We start small

The kids started streaming in at 2:30pm. As is cultural, they stretched out their hands to greet their seniors; me, and my colleague, Tara Easter. Tara, however, was overwhelmed with greeting almost 50 kids from the local primary school; Kileva Eastfield Primary School. We directed them into the newly constructed educational/training hall for the Elephant and Bees project. We had no chairs, and the kids had to sit on the floor, crowding at the front, where I had set up my laptop. The teachers finally arrived and the introductions begun. I was to play various animal sounds to the kids. Some of the sounds they had heard or they knew. For other sounds, they had no idea which animal they came from. As I played the very first animal sound of an elephant making the grumbling noise, I was having a déjà vu of myself many years back.

I was seven years old when my father brought home a wild kitten. I have no idea where he got it from, but I fell in love with it immediately. My older brother and I were inseparable from it. The cat ate what we ate, and even slept where we slept, something unheard of in the area we lived in. Culturally, and traditionally, cats were meant for taking care of mice and rats in and around the compound, but the cats slept outside every night. I thank God my parents had no objections with our interaction with the cat. My father, seeing our interest in the cat, encouraged it. During the annual agricultural society of Kenya’s (ASK) shows that took place for 4 days, my father would make sure we visited the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) stand. The queues used to be long, taking at times 2 hours just to get to the entrance of the stand. My father knew some KWS guys, and once we were at the entrance, he used to request them to allow me and my brother into their “staff only” section. Movies used to be played, and for most people, they just glanced at it, as the queue had to move forward. Not for me and my brother. We sat and watched the entire documentary to the end. After, we would be taken to the cages where the animals were kept. I remember seeing the hyena, the lion and a cheetah. In the evening, we would excitedly tell our mother what we saw and heard. What my father did in my younger years birthed a love in me that still stands to this day; a love and appreciation for wildlife and the environment. Fourteen years later, I joined the University of Nairobi for a BSc in Wildlife Management.

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The kids trying to be the first to answer my questions

The exciting part about playing the animal sounds was seeing the reaction on the kids’ faces. They were intrigued, surprised and, excited about all the sounds I played. I even played the meow of a cat, but their heads were so stuck in thinking it was a wild animal, they didn’t recognise it. My surprise was the kind of guesswork they did, naming animals that aren’t even found in Kenya like the gorilla and the tiger. The kids had heard about such animals and their heads were exploring every animal sound I played, and trying to relate with what they knew or, thought they knew. At the end of our last meeting with the children, I asked them what they’d want to see the next time they came to the site. The majority wanted to know about gorillas, overriding those who wanted to know about hyenas, a sign of their curiosity. I am hoping that by showing them animal documentaries and clips, it will spur in them a desire to know wildlife, and in the long run, appreciate and conserve the natural environment. These kids live in Sagalla, a dispersal ground for elephants from the neighbouring Tsavo West. Every kid I asked said they had seen or heard about an elephant. But their perceptions about the elephant were all negative, and that negativity was slowly spreading to other forms of wildlife. My aim and desire is to change the perceptions of wildlife in these kids. My older brother is an engineer, and to this day, he appreciates wildlife and the environment. I am sure he will transfer the same appreciation to his children, when he has the children of course. Not every kid will take a career in conservation, but, if I begin early, they will appreciate wildlife and transfer the same passion to their children. The children might be a small group, but the potential of multiplication in the future, is enormous. That future is my target.

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