Keith Roberts used to work so far out in the field that he had to spend the night at several different campsites on his way back to his home in town. he had left the military to become a different type of soldier, a guardian of elephants, tracking and capturing poachers in Kenya’s vast savannah. he trained new recruits and formed anti-poaching ranger teams, and came to know the illegal ivory trade very well. and then, he says, he became a victim of his own success. he got promoted, and had to move into Nairobi. now he works with local and international governments to fight organized criminal syndicates that traffic ivory. his new job addresses the source of the poaching problem, not just the symptoms. he has unique knowledge and a unique skill set to make an enormous difference. but still, he misses the savannah, his old unwalled office.
Keith helps a number of different agencies and cultures collaborate in northern kenya, as a part of conservation international’s sarara initiative. the namunyak wildlife conservation trust, where the sarara initiative focuses, is 820,000 remote acres of open grassland, forests, and steep mountains. that’s a larger area than rhode island, a vast land shaped by the movements of zebra and elephant herds, where you might hear lions roar at night, where a leopard might watch you from a tree.
the sarara initiative goes beyond direct anti-poaching enforcement. the initiative is working to measure and assign a monetary value to the “ecological services” of the namunyak. the wild land stores carbon and water, benefiting the whole country, and the value of these benefits must be recognized if they are to be preserved. the sarara initiative also operates an eco-lodge called sarara camp, where tourists can stay in comfort among the wild elephants. sarara camp employs and directs revenue to local, semi-nomadic samburu peoples. these crucial revenues create an incentive for them to work against, rather than with, the poachers. part of the money that glassybaby will donate to the sarara initiative will help to expand the sarara camp’s capacity, so that more people can observe and help protect the elephants.
another part of the money that glassybaby will donate will help train and outfit an elite rapid-response anti-poaching unit. at the moment, there are only 13 anti-poaching rangers in the entire vast Namunyak area. with your help, we can recruit and train 13 more.
the recruitment and training of these rangers is doubly effective. on one hand, it brings more eyes, ears, hands, and guns to the struggle to protect elephants. and on the other, it can convert poachers onto the side of long-term human-elephant prosperity.
keith once tracked and caught a young poacher way out in the savannah. he and some other rangers took the young man into custody, and began the long journey south, to the courthouse in town. on the way, they camped, sitting for hours together beside the crackling campfire, speaking in Swahili, and keith learned the man’s story. he was only a poacher because he needed money to provide healthcare for his family.
well, said keith, how about becoming a ranger, instead? you get a uniform. you get trained, not just for tracking and combat, but also for emergency medical treatment. you’ll be respected and appreciated by your people. maybe you’ll save one of their lives, too, in addition to hundreds of elephants. your children will know you worked to ensure that they got to live alongside wild elephants, and profit from the tourists who came to see them.
when this opportunity was laid out before the young man, his choice was clear. just like that, there was one less poacher, and one more ranger, in the wilds of northern kenya.
find out more about Conservation International’s Sarara Initiative to protect elephants and Kenyan communities here