human-elephant conflict is rife and illegal trade of bushmeat is high. However, she knew she could influence her community to embrace conservation. With the right tools from Born Free, Samim not only helps her community tackle human-elephant conflict, but flies the flag for elephants whose voice cannot be heard.

By the end of this year, Born Free’s work in Meru will have directly employed over 15 people from the local community and helped thousands of families reduce the impacts of human-wildlife conflict, contributing to reducing poverty and making Meru a safer place to live. This is only the start of a hugely ambitious plan to help secure peaceful coexistence between people and wildlife, ensuring that we pass a safe and healthy natural world into the hands of future generations.

You can help directly support community-based conservation by adopting one of our Meru animal families: giraffes, rhinos or Elsa’s Pride.