Fifty years of conserving wildlife, protecting habitats

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019 00:00 |
Azzedine Downes , IFAW President and CEO, with Team Lioness, a group of female rangers from the Maasai community.

IFAW recently marked its golden anniversary.  What have been some of its outstanding achievements?

When IFAW started in 1969, the primary goal was to protect one threatened species. IFAW’s efforts led to the ban on white coat seal products in Canada in 1983 and saved more than one million seal pups.

But this was a fragile victory as there were other challenges facing numerous animal species around the world.

We have since expanded our scope to rescue many threatened animals and conserve habitats across the world. 

We tackle various conservation issues including land use, climate change, water use and habitat loss while our rescue efforts focus on protection of individual animals. 

What has been your drive and inspiration?

Many times, people ask me how we manage to stay positive with all the negative news we receive regularly about habitat loss and animals being killed for various reasons.

One reason I have personally remained firm is the various conservation successes around the world. Seeing even a single animal saved matters a lot for me.

Individual animals have intrinsic value and that’s in itself is enough reason to care and take the necessary action. 

During the golden anniversary celebrations IFAW launched a new brand concept of animals and people thriving together. What does that represent?

Our mission fundamentally is to save the lives of animals. As an organisation, we believe we cannot only cater to the interests of animals and ignore people as the two are inextricably linked.

The reality is people across the world are living with wildlife. Our brand concept of ‘animals and people thriving in a place we call home’ focuses on peaceful coexistence between the two.

What are some of your conservation initiatives in Kenya?

IFAW is working with Maasai landowners under nearly 150,000 acre Olgulului/ Ololorashi group ranch to protect the critical wildlife habitat surrounding the Amboseli National park.

It helps fight threats facing wildlife in the area including trafficking, human wildlife conflict and poaching.

Working with the community, we have now recruited an all female ranger unit dubbed Team Lioness to empower Maasai women to be at the forefront of wildlife protection and to bridge the gender gap in conservation.

Still in Amboseli, we are working with communities to secure Kitenden Corridor -— a space that wildlife use to traverse between Amboseli National Park and Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania in search of food and water. 

For conservation initiatives like these to thrive there must be community involvement and benefits must trickle down to them. How do you ensure this happens?

Working with communities must start with listening. A lot of times international conservation organisations are accused of coming to the community with a strategy, throwing it on the table and telling the communities what they must do to protect wildlife.

As part of our strategy, once we have listened and found out what the communities want, our bit is not to impose demands on them, but to reflect what they want.

To ensure communities feel economic value of conservation, we focus on job creation, security and tourism. 

Last month a big haul of ivory was seized in Singapore and all the tusks were from Africa. What projects is IFAW implementing in Africa to curb illegal wildlife trade?

We have a wildlife security initiative that brings together communities, government and security agencies to predict and prevent poaching.

The tenBoma initiative started in Kenya and was inspired by the Kenyan security strategy of Nyumba Kumi (Ten houses).

We took the idea and created a coordinated system of people who monitor and share timely information to stop poaching before it happens.

What we have realised is that criminals work in properly organised networks, thus we needed a structured system to counter them.

The ultimate goal of tenBoma and all the wildlife crime work we do is to disrupt those criminal networks. 

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