The truth: We care more for UK bees than our own wildlife
But conversationalists believe there is still time to turn the tide for Africa’s vanishing fauna
What can be done to inspire a sense of magic and pride among the young people of Africa to safeguard the continent’s vanishing wildlife heritage, before it is too late?
That’s the challenge laid down to African filmmakers and storytellers by Kenyan conservationist Dr Paula Kahumbu, who fears that wild animals are disappearing too fast from large parts of the continent partly because of a lack of public awareness or love for wildlife.“The time is now for Africa to take responsibility for our wildlife heritage. We are not winning. Tens of millions are spent every year on conservation projects and it’s not working ...” Kahumbu warned in a keynote address at the Nature, Environment and Wildlife Filmmakers Congress in Durban this week.
“It worries me that we have not created a level of awareness or love for wildlife ... so that people will vote for leaders who will protect our wildlife heritage.”
Kahumbu, who gained her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from her studies of elephants in Kenya, said she would have loved to have spent more time watching and studying animal behaviour like researchers Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall.“That’s what I did for many years, until I realised that so many species are under great pressure and that we could lose them. That is what forced me to come out of my ‘scientific shell’ – to mobilise public attention,” said the founder of the Kenyan conservation group WildlifeDirect and the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign.
Earlier this year, she said, Scottish librarian Fiona Presly narrated a short documentary about how she rescued and cared for a bumble bee from her garden after noticing that it had no wings.“Parts of the UK have lost almost everything, even bees – and nearly 2.5 million people watched that short story about a bumble bee ...
“Yet we have magnificent animals like elephants and gorillas in Africa and we are not protecting them. What’s going on here? Where is that sense of magic and pride in what other continents have lost?”
Until recently, Africa’s elephants were being slaughtered by ivory poachers at the rate of almost 100 a day and the total elephant population is still declining by nearly 10% a year. All great ape species are now critically endangered. Throughout Africa, there are now as few as 20,000 wild lions left alive and only 7,000 free-ranging cheetahs.Kahumbu said there is a need to “interrupt the narrative” that all wildlife should be regarded as a dangerous threat to the interests of humanity.
Noting that a new railway line has been routed through the Nairobi National Park and that almost a quarter of Kenya’s energy is generated by geothermal power generators in the Hell’s Gate National Park, she said national parks had not been created to expand transport or energy development.“Yet (this type of thing) is happening all over Africa and people are not speaking out.
“If people are not informed, how will they make wise decisions? We need to speak more to younger people than to adults. 65% of Kenyans for example, are younger than 18. These are the people who are going to make decisions in the next few years – and who better to tell these stories than us Africans?”“We need to develop partnerships with the people who have the tools and knowledge for storytelling and we also need governments to back our storytelling – but I am ashamed that my efforts to get government support have led to nought.”
Quite apart from getting more wildlife stories onto national television it is also important to get such stories into classrooms via print and mobile platforms.
“I believe we can still turn things around in Africa, and timing is critical. But these films and stories cannot be just for Animal Planet or National Geographic in the West. They have to be for Africans of the future ... and to move more people to action.”