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A global responsibility

abracad, · Categories: environment, externally authored

Interview with Charlie Mayhew by Jason Francis

The Tusk Trust is a nongovernmental organization formed in Britain in 1990 that promotes and finances grassroots conservation programs throughout Africa. Tusk Trust has started and funded numerous conservation, community development and environmental education programs on the continent. Charlie Mayhew is the group's Chief Executive. In 2005 he was awarded the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II. Jason Francis interviewed Charlie Mayhew for Share International.

A crime against wildlife

Share International: What are the primary threats facing the species in Africa today?

Charlie Mayhew: The primary threat today, as it stands, is the escalation in illegal wildlife crime by the poaching of elephant and rhinos, but the lion as well. Currently, the estimates are about 25,000 elephants were slaughtered last year [2013] for their ivory. And South Africa alone lost just over 1,000 rhinos to poachers last year. The illegal wildlife crime, which has been driven by demand from the Far East, is being exploited mercilessly by organized criminal syndicates and terrorism organizations, which has taken this crisis to a new level. That is the primary threat to wildlife as we see it today in Africa.

Currently, the estimates are about 25,000 elephants were slaughtered last year [2013] for their ivory.


In the long-term, of course, the continuing explosion of the human population on the continent means the increasing demand for land by humans. In itself that is a significant and ongoing threat to wildlife as the habitat available to many species becomes more and more scarce - particularly to those larger species such as the elephant, which need vast tracks of land.

SI: How are local governments in Africa responding to poaching?

CM: Africa is made up of many countries and they are responding with varying degrees of success. For instance, in Kenya we welcome the recent passing of a new wildlife act [Wildlife and Conservation Management Plan], which has dramatically increased the penalty and punishment that the judiciary can dish out to people caught either poaching or involved in the smuggling of illegal wildlife products. That is something we have been calling for a long time because up until recently people caught elephant ivory poaching or rhino horn poaching did not attract a particularly significant punishment as a deterrent. That is one aspect, but we still need to apply pressure to get countries to make their judicial systems much more robust in dealing with this crime. Increasing the security on the ground is critical. From Tusk's point of view, we are investing significant sums of money into enhancing anti-poaching patrols and recruitment, training and equipping of rangers, giving them all of the hardware they need, including airplanes, radio equipment, uniforms and things like that.

There is another aspect to trying to halt this crime, which is perhaps the most important of all. That is engaging consumer nations, particularly China and the Far East, in instigating demand reduction campaigns, including education, to increase awareness among consumers that this illegal wildlife trade is decimating the wildlife in Africa and is tantamount to economic sabotage of these countries. In nations such as Kenya and Tanzania and some southern African countries, tourism revenue represents a significant percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP). Tourism in Kenya represents 12 per cent of its GDP, about 3.5 billion dollars a year to the country. If their wildlife continues to be decimated through illegal wildlife trade, that clearly is going to have a significant impact on their tourism.

Tusk Trust's impact in Africa

SI: How many programs and schools does the Tusk Trust support and in how many African countries?
CM: Tusk supports about 50 projects and initiatives across 18 countries in Africa. Roughly one-third of the funds that we invest in grants are directed at education-related programs. An additional third is invested in what we would deem "community-driven conservation programs and sustainable development", which includes water programs and clinics and projects like that. They directly involve and engage the community in the conservation initiatives that we want to support.

On the education front we not only help refurbish and build primary and secondary schools, we also fund environmental education centers often located on the edges of wildlife areas. The education centers provide courses for young children in schools to have access to the wildlife areas. Sometimes it is the first time they have ever seen wildlife. We encourage them to learn about all sorts of proven sustainable measures that they can adopt in their own lives which can also improve their families' livelihoods.

Engaging local communities

SI: What is "participatory forest management" or "Joint Forest Management", and could you give us an example of its practice?

CM: Participatory management and Joint Forest Management are schemes for forest areas that have significant communities which either live in or around those forests. Traditionally and historically those communities have earned their livelihood from sustainably living within those forests. So Joint Forest Management is designed to engage those communities in well-thought-out schemes that allow them to continue to derive some sort of benefit from the landscape and habitat they live in. It's about engaging those local communities, listening to their needs, understanding them and finding a path that can ensure the long-term survival of those forests for the benefit of the community.

SI: What is Coaching For Conservation?

CM: Coaching For Conservation is a fascinating and brilliant initiative that was created in Botswana and now is in South Africa as well. It uses sport – in this particular case football [soccer] – as a means to communicate not only environmental and conservation messages to the children who take part in the initiative, but also educational messages related to their own health care and building up their self-confidence.

To give you a very brief example of how it works, if you are a player on a soccer team you either play the forward or defense. You play different positions on the team. The people in the Botswana Conservation Trust who devised this education initiative recognized that some of the skills you need to play certain positions on a soccer team can be related to the skills that certain endangered species - whether a leopard, cheetah, wild dog or lion – require in order to be successful and exist in the wild. So they devise a series of games and exercises that communicate those messages.

SI: Could you talk about the Lewa Education Programme in Kenya and how Tusk Trust works with the Lewa Education Programme?

CM: The Lewa Education Programme is one of the longstanding education programs that Tusk has been involved with and supports. The program currently supports 18 schools among the communities around the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. A lot of the staff employed by the Wildlife Conservancy come from these communities. Tusk has helped finance the establishment of a number of these schools. In some cases we built a new secondary school, libraries, dining halls and new classrooms. It is basically about improving the educational facilities among the very poor communities in northern Kenya around Lewa. And again it all includes conservation. The children who attend those schools and the parents of those children know that the support their school is getting is the direct result of the conservation initiatives and conservation philosophy adopted by the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. As such, it engenders a huge amount of goodwill among those communities toward the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. That is an enormous benefit because it helps to protect the conservancy.

A holistic approach

SI: How do conservation, community development and educational programs coalesce and become mutually supportive and even help to reduce poverty?

CM: From Tusk's point of view the long-term success of conservation, which is our primary goal, is going to be totally reliant on the successful engagement of communities that live alongside wildlife. The only way that we are going to succeed in preserving many species of wildlife in Africa today, and the habitat that they require, is to demonstrate to the communities that live alongside the wildlife that they can derive very real tangible financial benefits from conservation. So we use conservation as a tool for poverty alleviation. Clearly education is another immensely powerful tool and critical element that has to play a part in conservation.

For us the combination of sustainable community development programs, education, and wildlife protection provide a holistic approach to what we are trying to achieve. The best example I can give you is from northern Kenya. There is a group that we work with called the Northern Rangelands Trust. Over the last 10 years they have worked with a number of communities to create over 20 community owned and managed conservancies benefiting more than 250,000 people and generating revenue, not just from eco-tourism, but from other nature-based enterprises we helped to instigate and encourage. For instance, schemes with women's groups and also a cattle marketing exercise whereby communities work together and concentrate on quality and not quantity of cattle. That allows us to increase the revenue and value of the cows. There are a lot of measures and initiatives that we have brought to bear to dramatically increase the revenue for the very poor rural communities.

SI: What is PACE (Pan African Conservation Education)?

CM: PACE is an environmental educational program we developed a number or years ago. It partly came about because some of my colleagues and myself, when we were traveling around Africa to see our projects, would often come across communities that were struggling with all sorts of everyday issues. It might be lack of power, clean water, wildlife conflict issues, soil erosion. Every now and then we would come across a small community that came up with a brilliant idea that solved a particular problem for them. And yet you would go a few miles down the road to another community having exactly the same problem, but having no idea how to solve it.

PACE was established to go out and look for what we felt were the best examples of proven solutions to simple everyday problems and issues faced by communities up and down the continent of Africa. We sent a film crew out to film a lot of these initiatives and produced a series of educational films. They highlighted the problems and some of the most clever initiatives that had been put in place by communities to solve those problems. In addition to that, we wrote a book called Africa Our Home as part of an educational package. It is an educational resource of films, books and educational teacher packs that we have now distributed to 26 countries in Africa, reaching over 400,000 children.

SI: How does the future look for Africa?

CM: To be a conservationist you have to be an optimist. And I am certainly an eternal optimist. I see a lot of very positive and fantastic initiatives that are succeeding on the ground in Africa such as the Northern Rangelands Trust I just mentioned. A lot of the projects we support are doing fantastic work and achieving great things. The bigger picture, of course, in terms of the increasing demand for land for cultivation to meet the needs of a growing population of Africa is a very serious challenge. Therefore, we have to make sure that wildlife is seen as a valuable economic resource for these countries that have this unique heritage. And, as far as I am concerned, we cannot be the generation that allows iconic species like the elephant, rhino and even lion to disappear on our watch. To me it is a global responsibility. I am confident the world will not stand idly by and let these remarkable species disappear.

Charlie Mayhew
Charlie Mayhew: "We cannot be the generation that allows iconic species like the elephant, rhino and even lion to disappear on our watch."


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Source: Share International, © Share International


Filed in: environment, externally authored

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