We protect what we know and love.
The wildlife of Africa, beloved by so many, is in trouble. Elephants are killed each day for ivory. Rhinos are facing extinction in the few places where they are left, for silly products made from their horn. Giraffes, lions, cheetahs, leopards — these and other species are rapidly disappearing in many areas. It is heartbreaking to imagine that the savannas and forests of Africa could one day be silent.
Much of the conservation effort today has been focused on stopping poaching and trafficking — by cracking down on criminal networks and poachers, fighting corruption, and ending the demand for wildlife products in Asia. But one important piece has been largely missing from the discussion: the role of communities who live among the wildlife. If the wild animals of Africa are to survive and thrive in the long term, the solutions will come from the people who have always lived alongside them. With a rapidly growing human population in our world, there is no doubt that human-wildlife conflict will escalate. To make matters worse, many children living on the edge of wildlife habitats are so separated from the animals now that they have never even seen them. How can they care about something — and fight to protect it in the years ahead — if it's no longer part of their lives?
This is why the Friends of Maasai Mara program is so important. FOMM takes students who live in the Mara out into the wildlife preserves to witness the animals firsthand — nurturing the curiosity and affection that children naturally feel. Volunteers from FOMM show films about wildlife and sing about it at schools. Remarkably, without these experiences, many of these children would never have any exposure to the wildlife that people from other countries and continents travel thousands of miles to see. This wildlife and this ecosystem is their heritage, a treasure no one else in the world has. And the FOMM program is determined to protect it by engaging the local community in caring and action.
At the same time, this community approach to conservation will help preserve the culture of the Maasai, traditions that have evolved from living on this land for millennia. Their wisdom includes practices for coexisting with and respecting the animals. In fact, it can be said that there are so many animals in the Mara today because of the people. These very traditions, merged with science and modern conservation techniques, will help the next generation create their own path to sustainable coexistence.