Use of Local Ecological Knowledge in Human-Wildlife Conflict Management in Sagalla

Blog By our Kenyan Intern, Nelson Mwangi

“Traditions died when I was young,” Mzee Wabongo

Everything is disappearing. From ice caps, trees, rivers, the ozone to indigenous knowledge. Ecological knowledge of indigenous populations does not only mean their observational or passed down knowledge about their ecosystem but, more importantly it defines the relationship between humans and the environment. This relationship has, for centuries, been the foundation for the harmonious existence between man and wildlife.

The erosion of indigenous knowledge has severed this relationship and this in turn has led to increase in pollution, poaching, human-wildlife conflicts, deforestation and other negative outcomes. This loss of indigenous knowledge can be attributed to a number of factors, for instance, religion, modernity/technology, migration and so on.

Luckily I grew up in a home where culture and language were (though not strictly) taught. I remember my grandmother milking aloe sap and gently applying it on my rash-filled face. Sometimes telling us stories of how long ago a man was ‘swallowed’ by a Mugumo (fig) tree trunk when he tried to cut it down and, how when you run round the same tree seven times your gender changes. I also lived in Narok, an arid part of Kenya where the indigenous population (the Maasai) holds strict rules on which animal species are to be hunted. These beliefs and stories have helped preserve both plant and animal species for generations by ensuring their sustainable use. Preserving these beliefs does not only protect the intellectual property of the people but also protects many plant and animal species.

As a second year undergraduate student I read a lot on how local ecological knowledge has been used to solve climate change issues, wetland management, wildlife management and other ecological problems. This, together with my passion for wildlife, sparked my interest in use of indigenous knowledge (IK) to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts. Now in my final year I decided to undertake a research case study on ‘Effectiveness of using Local Ecological knowledge in Managing Human-wildlife conflicts in Sagalla, Taita Taveta County, Kenya’.

Sagalla was chosen as the area of study due to the presence of the culturally significant Sagalla Hill and because the area experiences frequent human-wildlife conflicts. The area is also home to one of the most successful human-elephant conflict projects in Kenya, the Elephants and Bees Project. The project is spearheaded by Dr. Lucy King from Save the Elephants, the recipient of many environmental awards and whose love for wildlife has provided a source of livelihood and a solution to human-elephant conflict to Sagalla residents.

Interview in Mwakoma

With the help of the Elephants and Bees Project I am using semi-structured interviews to collect data on the use of IK in conflict management, the level of IK, the attitudes of people towards wildlife and towards conservation. Observations and field work are a major part of my research since I get to see firsthand ways in which local ecological knowledge is being used to manage HWC.

Interview 2 on Sagalla Hill

School educational trips and children ‘focus groups’ are crucial in assessing how much the children know about their culture and traditions. Apart from interviews with the wazees (elders) and young people of Sagalla I am also conducting interviews with members of staff from various governmental and non-governmental organizations dealing with wildlife conservation in the area.

Even though this research cannot exhaust all that is indigenous knowledge the findings will aid in highlighting effective traditional techniques which can be used to manage human-wildlife conflicts. The final report will be completed by the end of this year but hopefully the preliminary findings will be ready in a few months.

Capture 4

School children watching 'A Gift from the Elders'

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