“MY PART IN HEALING THIS FRAGILE PLANET” JAGI GAKUNJU

What force drives a man to be successful in business, an intrepid adventurer and a renowned conservationist?

Sit back relaxed, into your comfort zone because am about to narrate a  remarkable story about  Jagi Gakunju, but before we get to that lemme break the ice by a brief introduction.

Jagi Gakunju was born into a pioneering Christian family, his father having been ordained a pastor in 1935. His first memories are of the concentration camp where his family members and other Nyeri residents were interned during the Emergency. After independence, he graduated from the University of Nairobi and joined ALICO, an insurance company. A couple of months later, he unearthed a sophisticated fraud. After training overseas, he had mastered the new computer technology and was sent to train ALICO employees in the Caribbean. Developed to West Africa as the Regional Claims Manager, he was in charge of five countries. Back in Kenya, he left ALICO and joined Africa Air Rescue where his innovative sales strategy saw the company’s turnover grow by leaps and bounds. In 2003, he became the CEO of AAR.

Success in business is only half the story. Jagi has always loved nature. He has climbed Mt. Kenya 14 times and was the founding president of the Uvumbuzi club, an organization devoted to discovering the wild places of Africa. The club’s most famous achievement was in 1989 when Jagi lead members overland to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. A keen ornithologist, Jagi turned the piece of land he inherited from his parents into a nature reserve known as the Wajee Nature Park. About 120 species of birds have been recorded there and the Park has been registered as one of the official Important Bird Areas  (IBA) of the world.

Now retired, Jagi is “busier than ever” devoting his time to the Wjee Park and to many other conservation organizations of which he is a member: Friends of Karura forest, Soysambu Conservancy, Friends of Conservation, Friends of Nairobi National Park, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, African Fund For Endangered Wildlife, Uvumbuzi, Friends of City Park, Cycling out of Poverty- Coop Kenya, African Network for Animal Welfare, Riverline Nature Reserve Trust, and Wajee Mara Camp.

He begins with the story of his father, a World War II veteran who survived being murdered because of witchcraft. Born in Nyeri in 1948, Gakunju is a child of traditional and modern crossroads during the Mau Mau era, then walks us through his school life in a new environment far from home, the numerous by road on foot adventures to various destinations in Africa which will give you chills and keep you at the edge of your seat.

Living on the Edge brings new personal experiences such as Gakunju’s life in the concentration villages during the State of Emergency. This book is a “Must read” Living on the edge is available at various bookshops including; Textbook centre-Sarit, Hub, Galleria, Yaya, Prestige, Nature Kenya Bookshop and Museums of Kenya.

What really strikes me in this book is his sheer daring attitude for adventure and exploration, His reflections and perceptions are well portrayed in his book I quote ” As regards to my main passion, the environment, the most positive development I have noticed recently is the creation of community conservancies. Unlike in the past when the government looked after wildlife for the benefit of outside tourists, today communities are starting to feel that they “own” the natural resources. In a similar connection. I am happy that many Kenyans are becoming increasingly health-conscious, and that traditional African foods are making a comeback.

Then, of course, there are things which are getting worse. Corruption has become like cancer in our society. In my opinion, those who steal drugs from the poor should be charged with murder. The gap between the rich and the poor also appears to be widening whereas, after independence, we thought that it would diminish.

The number of unemployed youth is truly worrying. Our education system should be training for self-employment but currently, it is geared more towards the regurgitation of information, much of which is in fact quite useless in later life.

Despite the increasing number of Kenyans intermarrying, our leaders carry on propagating negative ethnicity. Instead of creating a nation, we have consolidated tribal empires. During elections, citizens vote for their tribal kings while issues are largely ignored. Due to their lack of vision, our leaders make poor use of the many resources we have. We ought to follow the example of a tiny Singapore, at one time a very poor country, but which has used its only resource, its port, to become many times richer than Kenya.

I believe that each of us should do the little we can to protect the environment. When I inherited Wajee Nature Park from my parents and opted to leave it for the trees and the birds, many of my neighbours thought I was crazy. According to them, I should have used it to grow crops and make money. For me, I felt that creating the Park was the only small contribution that I as an individual could make to safeguard mother earth.

While individuals can play an important part, I also hope that Kenya will in future come up with an overall integrated land policy, something that is missing at present. I feel it is not too late to achieve this.

Getting numerous degrees is all the rage these days but no matter how many you are awarded, one will be missing. That is called travel: travelling with an open mind and interacting with the local people. If you fail to travel, your thinking will be confined to what you have seen in your home area. When you travel, you will see how little you know and how much you have to learn. I had an ambition to go to all the continents and interact with the locals and can now say that I have visited all of them, including Australia. The exception was Antarctica. This travel was one of my best life investments.

When I am at times requested to give motivational talks to the youth, I stress some of the points outlined above. I advise them to invest in hard work, integrity and honesty rather than taking short cuts. I tell them that education is only which is relevant today can be obsolete in five years. They are fortunate that a massive amount of information is available today so there is no excuse for them not to carry on learning. They should invest in several skills since most jobs today require people to multitask. It may not be easy for them to be employed, but the opportunities for self-employment have never been better, thanks to the internet. I am convinced that if a good number of young people take these lessons seriously, our future as a country will be bright.

Passion is the best medicine in succeeding in whatever you are doing. Conservation to me is like a “religion” because I have come to appreciate that human beings, animals, insects, trees and plants and indeed all living things are all interconnected. If one of them becomes extinct because of our reckless use of finite resources in this fragile planet, we shall all become extinct. 80% of all the food we eat is pollinated by insects. Without pollinators, we cannot survive. I have also come to realise that the survival of this fragile planet is in the hands of ‘man’-Human beings, for the first time in this Century. We have the power to destroy or to heal mother earth. If we destroy this planet, there is no plan B”.

If you’ve been inspired, guess what! That’s just in a nutshell of what the book is all about. To order for your own copy of Living on the edge call +254 722 759 515

 

,

Kenya’s Elephant Man- Wake up call for Kenyans to own wildlife

Jim Justus Nyamu has literally walked across the globe to create awareness on the plight of Elephants, locally known as ‘Kenya’s Elephant Man’ Jim has just completed a walk from Kenya all the way down to Botswana the south of Africa where According to CITES, four countries namely South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa down listed their elephant population from Appendix I to II in 2008, there has been global and continental efforts in reverting this decision in view of ending domestic trade on ivory that has escalated poaching across South and East African region. Africa host about 415,000 elephants according to Africa Elephant Data Base with some countries almost losing their elephants due to poaching, habitats loss and climate change.

As an elephant enthusiast, Nyamu has been trained, honoured and awarded on several occasions such as an awarded on Professional Development Grant (WWF), where he attended an International Elephant and Rhino Conservation research Symposium Rotterdam at Netherlands, Colorado State University& National Museum. Wildlife migration, awarded a Research Fellowship Rufford grant, Biodiversity Research Program, attended the Global Human Right Leadership Training Institute Ibadan University Nigeria, took part at Earth Watch Darwin Initiative Magadi: Field techniques for biodiversity Monitoring program.

Nyamu is an active member of the Kenya Elephant Forum, Ecological Society of Eastern Africa (ESEA), and Wildlife Clubs of Kenya. Through his field research, Nyamu has consolidated a lot of elephant knowledge on several publications and articles.

Jim founded Elephant Neighbors Center in Feb 2012, he is currently directing the three programs Conservation and Research, Education program and community based natural resource and management (CBNRM) supported by WWF-EFN USA.

Recently Jim in his bid to protect the African elephant and secure landscapes for them has been engaged in a campaign walk dubbed “Ivory Belongs to Elephants Walk”. The campaign involves Jim walking to raise awareness on the value of elephants, how to mitigate human-elephant conflict and to raise awareness on poaching.

It’s in this spirit that Jim lead an East – South Africa Grass –Elephant campaign and awareness walk. The 180 days walk aimed at covering approximately 4500km aiming at one (mapping the elephant movement (trans-regional) from East – South Africa secondly showing the residents/nations how significant it is in safeguarding these long corridors and thirdly lobbying for an amalgamated wildlife anti-poaching and trafficking strategy from the two regions. Lastly, this walk also diplomatically asked the four countries namely Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa to take their elephant population in Appendix I. These four countries are the only in Africa whose elephant population is in Appendix II and they can legally trade on elephants and have negatively affected the neighbouring countries/region.

After his arrival back in Kenya Jim took some time off to reconnect with Nature and had the following remarks “After spending 3 days in Amboseli National Park, doing game drives in out of the park!! I feel like the park’s future is not promising to look at the ongoing land use changes, there are new farms and new fences in some areas previously used to be dispersal areas.

The implication to the above issues will cause.
(1) High human-Wildlife conflict. Wildlife and in particular elephants spend very little time in the park and a lot of time outside the park. The end result will be most of the wildlife will be breaking on these farms, raiding and damaging community properties. The current wildlife and management Act acknowledge and stipulate wildlife damage compensation, this act is now 4 years old and so far much has not been done! It’s going to be very hard for KWS to deal with this monster ( Mitigating Human-wildlife conflict).

(2) The second issue will be; loss of wildlife I.e. Giraffe, Zebra and Elephants! Amboseli host very few lions and the above species will have a lot of problems since they spend a lot of time foraging outside the park. Some will trapped by these fences and others may be speared or killed.

These are serious issues that require a collective efforts from both, Kajiado County, like-minded ministries which include; Agriculture, Lands, Tourism and Wildlife. All is not lost but we things are not looking good.”

Personally, I have interacted with Jim for a couple of years, as a wildlife management student I did take part in two of his walks; one as he walked from Mombasa to Nairobi and during the East Africa Ivory belongs to Elephants walk and I can tell you for free it does have an impact, when civilians come in their multitudes to witness a group of dedicated individuals who stop to talk to them in the various towns about the plight of wildlife.

Walking alongside Jim during The Ivory belongs to Elephants East Africa Walk in 2016

I recently met up with Jim and got to interview him,

 1. What motivated you to walk for Elephants?
The idea behind the walk came about after interacting with the general public at Galleria mall 2012 during elephant day.I noted most people that included government officials were ignorant towards elephant conservation and how elephant poaching affect our livelihoods.
2. How Many walks and appropriate kms have you covered so far?

Since 2013 I have walked 17,570kms in Kenya, East Africa , US , UK and South Africa . I have done 15 walks so far.
3. When is your next walk?
I have two walks coming next year 2019. ( 1) In March 40 days I will be walking in Jordan ( Jordan trails ) about 600km.
(2) July -Nov 2019 I will walk from Nairobi – South Sudan-Ethiopia-Djibouti to Eritrea
4. Tell us about your documentary and publication that you are currently working on .

We are working on my documentary in particular on the just ended East South Africa Elephant walk and will be released in Feb 2019.

I am also working on my diary and hopefully by Feb it’s will be ready and published as well as my 10 learning lesson points which I will be presenting in schools , universities and to the stakeholders.
5. How can well wishers support you.

My campaign walks are supported by different people’s and wildlife agencies or NGO’s. I also sell t-shirts , hoodies & wristbands in support of this campaign with a message on them. One can use our mchanga account account no 891300 Account name ENC. This campaign needs atleast one support vehicle (Landcruizer) and we are looking for a one before the next walk.
6. Your message for the Kenyan youths.

Youths need to participate in conservation and environmental conservation practically, one they need to know how they affect our livelihoods directly and indirectly. They also need to visit parks and this will improve their attitudes towards wildlife conservation as most of them have negative attitudes driven by perpetual attitudes. They need to start up opportunities such as use social media in promoting domestic tourism and this will create jobs for many youths.

 

, ,

Community Engagement in Environmental conservation, Lessons from Rwanda

Meet Edwin Sabuhoro PHD, a Rwandese national and an unsung wildlife warrior. He received his law degree from the National University of Rwanda and a MSc. Conservation and Tourism from University of Kent at Canterbury, UK where he specialized in ecotourism management. He worked in all Rwanda’s National Parks but mostly as a Tourism Park Warden for Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Beyond that, Edwin worked as a Senior Economic Development Advisor for SNV (a Dutch development organization), Chairman of Tour Operators and Travel Agents Association in Rwanda, President of Rwanda Chamber of Tourism, a private sector umbrella organization for Rwanda’s tourism and hospitality sector, Chief Executive Officer for Rwanda Eco-Tours and has also lectured at different Universities in Rwanda in fields of environment, ecotourism, biodiversity conservation and sustainable tourism development.

His work to develop ecotourism and to set up a community-based ecotourism project for local communities and ex-poachers at Volcanoes National Park has helped in the reduction of poaching in the park. His work was recognized through; Rwandan Prime Minister’s award of excellence in 2004, Eco-club project of the year 2007, Royal Belum inaugural award in Malaysia in 2007 and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Young Conservationist of the year 2008 Award.

He represents young conservation professionals for East, West and Central Africa at IUCN World Commission for Protected Areas. He also represented Rwanda to the President Obama Young African Leaders Forum in Washington, USA and has continued to participate and speak in different forums that highlight youth empowerment, biodiversity and environment, sustainability and community development, democracy, and leadership.

I got the privilege to hear him talk about his success story during the recent Africa Animal Welfare conference and was inspired beyond any reasonable doubt. How I wish other African countries could emulate their model globally. Environmental conservation has been a challenge due to increased pressure on natural resources brought about by an increase in the human population and uncontrolled harvesting on natural resources.

He explained clearly how the pressure for environmental resources is attributed to the inability of communities to support their household livelihoods. Secondly, in this struggle to protect and conserve these resources, conservationists and scientists alike have forgotten to involve and include local communities as a key decision maker. As a result, local communities have remained as ” the forgotten” in the environmental conservation equation. Conservation will not succeed without putting the local communities back to their central position in the conservation of their resources.

Through his work he has proved, that communitie are the custodians of these resources and they have to be engaged and involved in the planning and management of these resources. To address these challenges, local communities have to be directly engaged and involved in the business of environmental conservation. By doing so, communities would be less detrimental to these resources, find alternatives that would lead to their improved livelihoods, and contribute more to the protection and conservation of the environment.

“We have the choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place or not to bother” Jane Goodall may we take this inspiring success story as a personal challenge, sit down with community groups and take notes from them because they have all the solutions. Let’s bring in Eco-tourism to strike a win-win balance between conservationists and local communities.

 

 

If a Gorilla safari is top on your bucket list like myself get in touch with Rwanda Eco tours for a journey that benefits the communities. http://www.rwandaecotours.com/index.php/

,

RESCUING OWLS IN A SOCIETY THAT VIEWS THEM AS A BAD OMEN

 

Saving owls in a country that believe them to be harbingers of death seems impossible. But the Naivasha Owl Centre, founded in 2014, not only rescues and rehabilitates owls but Kenya’s biggest and most bellicose birds of prey the late Sarah HigginsSimon Thomsett, and Shiv Kapila, against all odds, set up the Centre and have successfully handled over 190 birds.

Throughout history and across many cultures, people have regarded Owls with fascination and awe. Few other creatures have so many different and contradictory beliefs about them. Owls have been both feared and venerated, despised and admired, considered wise and foolish, and associated with witchcraft and medicine, the weather, birth, and death. Speculation about Owls began in earliest folklore, too long ago to date, but passed down by word of mouth over generations.

Come to get up close with an Owl

In my culture, it was believed that owls were harbingers of death. If one saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die. In general, owls are viewed as harbingers of bad luck, ill health, or death. The belief is widespread even today, across various cultures and communities in Africa the story is quite similar and it’s going to take a while to change.

But owl mythology is very important today, especially to conservationists, because of myths and beliefs about
owls play a major role in the killing of owls today, especially in regions where the owl is considered evil

                      WHAT IT TAKES TO RESCUE RAPTORS

This all started back in 1986 with a little Barn Owl called Full stop. Sarah used to talk fondly of the first encounter with a giggling smile, He was brought to Sarah Higgins house in Naivasha with a badly damaged wing. When the vet said he could mend the bones but the bird would never fly properly again. Sarah build an owlery. From then, people started bringing in injured, sick and orphaned owls. And from there branched into treating raptors like eagles, kites and vultures, and other large birds such as pelicans and stocks.

Rescued fish Eagles

In 2014 Sarah, Simon Thomsett and Shiv kapila got together and formalized the Centre under a trust now known as the Kenya Birds of Prey trust.

The aim of the Trust is to rehabilitate all birds into the wild. The vet treats them, operates if necessary, and they stay there until they are fully recovered. There are a series of stages that birds pass through while they’re in their care, starting with treatment in the clinic and progressing to larger cages in which they can fly. They end up being trained in the rehabilitation area using falconry techniques.

It’s no easy job especially when it comes to releasing them due diligence has to be done, otherwise, it can be considered abandonment and neglect. These birds need to hunt and defend their territory to survive. The Trust’s falconers work with them, training them to hunt with the skill they’ll need to make a life for themselves.

Come meet Caro the First female falconer in East Africa

The Naivasha Owl Centre currently hosts 23 owls, 18 raptors (including three Crown Eagles), a vulture and two Marabou and Several of these will have to remain at the Centre but the majority will eventually be released once they have been brought back to total fitness. In many cases, falconry techniques are used to get them fit, as an unfit bird won’t be able to catch its food and will thus starve to death.

Rescued Vulture

The late Sarah Higgins lived on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where she run a rescue Centre for owls and raptors, The Naivasha Owl Centre is one of the two arms of The Kenya Bird of Prey Trust. The Centre’s clinic is currently in need of medical equipment and the Centre would also like to build improved accommodation for the birds.

Please support her legacy, if you would like to donate, please do so through the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust, PO Box 358, Naivasha 20117 or you can email naivashaowls@gmail.com or visit

Website: www.naivashaowls.org for more information

I have been a regular visitor to the trust over the years and the amount of work the dedicated team carries out on a daily basis is phenomenal and outstanding, its actually open for the public feel free to walk in given that its conveniently located along the Moi south lake road next to the Lake Naivasha country club, a stone throw away from Karagita center, You can actually get a rare opportunity to hold an Owl see the beauty of the magnificent birds, it goes a long way into changing people’s perceptions of the species and actually their doors are always open for school groups they get to have a lecture on owls by the experienced falconers

Owl challenge, visit the rescue center tell us about your experience and don’t forget to send us a photo posing with an owl

UNSUNG WILDLIFE HERO- TSAVO GUARDIAN

In 2009 the Tsavo ecosystem was hit by a long prolonged drought period that its parks lost a large number of its wildlife populations, Patrick Mwalua Kilonzo watched as the animals died same as everyone else and in 2016 when the drought hit again this time he felt he had to do something.

The Tsavo Parks are situated in an environment that is generally arid much of the year leading to perennial competition for water between livestock and wildlife

I got to hear him tell his story of how he ended up providing water for wildlife during the recent African conference for animal welfare2018 and was not only moved but also challenged because Patrick is an ordinary Kenyan not backed by any of the “Big-hearted” and “Non Profit” NGOs which actually turned his proposal off, he actually couldn’t stomach watching as the animals died gathered the few shillings he had and requested the KWS park officials to allow him provide water for the animals at the dry water holes and when the Park warden gave him the green light Patrick dashed to Voi town hired a truck and bowser filled it with water and what he felt as he watched the Elephants and other wild animals rush to him as he brought the water to them is what has motivated him over the years.

Moved by his sheer passion for wildlife and conservation for the last two years, Patrick has taken a personal initiative to help wildlife to have drinking water by ferrying 10,000 liters of water by truck to some of the dry bone water. The initiative has since supplied thousands of liters of water to a large number of animals thereby significantly reducing Human-wildlife conflicts where rogue animals stray out of the protected areas to community lands.

To make the initiative more sustainable, the project is now venturing into constructing water pans in the park and digging more waterholes which holds water for quite some time after the rains. This will be particularly critical in the long drought periods that are common in the park areas.

The project also seeks to involve the community in initiatives that will reduce the harsh environmental conditions prevalent in the Tsavo ecosystem and especially anthropogenic activities such as deforestation.

Patrick has done short courses in animal health care and community development, and from 2008 has been actively involved in wildlife conservation initiative programs around Tsavo area and Lumo Sanctuary. With the help of local and international volunteers and supporters who were inspired by his noble initiative, he has reached schools within Tsavo Ecosystem to engage children on sustainable eco-friendly practices such as tree planting and educating them on wildlife conservation within their surroundings.

What really inspires me about his cause is how much ordinary citizens can take lead in conservation Mother Teresa once said ” I alone cannot change the world, but can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” well its know up to you and me to come up with our own ingenious little ways of giving back to mother nature. As Patrick has proved it doesn’t cost much the zeal and willingness to sacrifice either time or funds to make the world a better place in our capacity in our little possible way.

Take a peek at some of his online campaigns and please support this noble cause

Paypal account: patotsavo@gmail.com.

https://web.facebook.com/RTDocumentary/videos/1665997240123545/