The Samburu people have coexisted with the large animal populations in their tribal region in Kenya for centuries, most notably, the African Elephant. In centuries past, the Samburu people and elephants have lived in relative harmony, some anecdotes going so far as to say they shared the same village. In an interview with The Independent a tribesman elaborates, “The first man said the elephant is like us, like our brother, and we have to live together, not hunt elephant. That’s what we say we were told at the beginning. That’s what we still believe. The elephant has always been, and will always be, special to us. This is why we protect it now.” With the proliferation of poaching, this role of protection is even more relevant. Despite the international ban on ivory, elephant poaching still exists and demands attention from policy makers and local initiatives alike. In the wake of enacting new orders of protection coupled with drought conditions, complex and controversial conflicts have arisen between the conservation of elephant populations and preservation of human life in Samburu.
Drought conditions have forced surveyors to expand their search for water, all the while, elephants are drawn to these newly discovered water sources. Described as “violently defensive” the clash between elephants and people over limited resources is especially dangerous. For wildlife activists, elephant safety ranks above all else, resulting in the formation of reservations or plots of land dedicated entirely to wildlife habitats. Human aid activists and locals, however, suggest these government-allocated plots of land grant animals an unfair advantage over humans. The reality is, the government gives elephants completely political control over a region despite previous human habitation. Yet, population growth caused this encroachment into elephant habitats more so than they had in the past. Furthermore, government-allocated land for reservation usage only intensified the issue in some regions. No doubt both sides of the argument have validity, however, clashing opinions result in divergent solutions and exclusionary practices. People are kept out of reservation lands in spite of potential benefits, while a rouge elephant is met with trepidation and resentment. Instead of focusing on conflicting ideologies of human preservation and wildlife conservation, aid-workers must now look back to where it all started: coexistence. Penalize those exploiting the land and animals, not those who are simply trying to survive. Excluding humans from potentially beneficial space brings to question “who is more important: people or animals?”, a debate that is not easy to approach no matter how you look at it.