Living with Giants
African elephants roam free across 37 African countries. Killed in huge numbers, their population has plummeted from 10 million one hundred years ago, to a mere 400,000 today.
Within that context is a vast story beyond just a terrible wildlife tragedy, or a damning indictment of humanity. Beyond illegal poaching, human wildlife conflict and civil strife is at the heart of this annihilation.
And yet that human elephant relationship is not simply one of perpetual conflict. This portfolio is a story of people who protect elephants, those who go to schools or health centres that are funded by elephant conservation, or the tribes that have lived peacefully alongside them for millennia.
There is a new drive in conservation to make it community based, to educate and to give back. The rangers pictured here come from all over Kenya, often from tribes with historical enmity, to protect vulnerable wildlife established in conservancies that not only aim to provide safe haven, but also allow local tribes to exist side-by-side by allocating farm land within reserves. Organisations such as The Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT), invest in schools and health centres - a simple method of giving a different value to elephants, beyond their slaughter for ivory. All in all, millions across Africa benefit from this human wildlife relationship.
The Samburu tribe in northern Kenya are otherwise known as the ‘elephant tribe’. They revere these giants, and will place flowers and lay branches across the bodies of dead elephants as a form of burial. Rangers from the NRT hold weekly meetings with tribal leaders to strengthen community ties.
People employed by conservation organisations are now able to afford land that they can farm, providing food security for their families in an insecure world. Children are educated about the value of wildlife. Health centres provide free vaccinations against many deadly diseases.
This portfolio represents that sea change in conservation - a deeper reflection that despite mounting population pressure and unchecked infrastructure development, the only future is the one where people and animals exist with each other, benefit from each other, accept each other. The alternative is unthinkable.
These images are that rare good news story.