By: Jeremy Hance; mongabay.com; August 20, 2012
Paula Kahumbu, the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, is on a mission to reconnect young Africans with the natural world through storytelling. In a new initiative dubbed Africas Wildest Stories, Kahumbu and others are recording the wit and wisdom of African elders in Kenya as they share their love of nature and the way in which Africans, for millennia, have co-existed with their environment and its astounding wildlife.
"I believe that we are suffering from a mental and physical disconnection from nature and the importance of the environment especially for sustainable development. We seem to be unaware of what we have," Kahumbu told mongabay.com in a recent interview about the project which was aided by training in the Landmark Educations Self-Expression and Leadership Program. "Africa is the only continent remaining on Earth where most megafauna survive including elephants, rhino, antelopes, great apes and big cats. [...] The future of wildlife in Africa will depend on younger generations taking good actions to save it."
A study last year of Africas protected areas found that big mammal populations had fallen by 59 percent is 40 years. As precipitous as this decline was the trend is expected to be even greater in unprotected areas. A booming human population, habitat loss, deforestation, big development projects, wildlife trade, and human-wildlife conflict have all taken their toll on wildlife in Africa. Kahumbu adds "intolerance" to these as well.
"In Kenya people often view wildlife as something that the tourists come to see, and our governments are increasingly treating our protected areas as the next frontier of cheap space to develop," Kahumbu says. "Despite strong environmental legislation, enforcement is weak, and we are facing unprecedented challenges as African nations race blindly ahead towards development while putting the environment in jeopardy."
Stories span the gamut: one describes the mythical connection between human beings and elephants; another tells a hair-raising tale of an African Bigfoot-like creature; while a third describes the antics of a legendary glutton. Others tell of wild encounters with some of Kenyas most famous animals including lions, leopards, elephants, and hippos, which are considered the most dangerous animal in the country.
Not only has the initiative recorded wonderful stories, but is also preserving an oral history of the landscape and its people. Kahumbu plans to record stories from all of Kenyas 45 different tribes. She also hopes to expand the initiative to other African nations.
"The economic argument for wildlife conservation is not working in Africa," she says. "What I hope to achieve through Africa’s Wildest Stories is a spiritual reconnection to nature and environment. I believe that by reviving and retelling stories about the mutual co-existance between people and the environment, we can inspire current and future generations to protect our heritage, and to acknowledge the role of wildlife in that heritage."
Kahumbu adds, "You couldn’t put a dollar value on these spiritual values, or on the cost of losing them."