Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Steps Forward in the Kidong Dust

“Elephants!” shouted the group of women huddled under the shade of a lone tree by the border of Tsavo West National Park. Clad in colorful kangas with babies strapped to their backs, the women are not the least bit surprised to see elephants wandering down the main road of their village of Kidong, they are simply excited to point them out to me. Although elephants are a common sight in this region of Kenya, I still get excited when I see them passing serenely by oblivious to our presence.

Elephants were in fact one of the main reasons that GVI began working with the community of Kidong in 2006, and remain one of the key focal points for GVI’s community development work in this village. So what do elephants have to do with community development you might ask? Lots!

elephants near Kidong village

Firstly, many of the community members in Kidong village previously relied upon poaching wild animals, including elephants, in Tsavo West National Park for subsistence purposes. In 2006, Kidong and two other villages in this region – Kasaani and Mahandakini – elected to give up poaching in favor of sustainable alternative livelihoods. This is where GVI in conjunction with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) stepped in and offered to provide assistance in developing sustainable alternative means of income generation in these villages.

Secondly, elephant populations have created their own problem... human-elephant conflict! In the area surrounding Kidong agricultural pursuits are one alternative livelihood which is commonly pursued; crop raiding by elephants, however, has a significant negative impact upon the viability of this income generation option as whole shambas (farming plots) are often decimated by elephant incursions.

constructing chili-oil fences at a local shamba

Not to be deterred from fully embracing their new found sustainable lifestyles, the community of Kidong has managed to put a positive spin on the problem of human-elephant conflict. With assistance from both GVI and WSPA the community of Kidong has constructed the Kidong Cultural and Education Centre. The Education Centre provides free education to communities about humane means of deterring elephants from farming land using chili-based deterrents such as chili-oil fences and chili-dung bricks. The Cultural Centre is currently being developed as a tourism centre where tourists can come and learn about Kidong’s story – ‘From Poachers to Protectors’.

GVI volunteers enjoying the recent developments at the Kidong Cultural and Education Centre

On my most recent visit to Kidong, I witnessed the community continuing to take big steps forward in the construction of the tourism related elements of the centre – in less than two months time a new kitchen, store room, toilets and defined paths around the centre were all constructed! Moreover, reports from employees of the Education Centre point to the continued success of chili-based methods of elephant deterrence from farming plots in the Kidong area. It looks like Kidong’s main road will be marked by the footprints of eco-tourism alongside elephant tracks in the very near future!