A Bush Meat Poacher’s Life

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Bush Meat Poacher’s life by Peter Towett

The Amara Conservation mobile team gets inside the world of a long-term poacher, digging into his encyclopedia of bush craft knowledge and the cruel but nonetheless skilled art of poaching. While we can never forget the animals which men like this have killed over the years, there is no denying these hunters are skilled men of the bush, whose bush craft has kept them alive in conditions many of us could never survive in.

These poachers usually start out as subsistence hunters, who are then exploited by criminal networks that have made a lot of money off their backs. We are not condoning these men killing animals, but there is also a human tragedy here. This is the story of how a traditional way of life as a subsistence hunter (which was sustainable and part of the balance of nature) has been manipulated into something that is completely unsustainable, corrupt and preys as much on the vulnerable poacher of wildlife.

The poachers do not realize that there is not an endless supply of these animals in the bush; or that when they reduce the numbers of antelope, the predatory cats will turn to their livestock for food. They are risking their lives and freedom (jail sentencing when caught by authorities) for something that cannot last.

Hidden in the bush, snares are silent, indiscriminate killers of wildlife. The constricting wires choke or seriously injure any animal that crosses their path, including dikdiks, zebras, giraffes, lions, even elephants. These wounded or dead animals attract lions, wild dogs, and other large carnivores, which can then become entangled in other traps lying nearby. Even collecting the animals from their snares is a dangerous occupation!

Most of the poaching is driven by hunger and lack of a decent living, along with periodic crop failures and weather crises. When the rain fed crops wither due to lack of rainfall, they sell their livestock in the market to sustain their families; when they lack any to sell, pressure mounts and people are compelled to poach.

Poaching is usually done at night, braving the harshness of the bush and risks to their lives from predators, snakes, and buffaloes. The hunting varies in different communities from using spears, flashlights and poisoned arrows, to snares, knives, and catapults.

We help by firstly creating understanding for these people of the harm they are causing. Once they know this, we encourage them to come up with alternative livelihoods for legal sustainable income. Some can even be recruited to turn the piles of snare wire into jewelry by handpicking the wires and adorning them with beads and seeds from local trees). This will stop the vice, and recycling the snares will not only stop the poaching but also offers a decent living.

Poachers can be turned to reformers just by giving them the opportunity to learn about how they impact the environment. One example is Sowene who has known no other source of income but poaching. When we met him during our field programme, he decided not only to never poach again, but also to become an active conservationist teaching other poachers why they need to stop.

Changing one’s way of life is not easy for anyone. It takes courage and willpower. Mostly, it takes a powerful reason and desire to do so. This is what we provide.

African Traditional Culture Improves Conservation

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African Traditional Culture Improves Conservation

This is a rough translation of the title of our newest program (Tamaduni za Kiafrica Zaboresha Uhifadhi). We are working with KUAPO (Kenyans United Against Poaching), the Kenya Wildlife Service, and the Taita Taveta Elders on this collaborative program. We have recently concluded the introductory phase in key hotspot areas around Tsavo.

It involved visiting important villages, sharing the knowledge of the Elders about how the traditional ways protected their land and wildlife and mixing this with current day practices and scientific information. While most of these traditions are no longer in practice, we discussed how they can inform and assist with the crucial environmental issues faced today.

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When the Elders were asked WHY these traditions are no longer in use, we heard an interesting story… they said that the first Government after Kenya’s Independence sent rangers to patrol who told them that they could no longer enter the Park to tend to their traditional shrines, and that the forests and wildlife were no longer theirs to interact with or protect. They were stopped from visiting their sacred sites. People were arrested as poachers by some rangers to cover their own poaching, and the people just gave up. They told us that the colonial gov’t had worked with them, but the new African one did not.

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What are these some of the things they used to do?

No one was allowed to kill a wild animal or cut down a tree without the Elders permission, which was only granted for special occasions or reasons. If disobeyed, the penalty ranged from having to give up a cow or goat, to more serious punishments. But, only rarely did those have to be used.

When elephants or other animals came near to settlements, an Elder with experience could track that animal and “lure” it back to the Park or deeper into the bush. But they knew the animals were looking for something, usually water, and were careful during the times they thought this might happen.

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Many of the trees and plants had traditional medicinal uses, and were cared for. This no longer being the case, illegal charcoal trade has destroyed large areas of forest, which in turn brings drought, reduced soil fertility, and soil erosion.

THE BOTTOM LINE IS THIS: A return to a sense of ownership of the wildlife and environment is what will make people take care of it. This coincides with wordings in the new Wildlife Act that involve devolution of responsibility to community and local government. There are new stronger penalties for wildlife crime, and those are to be enforced locally, as are new higher compensations for wildlife damage to humans and their crops/homesteads.

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We engaged high-ranking officers of the Kenya Wildlife Service to join in on this program. They reinforced to the people that KWS DO NOT OWN THE WILDLIFE, they are just tasked with caring for it – something they cannot do effectively without community support.

Amara talked about how ecosystems work, with humans at the core of both destruction and protection; and the financial benefits to be gained from wildlife and protecting dwindling resources.

This program is exactly what is needed! It is a great opportunity, combining the old with the new, and finding common ground for everyone to work together.

How Many Ways…

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How many ways does humankind mistreat elephants? From logging to trekking, circuses to temples, the use and abuse of elephants is staggering. This blog post will show you: http://www.abeatingheart.ca/working-elephants/

Elephants used for elephant rides or trekking in countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka were often babies when they were abducted from their families in the wild, their families killed to take the babies for a life of slavery to give rides.

The traumatized babies are subjected to weeks of a brutal ‘crushing’ process of beatings called phajaan to break their spirits, shown here, so that tourists can enjoy riding on their backs.

We implore you to NEVER ride an elephant, on holiday or at any circus or fair venue. American circuses break their elephants in a similar manner, to perform degrading, health-threatening tricks for public amusement. All elephants belong with their families in the wild.

Jacob Dadi Visits Amara Conservation Home Office

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I have being working in the field most of the time moving from one school or community to another, showing films and holding talks to community participants and to students around Tsavo – I spend very little time in front of my computer. I like doing this and I could not imagine that I could stay in the office all day working in front of the computer, and in planning meetings with my boss. In short, I disliked working in the office, am used to fieldwork and liked that much more than office work.

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But for the last three weeks I was in Nairobi in the office working closely with my boss Lori Bergemann, and found that I really liked it, even more than the fieldwork! I worked on reports and documentation, we set up a new google map of the areas we have been visiting as Amara Conservation for the last several years; had very successful way forward meetings with Lori, and really enjoyed working with her so closely. What a great boss is she? Now I have the two experiences, working in the field and working in the office. I can say that I am happy to work for Amara Conservation and I really love it because it is what has made me to be who I am now. I love what we do!