‘with butterflies and warriors’
Across Africa growing populations and deepening poverty have intensified the battle between man and animals for the same land and environmental resources. Increasingly, animals are pushed into smaller pockets of wilderness, their migration routes closed off and their water supplies damned and increasingly used for crop irrigation. Illegal hunting and poaching has decimated their numbers. At the same time, rural farmers have learned to mistrust wildlife, killing those animals who have encroached further in to their land. If wildlife conservation is to succeed at all, it is imperative to find a way for man and animal to coexist in sustainable harmony. Its also crucially important that any income generated from the wildlife is shared with the communities who may face financial hardship as result of the destruction of crops by elephant, death of livestock by leopard and lion, and family members killed or maimed by all three. Communities must be given the options for incentives to preserve rather than poach. We are, after all, asking pastoralist communities who historically have not benefited from the wildlife that they live alongside, to live in harmony with it, rather than eradicate it in favour of livestock.
The poaching of wildlife is well documented and should not be underplayed however, what remains largely unseen is the important part that local communities play in conserving and protecting the wildlife that they live alongside, to live in harmony with it. ‘With butterflies and warriors’ is the story of those communities in northern Kenya who have come together as a collective in order that they may safeguard the future of a wide range of species, thus allowing the safe migration of wildlife along centuries old routes, across tribal lands.
I realised at the very beginning of this work in 2010 that in order to fully understand the complexities of this region I would need to understand the people, and their relationship with the wildlife with which they share their lands. Many tribes inhabit the northern rangelands of Kenya, and one of those tribes is the Samburu. The Samburu are referred to by the Masaai, and others in this region, as the ‘butterfly people’ due to their beautiful body adornments. It’s always seemed to me that their name results more from each new stage of their lives that they metamorphosize into, as they progress from children, to warriors (moran) and then finally to elders (mzee). For the Samburu much of the wildlife in this region is sacred. They cannot marry without access to elephant dung, and a lion is an extremely important animal in Samburu culture. They believe that if lions are present, there will be no bad droughts. When lions roar in the early morning this is a sign of rain, nothing else will give them hope during a drought except a lion’s roar. The Samburu believe that they came from the same place as wildlife; some families belong to the elephant family, and some families belong to the lion family, called “Lparasoro”, a lions roar sounds like “L-PA-ra-soro”. Those from the lion family cannot kill lions, those from the elephant family can not kill elephants. So when they begin to poach or decimate the wildlife, we know that we have a problem, it’s for this reason that I chose to work with one specific tribe of Samburu, and over the past decade, it has been possible to understand fully how important their relationship with the environment is not only to them, but to us all.
The science employed here in this landscape to mitigate all manner of human wildlife coexistence issues, although born and tested right here, not only has significance for those living here, but also enormous global significance for us all. This region is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change, drought and flood, which can have devastating effects on both people and wildlife exacerbating the possibility of human wildlife conflicts, as pastoralists compete with wildlife for diminishing resources; it also provides a case study for conservation practises worldwide.
Communities here are now starting to see the benefits from the dual use of wildlife and livestock. There is a realisation that wildlife can be used alongside livestock to generate the capital needed to help communities improve their welfare and bring peace, giving them a clear financial stake in preserving wildlife, rather than killing it. The incentive is now to protect wildlife ‘an enemy of wildlife is now also an enemy of the people’.
It is obvious that without the support and agreement of those who live alongside wildlife to safeguard a wide range of species, not just the iconic ones, we have no hope of preserving this region, let alone the rest of the planet. This is living ‘with butterflies and warriors’…