‘60 Minutes’ Gives Community-Conservation Programs Short ShriftApril 1, 2009 By Rachel Weisshaar60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon recently reported on how African herders are poisoning lions, which sometimes kill herders’ livestock, with Furadan, a highly lethal pesticide (video; transcript). Today, there are only 30,000 lions in Africa, down from 200,000 twenty years ago.
Although Simon did mention “the Lion Guardians, a group of reformed Maasai warriors who keep track of collared lions and warn herders when the lions get too close to their cattle,” he failed to highlight other, more comprehensive community conservation programs in the area, such as the Il Ngwesi Group Ranch. I mention Il Ngwesi in particular because its health and conservation programs coordinator, Kuntai Karmushu, actually appears in the 60 Minutes segment, alongside Mengistu Sekeret.
The Il Ngwesi ranch has successfully used a multisectoral approach to protect wildlife and promote rural development. Eighty percent of the ranch’s 16,000 hectares are devoted to conservation efforts, including a very successful ecotourism endeavor that Karmushu calls “the Il Ngwesi backbone.” Il Ngwesi’s ecotourism enterprise—which employs community members, is run sustainably by the community, and directs revenue back into the community—has enjoyed steadily increasing revenue since 1999.
“The amount of tourism that’s here is not sufficient to offset the cost of these people living with wildlife,” says Tom Hill, an American philanthropist who has set up a fund to compensate Masaai for livestock losses due to lions, in return for not killing the lions. But Il Ngwesi proves that with a comprehensive approach and local buy-in, conservation can be a smart investment for local people. The ranch’s profits are used for education programs, HIV/AIDS awareness efforts, conservation and security improvements, and infrastructure development. The community participates in spending decisions, which Karmushu says is “one of the key things” driving the ranch’s success. In 2002, it won the UN Environment Programme’s Equator Initiative Prize, which recognizes outstanding local efforts for poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation in the tropics.
ECSP’s website has more on the Il Ngwesi Group Ranch and other successful community conservation projects in East Africa, including video, PowerPoint presentations, and transcripts.
Photo: Kuntai Karmushu. Courtesy of the Wilson Center and Heidi Fancher.