Let’s get this clear. It is not a mzungu ideology.
Every time I mention I deal with wild animals the response is ‘ so wewe unafanya kazi ya wazungu‘? (So your job is a white person’s job?) Wait! What? I think to myself wondering how working to conserve our national heritage has become mzungu. Our ancestors coexisted with wildlife so well I even envy them.
Today, there are many African names that are from wild animals. Wildlife was respected and revered at the same time. I remember being told that leopards were guides. Following you home by your side in the thickets or the nearby bush. If by any chance you were to come across a leopard on your path, you were to slowly walk around it and make sure not to step on its tail or you would not become its meal. Such tales most probably didn’t come from hearsay. Another tale says when you noticed that a leopard was trailing beside you, you should not lead it to your cattle boma so that he or she doesn’t find out where your precious herd is.
These narratives, among many other cultural old tale stories, are what our ancestors would face on most of their days.
Circa the late 20th and the now 21st Century. Wildlife has suddenly become a white person’s job in Africa. When I did say I wanted to study conservation as my undergraduate degree, it did not seem luxurious like medicine or even business. I was considered crazy by those who did not understand my passion. Today, whenever a cousin, niece or nephew thinks about studying any environmental course, they are dismissed so fast saying unless they are white then this would make sense.
I am always appalled by this conversation considering the numerous number of Africans, more so Kenyans, who have prospered protecting the environment.
Wangari Maathai will always be an inspiration but many do not realize what it took to actually stand up for the environment. If she was a man, maybe she would not have gone through all those struggles she endured. If she was white, she would have had the backing of fellow white people who would support her work and even reach the government in a much faster way. Does this mean we do not support our own? It’s a double-edged sword. I digress, but why is conservation white based and not African based?
We are used to wildlife so much so we are surprised when tourists come to our country and are awed by magnificent animals such as elephants and lions. We have become so accustomed to having them around in our parks, reserves and invading our farms. Most times we do not see them. We only hear about them. We have left it to tourists.
The media has brainwashed our African minds. Documentaries are only made by white people. Whenever I watched, read binge-watched, on documentaries, I was always told that these people, read white people, are having fun doing nothing. Doing nothing? I ask. Well, according to a number of people, making documentaries about wildlife requires people who have nothing else to do in their lives. I was always grappled by this. Does doing wildlife conservation mean I have nothing else to do? Does it mean I just want to have fun? I thought passion was doing the things that you love. Even if they are not luxurious jobs, especially in the beginning, they yield to meaning and purpose. Besides, it has been said ‘find something that you love doing then figure out how to make money out of it’. Clean money by the way.
I’m here to say wildlife is not a mzungu thing. It is purely African. In fact, it began in Africa. Our wildlife was recognized in every community. It was a part of our culture. Not having wildlife signified doom. Having so much of a species in a particular area signified a threat. In so many cultures, they even considered wildlife their own. Providing water, in some instances during a drought.
It’s about time, we as Africans learn to respect and cherish what we have. If not, we will not only lose the basic ecosystem services provided by our environment, but we will also lose ourselves.
Featured Image: Bryan Adagala | TurnupTravel