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Some meaningful words from MWCT Intern (Month stay – May 2019) Mia Dalton:

“I’ve been interning at the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) for almost a month now and have learned so much about why this NGO has been so successful in achieving its goals. In my time contributing to the conservation sector of the trust, I worked with the Wildlife Pays program. The program works like this: when a local person’s livestock is attacked by a predator, they call in to MWCT to report the incident. Then the trust sends a ranger to verify the claim. If there is no negligence—a stipulation to promote good herding practice and prevent reliance on the system—they are compensated for their loss, be it a result of birds or baboons, leopards or lions. A broad range of predators included in the program is so important because regardless of what killed your cow, you have still lost a cow. This aspect of community need-based work is a large part of what makes the conservation efforts so effective.

I’ve been able to see how the trust functions day to day as well as learn about the sorts of distinctions that make a successful conservancy. I’ve noticed that a major component is working with the community. Protecting the land and valuing the people living on it are inextricably entwined. This is first evident in the fact that a major way to preserve the environment is actually to practice better family planning (this is one place the health, education, and livelihoods sectors come in). Second, since the trust employs people from the area, locals can truly see how the organization serves them and they in turn report back at community meetings to say what works and what could be improved. This creates a self-sustaining model for the trust to become more effective.

Last but far from least, when people can see that, well, “wildlife pays” to maintain, they take on an important role in the fight to protect it. This plays out in the cycle of ecotourism. Tourists come to see wildlife like lions so compensating losses to promote protecting the wildlife comes back to benefit the people themselves in the form of the economic benefits of tourism. The trust also employs rangers to reduce such human-wildlife conflict, bringing the people in to work toward actively preserving the wildlife. The work of the REDD+ project also reflects how conservation efforts can be channeled to benefit the community directly and thus inspire further efforts by the community. It was the first carbon credit sale project where all partners are locally rooted. That is why it is so difficult to speak solely about the conservation efforts without bringing in the other side of the coin—the people.

I also had the opportunity to hear about this at their monthly meeting. I think much of their progress as an organization is due to a willingness to always do more and go further. At the meeting they were constantly asking “how about solar panels?” “Can we have a reusable fence?” “How about we make half of the group women?” Not only are some of these cheaper and therefore the support of the organization goes the longest way, but these sorts of questions push continually for a more sustainable and community-integrated version of the conservancy in the hopes of being the best version of itself it can be.”

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