How far would you go to help your neighborhood? What would you do to protect it? In the US we have “neighborhood watches” for that very purpose. In northern Kenya, they have a watch group- a grass-roots squad of rangers formed to protect the elephants and rhino from poachers.
Essentially a conservation militia, these volunteer villagers are fed up and taking matters into their own hands. The ordinary citizens are arming themselves and taking to the bush to fight back. Not necessarily out of a “Have you hugged an elephant today?” attitude, but to protect the money the elephant (and rhino) bring to their villages.
The safari/tourist industry is a successful and integral money-maker for Kenyans. An economic staple, tourists bring in more than a billion dollars a year. Much of that money is contractually bound to go directly to impoverished local communities, which use it for everything from pumping water to college scholarships.
The safari industry also provides 500,000 jobs for the community; everything from cooks to safari guides to accountants. Contrary to the general belief the safari jobs can pay quite well.
In addition to the poachers “robbing” the community of its wildlife, villagers are also turning against them because the illegal wildlife trade fuels crime, corruption, instability in the community. Here in northern Kenya, poachers are diversifying into stealing livestock, printing counterfeit money and sometimes holding up tourists. Some are even buying assault rifles used in ethnic conflicts.
Is this key to future conservation efforts? Nothing else seems to be working. Everything from high tech drones and military deployment to removing or poisoning horns and tusks is being tried; yet poaching rates are still soaring. Perhaps with the local people appreciating and protecting their wildlife, the elephant and rhino still stand a chance.