On an International Visitor Leadership Program concerning wildlife conservation, focused on Anti-Poaching & Anti-Trafficking Efforts in the U.S, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trusts Regional Field Supervisor of the Kibwezi Forest Reserve, James Mbuthia, was invited to Washington, United States, for an international assembly on April 29, 2013 courtesy of the American Government.
On a hugely successful three-week study tour James and twelve other participants from African Nations including Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa, visited several U.S. states attending seminars and exchanging views and experiences concerning the threat of poaching and trafficking and the methods that can be put into place in Africa in the fight against such activities.
Early in the program it was noted that the African visitors soon came to realize that poaching and trafficking issues are very different in the two continents. Africans poach either for subsistence (bush meat) or for big money (rhino and elephant); whilst in America most poaching is done by overeager sportsmen stepping outside hunting regulations.
The participants were eager to learn about the transparency, honesty, and openness of American governance and management as they saw corruption as one of the biggest impediments to better park management and progress against poaching. It was reported that the DSWTs James Mbuthia was particularly impressed by American democracy and freedom of speech.
During visits to different states including Washington, Florida and Oregon as well as several national parks including Yellowstone and the Everglades, the participants noted the relative sparseness of mega-fauna in the U.S and the degradation of many ecosystems, such as the Everglades. A participant from Zambia said that seeing what was lost in the Everglades is a wake-up call for Africa. Yet it is known that Americans devote significant resources to protecting natural areas. This made many of the African visitors more aware of the great wealth of wildlife still existing in Africa and the need to preserve it. In James Mbuthias words, Communities in Africa are sitting on a gold mine, but dont appreciate the value.
At the State Department briefing in Washington there was a worthwhile two-way exchange as the Africans were encouraged to give their opinions on the root causes of the poaching problem. The NGO panel discussion with representatives from the World Wildlife Fund, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Environmental Investigation Agency, and Africa Wildlife Foundation was an insightful addition to the briefing for the participants.
James Mbuthia has now returned to the field within the Kibwezi Forest, which is within the DSWTs protection network covering the greater Tsavo Conservation Area. James learnt a great deal from his experiences and encounters in the U.S. and meeting the people involved in protecting their countrys natural resources, and he is now motivated to adopt some of their methods and strategies, whilst sharing what he has learnt with his fellow colleagues and the communities in which he works.