Many environmental concepts are not easily understood by the general public. There is limited to no understanding of even words such as riparian land as was established last month and even climate change. For many people, even globally, climate change is global warming and global warming is climate change. There is, however, an intricate difference between each of them. However, getting to explain such terms from a scientific point of view to the common man, especially coming from a science researcher, is a challenge.
Recently, I had the privilege of having a conversation with a taxi driver. When it comes to people who enlighten you just by one meet living questions and insights in your mind with the thought that you might actually never see them again, is always a breath of fresh year.
Several points were brought into front view on that particular ride with the taxi driver. Where I mentioned what I do and why I do what I do, the first question I was asked was whether I work for a mzungu (white person). This is where the conversation actually began. At the mention of that statement, I was irritated. But not too irritated to bring in negative comments or ideas. As a young person in conservation, knowing way too many youths who are Kenyan born and bred actively involved in conservation, when someone, not even near the conservation realm, assumes that you can only be involved in conservation when you work for a white person it should be a wake up call. Yes, this has been clearly outlined following the conversation on the Big Conservation Lie. However, there is the realisation that most Kenyans only think of conservation as a white man’s profession.
The taxi driver was an elderly man. Somewhere in his late 50s as I remember him mentioning how wildlife populations were high in the 70s. How Ngong Road Forest stretched so far even walking or driving at night was scary and risky as all you saw was darkness. There were no buildings only trees that lined the road. He reminded me how back then wildlife was a big thing. This was followed by a question of where wildlife have gone today and why youth are not involved in environmental matters. This was aptly followed by why the 11 endangred black rhinos that died in Tsavo had to be moved.
Explaining to someone born at a time when wildlife was in plenty why wildlife is declining, even if you bring the reality of poaching and hunting which was high during the 70s and 80s, is quite easy and challenging at the same time. He did not understand why we have to change our land use ways such as pastoralism to provide space for wildlife. He did not understand why people have to be moved for wildlife to thrive. He did not understand the role communities play in conservation. However, he did understand that many people have died due to human-wildlife conflicts and thinks that wildlife in Kenya is decreasing because someone is out there selling our wildlife to the highest bidder.
His opinion, like many other Kenyans, simply signifies how far we have to go before conservation becomes reality. Maybe it is how we communicate conservation to the public or how we are not straightforward about certain issues. See, if buildings are built or riparian land, who was the person who signed for such an environmental sacrifice? As a nation, we deal with plenty of issues; corruption, VAT, the pressure to develop, and forget that we need to set everything right environmentally. Poaching is big business but so is drug trafficking. Both evils happen in our country. Yes, a utopic country is non-existent but solving issues that will affect not only the environment but the society as well goes a long way in ensuring what we have borrowed from future generations will still be in existence.
My ride with the now enlightened driver might have been impromptu and short, but such conversations remain stuck in memory. You become more inclined towards those who do not necessarily understand why we need wild animals, trees, wetlands and the entire biological realm. We may not have all the answers but we can figure out as conservationists, environmentalists, biologists, researchers etc. how best to disseminate scientific information to the public that will result to conservation education success.