The Wildlife Clubs of Kenya (WCK), a non-governmental organisation formed in 1968 by Kenyan students, is seen by many as the organisation that started formal conservation education in the country. Although conservation education in African traditions was addressed through taboos and ethics, increased negative impacts on the environment necessitated that people take more concerted efforts in addressing their impact on the environment.
Today, Conservation Education (CE) is seen as a fundamental tool that allows young members of society to connect with nature as well as learn how to care for irreplaceable natural resources. CE is also making its mark at a time when access to the great outdoors has become increasingly difficult. Urban areas are growing in size, encroaching neighbouring forests and natural catchment areas where wildlife once thrived.
In Laikipia County however, thousands of square kilometres are filled with the most diverse wildlife, domestic animals as well as local communities who work towards the conservation of the environment and other natural resources. For years, various conservancies within Laikipia have been giving access to both local and national students, allowing them to experience and learn more about conservation in a place where conservation thrives. Majority of these young people have only come into contact with Kenya’s unique wildlife in orphanages or parks, and mostly hear about these animals from second hand sources.
Laikipia therefore, should be viewed as one of the final frontiers of conservation education, and here’s why. Since independence, wildlife and biodiversity have been viewed as collective resources whose conservation and management are the responsibility of government agencies. Education curricular confined conservation to protected parks, botanical gardens and animal orphanages. Cultural experiences would commonly be found in centres that are far removed from the people that they actually represent creating discrepancies in the narratives told. However, in Laikipia, the integrity of the landscape is arguably the most intact in Kenya, offering visitors to the County conservation enlightenment rarely experienced in other parts of the country.
Over recent years, learning institutions in Kenya, especially those located in the country’s capital, have moved towards integrating conservation into their curriculum. In response to this, and in a bid to give young minds an insight into conservation works, conservancies within Laikipia and other northern territories are playing a key role in providing first hand experiences in holistic environmental conservation. Students get to be up close and personal to landscapes, wildlife and local communities.
This dynamic use of land towards conservation education has allowed private individuals, organisations, and corporations have steadily entered into Conservation Education Enterprises (CEE). Although WCK does not own a single conservancy or influence management of National parks and game-reserves, the organisation has played a key role in the establishment of student hostels in National parks that students can access at a minimum fee. At present, WCK also generates income from the sale of merchandise, offering training to youth groups intending to join the hospitality industry and sale of membership cards that enables subsidised entry fees to National parks.
CEE’s seek to conserve biodiversity above all; however, in many cases they also seek to profit or at least break even. Conservation as a land use activity is considered extremely relevant in supporting sustainability and a viable land use activity. With the addition of education enterprise in Laikipia, it is envisaged that this will offer sustainability to conservation education, making it viable for service providers to continue offering students a place to learn more about their country’s natural resources. However, the product offering in Laikipia has to be defined and where possible improved to compete with circuits offered in other conservation hubs in Kenya such as Rift valley and the coast. The involvement of CE stakeholders is key to this process and is essential to the success of CE facilities in Laikipia. Other organisation around Kenya undertaking conservation education such as Elsamere Field Study Centre, Giraffe Centre, Haller Park and David Sheldrick have engaged in CEE as a way of staying relevant and sustainable.
Laikipia County offers immense opportunities for CEE as a form of land utilisation. Historically, Laikipia’s vast ecosystem was utilised for pastoralism purposes by nomadic communities, mainly Samburu and Masai. Land-use and land tenure have changed over the years in Laikipia and with changing land tenure, land use has changed consequently. Game ranching that was undertaken together with cattle ranching was stopped years back leaving cattle ranching as one of the main land use practices done in Laikipia. Other land uses that have proven popular in Laikipia are tourism, farming and recently, real estate establishments have been slowly mushrooming.
What Laikipia does with its CEE opportunities and offerings will have a great impact in conservation education in Kenya and will play a fundamental role in re-connecting children with nature, who will impact the inheritance of a better planet by future generations.