Helping Children Save The Elephants
Field Report by Interns Emily Belcher and Nishi Shah, Elephants and Bees Project
‘In a single decade between 1979 and 1989, half of all of Africa’s elephants were lost to the ivory trade, according to pan African census conducted by Save The Elephants’ Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton.’
For this reason, it is extremely important to educate people on the importance of wildlife. As the largest of all land mammals, African elephants are a keystone species indispensable to maintain a balanced and biodiverse ecosystem.
This special mammal affects many other organisms by clearing vegetation and creating space for new plant growth promoting an interdependent plant-animal seed dispersal system. Some species such as the Balanites Wilsoniana rely entirely upon elephants for seed dispersal illustrating how crucial elephants are an important tropical gardener. Furthermore, during the dry season, elephants use their tusks to dig for water which also benefits other animals who would otherwise not be able to reach dry-season water stored below ground.
As well as being important engineers of the African savannah and forest ecosystems, elephants play a vital role in attracting ecotourism and foreign exchange to Kenya. This hugely benefits the economy as it creates jobs for thousands of people and encourages wildlife conservation efforts.
The Elephants and Bees Project promotes the importance to communities of elephants in our savannah ecosystem. This is practiced weekly through educating the community and more specifically the children at Kileva Eastfield Primary School who live next to Tsavo East National Park. Every Wednesday an environmental lesson for the Class 8 children is prepared and presented by the team. This education on the processes of the natural world is vital in advancing human-wildlife co-existence, and in the long run securing a future for our wildlife.
Educating the next generation on the importance of conservation and particularly elephants in the Sagalla community is essential for preserving our wildlife for future generations. 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012, and more recently, approximately 10-15,000 are killed each year. At this rate elephants are in danger of being wiped out from some of the African elephant range states. Studies show that poverty and corruption-related covariates correlate with local and country-wide levels of poaching which highlights our mission of educating children on the crucial role that wildlife plays for our country, this education assists in reducing the retaliatory attacks after they venture into human settlement and farm areas.
On Wednesday 4th November 2020, we asked the children at Kileva Primary School what they wanted to be in the future. The answers ranged from ‘doctors’ to ‘pilots’, ‘policemen’ to ‘rangers’. Their education at Kileva Primary school will give them the foundation (and confidence) to go on and become these highly respected jobs and has instilled in them the ambition to aim high. The skills of these professions such as pilots and rangers can be utilised and brought back to the community to help conservation and essentially continue to foster a harmonious relationship between elephants and farmers. Learning the basics of sustainability and environmental science may spark an interest that leads to a career in the future and become ambassadors of their rich environment. Through a chain reaction of elephants creating tourism, tourism generating revenue, and that revenue being used to benefit schools in providing supplies, the appreciation and protection of these wild animals comes full circle.
Humanity has wiped out 68% of all animal populations since 1970, wild animals now only make up 4% of animal population, and by 2030, the Amazon could be transformed into a dry savannah. We are by all accounts at the start of a 6th mass extinction where through years of unabated destruction brought upon the environment, we as a human species have successfully driven many species of animals to the verge of extinction. It is imperative now more than ever to educate the next generation on the importance of wildlife conservation. Informing children about overpopulation and overconsumption that has led us to these alarming statistics will aid in encouraging action to help ensure the long-term health of our planet for generations to come.
The time to act is now. To slow the human population growth rate we need to raise people out of poverty, improve access to health care globally, and enable children to stay in school for as long as possible to improve education levels. It is important for future generations to be taught about conservation as early as possible so that they can be aware of sustainability and the damage to native animals and their role in preserving our country.
One of the objectives of our lesson on 11th November 2020 was to create an emotional connection to elephants. In order to do this, we highlighted to the children just how socially complex elephants truly are. Facing habitat loss and threats from poaching, these intelligent and social animals share many traits in common with the very species that have caused them the most trouble – us.
From mourning and grieving, caring for their young, having social relationships, and remembering resource locations, elephants have demonstrated intelligent behaviours that many believed to be unique to humans. Through fostering this emotional connection and inspiring students to protect elephants, we hope for them to advocate for these precious animals and change the negative perception that is widely held by communities that elephants are the enemy. Bringing awareness to children on the various dangers facing wildlife and what brings about extinction will hopefully spark the need to protect these endangered, majestic giants. The absence of elephants would in fact result in a loss of biological interactions as well as ecosystem processes that rely on elephants.
On a final note, the children at Kileva Primary School were very attentive and engaged and were eager to take this knowledge home to their families. The Elephants and Bees Project will continue to educate all members of the surrounding community on the gravity that elephants hold in our ecosystem and to continue the successful human-wildlife coexistence in Sagalla.
The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants