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Conservation message too complex for Kenyan youth

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

A camera follows Omar Ibrahim through a winding alley lined with shanty structures. The neighbourhood, which bears broken sewer lines, heaps of garbage and a murky river flowing through it, is the only home Omar has known his entire life.

“When I was little, I used to swim. It’s not something our parents allowed us to do. But we would sneak out and go swimming,” says Omar referring to the once clean river in Kibera that now chokes with waste. A short film Mabingwa captures how the 23-year-old man and other young Kenyans perceive conservation and wildlife; two related concepts that Omar has a hazy understanding of.

Even though he had heard about lions while growing up, he only got to see them during a recent trip to Masai Mara National Reserve.

Trees are rare to come by in his neighbourhood that once hosted thick green forests before transforming into the largest slum in Africa owing to urbanisation pressure. Kibera derives its name from Kibra, a Nubian word meaning forest.

“I always believe that when you climb a tree and watch the sunset it clears your mind. But now that is not possible. I imagine trees around this river, what a beautiful place it could be,” he says.

Despite growing up in a village in Isiolo county within the periphery of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, it’s not until recently that John Leruso developed interest in wildlife conservation.

The firstborn in a family of 11 was raised by his pastoralist father after losing his mother when he was two years. John almost missed a chance to access education after a drought wiped out all his father’s livestock, the only source of the family’s income.

He was, however, fortunate to secure a scholarship with Lewa Conservancy and completed his university education in 2016. The 25-year-old, who now works as a community development officer for the conservancy, has developed appreciation for wildlife conservation after deriving direct benefits from it.

According to a recent report carried out by Well Told story popularly known for producing the Shujaaz publication, wildlife conservation is confusing to Kenyan youth with most of them feeling detached from the issue.

The research commissioned by ESCAPE Foundation shows that Kenyan youth have varied beliefs and attitudes about what constitutes conservation depending on their level of awareness on the subject. “Conservation messages have been packaged in a complex way that does not resonate with the youth.

Fragmenting conservation into different aspects only serves to confuse young people. They view this issue in a holistic way; caring for nature,” says Everlyn Kemunto, Lead Researcher, Well Told Story. Besides, most youths do not see any direct reward for wildlife conservation, which makes them disinterested.

Youth who form the majority of the Kenyan population are considered crucial demographic in preserving the country’s natural resources. Statistics from the 2009 national census estimates the population of Kenyans aged between 15 and 24 at 7,944,646.

“The typical Kenyan appreciates wildlife and environment, but doesn’t really see a role and an opportunity for them there. To really look at champions among young people is probably the only hope we have for wildlife and conservation in the future,” says Paula Kahumbu, CEO Wildlife Direct.

The report sampled 121 participants drawn from eight locations around the country. It identifies four segments of young people with varying appreciation for wildlife conservation.

Young people who lived near protected areas were more likely to engage in conservation compared to those far off. The first category of youths conserved due to cultural inclinations and awareness of the social benefits.

Fear of losing tangible benefits of conservation such as employment, scholarships and security motivated the second category of youths to engage in protecting natural resources.

Others did it because they were genuinely interested in conservation while a fourth group of youths sampled did not care at all for the issue since they did not see any significant contribution it made to their lives.

According to the report relaying conservation messages in a language understandable to youths and through proper channels, is seen as one of the ways of getting more youths engaged in conservation.

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