As 2012 draws to a close, no clear resolution to elephant poaching will greet the new year. Yet, numerous efforts are receiving more attention, and there are many are committed to finding a resolution, through conventional and not so conventional means.
In Northern Kenya, poachers are being converted into volunteer rangers and armed to protect their former victims (click here for story). The incentive? Tourism in Kenya generates a billion dollars a year and provides more than half a million jobs. Most safari camps and lodges not only employ local people but also commit a large part of the revenue they generate back into the local communities to improve living conditions. In addition, the income received from the tourist industry, is greater and more secure than income from poaching. As such, people see that the elephants and other wildlife are important to their local economy and ability to improve the quality of their own lives. This in the long term is an essential condition for animals living the in wild adjacent to human populations.
To the skeptic, arming former poachers may seem akin to letting the fox guard the hen house. No doubt, it is a risky, non-conventional strategy, not unlike hiring the best hackers to help protect government and corporate technology software programs. But if a poacher’s motivation was primarily financial, replacing that source of income with something more sustainable and respectable will likely change behavior. Coupled with communities embracing wildlife as a benefit, volunteer militias may indeed become a deterrent to poaching. Throughout many parts of Africa, governments and NGOs are working to help local communities benefit from their wildlife resources and associated tourist industry. Some programs are aimed at children, imprinting upon young people the value of wildlife resources; other programs are aimed at farmers, teaching them techniques to ward off wild animals that destroy their crops, without killing them. From the conventional to the unconventional — every effort counts.
As you make your resolutions for the New Year, please remember the elephants. Don’t buy ivory and make it a priority to help spread that word. Let’s resolve to put the remaining poachers and the criminal organizations that drive poaching out of business!