By Patricia Awori – Director of Pan-African Wildlife Conservation Network
It’s a lazy Thursday afternoon and I can hear the sounds of a storm gathering outside my window. It has been a different season, the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was like wildfire and in its wake, it shut down the world. The question has been asked on what the impact will be on the environment and wildlife.
In parks, wardens and rangers are the front-line workers. Working tirelessly to ensure that the animals remain safe. I am of the firm belief that we should work tirelessly to have them taken care of. Their salaries should be on time and they should have special measures arranged for their transportation to and from the park. Have they been supplied with sanitizers, gloves? The importance of species to the planet is insurmountable, from bees to elephants and thus it is only logical to ensure that those involved in the protection and nurturing of species are well taken care of.
The fact is, we have destroyed our environment, fossil emissions, pollution, deforestation, poaching, oil spills have all resulted in plundering the earth’s bounty. The destruction of the environment has resulted in a wide number of environmental catastrophes.
Conspiracy theories aside, simply focusing on the fact that the capacity for animals to give us disease as much as we can give them disease did not exist when nature was in a proper balance. Now that things are out of balance, we see this rising dramatically. Maybe this is why the world had to stop, we were killing each other and the environment around us. And perhaps this time of confinement can be a season where we readjust our values and make a better plan for how to co-exist harmoniously with our environment.
In Kenya and across the African continent we have adopted the slash and burn mentality as a result of colonization. Traditionally we would build around the environment to create a habitat i.e. build around a tree and see it as sacred, like the Agikuyu of Kenya did with the Mugumo tree. Present day sees as cutting down trees in scores in order to “develop.” I am afraid to think about the number of medicinal plants we have pushed into extinction under the guise of urbanization. The horse has bolted, it may not be possible to flatten buildings, but, we can stop encroaching on land reserved for wildlife. We can take steps to build further away from reserves. This is something that should be made law and gazetted so that even as we think of development, we develop in an ethical way without encroaching and ensuring we strike a balance. The truth is we have invaded our wildlife’s space and consequently they are now “in our space.”
As a starting point, everyone should plant trees one or two or however many one’s space can hold. Instead of speaking about fencing the parks we should perhaps fence the areas where we are, wildlife is constantly on the move, when it rains, they move one way and similarly during the hot periods they move another way. Therefore, it is in their best interests if they allowed to roam freely, they really aren’t interested in us.
As we’ve been in confinement for the past month, we’ve got a chance to see the earth healing. Airplane free skies, no emissions from industries, no pollution from cars have made the earth a beneficiary from the pandemic. Both Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro have full heads of snow. A time like this last year the snow caps on both these mountains was melting. Global air quality has improved drastically as the rain hits the earth the smell of undisturbed ground wafts into my nostrils a scent I remember from childhood. It is time to think about how we can be kind to the earth even when things open up again. This is a collective responsibility that rests not only on governments but on us as citizens of the earth.
Patricia Awori is Director of Pan-African Wildlife Conservation Network. In that capacity, she has attended international conferences such as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). She has also spoken in a wide variety of conservation and environmental forums, And in addition to the advocacy she endeavors to mitigate human wildlife conflict.
She is also founder and Chair of the Kenya Elephant Forum which brings together 23 of the most important wildlife NGO’s based in Kenya And also was instrumental in founding the African Elephant Coalition which brings together 26 of the 37 African elephant range states.
She has served as Trustee on the Board of the Kenya Wildlife Service, this organization conserves and manages wildlife on behalf of the people of Kenya.