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Salama, Kenya, October 2011
The "battle" of the cheetahs
Flying over Salama I don't see much that gives me hope for the survival of cheetahs in Kenya, and yet... During my first visit here more than five years ago the countryside was much more homogeneous, more regular. But the big ranches are disappearing little by little, subdivided by the government, taken over illegally by more and more people searching for new land. Where are the gigantic Euphorbia that I loved to perch on just a few months ago? Cut, like so many other trees.
The Mombasa Highway that cuts through this area is used more frequently since it has been improved and the excessive speed of the cars and trucks that take it make it even more of a hazard. On top of that, the rapid construction of the Malili Technopolis has reduced wildlife habitat.
According to my hardworking friends at Action for Cheetahs in Kenya, who continue their satellite following of the local population, during the past few months, sadly, many cheetahs have been killed while trying to cross the road.
The situation is not much better for the people living here. Drought, like in the entire Horn of Africa, has ravaged a land already weakened by irregular rainfall. Poor water management, increased mono-culture and deforestation do not offer much opportunity to fight the chronic water shortage.
Then why believe in the survival of cheetahs here? Personally, looking at it from my height of a few centimeters, I think that Man's future and that of these beautiful felines are very closely linked to Salama.
The disappearance of cheetahs does not bode well for the local community. It signifies an irreparable damage to the eco-system, with even more soil erosion, a lack of water and progressive desertification. Problems insupportable for families already stricken by difficult conditions.
For cheetahs, if the "Battle of Salama" is lost, their habitat will be further reduced, hill by hill. A scenario that has already been played out in Northern Kenya where people can name the date that the last cheetah was seen. For an animal like the cheetah that can not survive only in national parks because of competition from other predators, it is a race against the clock to stop them from disappearing altogether in Kenya. That race starts here, in Salama.
We must hope that Salama will be able to keep it's role as an ecological corridor and that the children in this quickly evolving region will have the will and assistance necessary to take control of their destiny, here where their parents have failed. We have discussed several possible solutions with the people here, but it is necessary to fight if they are to become a reality and turn against the destructive tendency that reigns.
My cheetah friends confirm that their life in Salama is very stressful and the situation is critical, especially with young to raise. This morning I left one of my little orange feathers next to the youngest cub, Tumaini ("Hope" in Swahili). He played with it and then it floated away, far, towards the people, like a secret message, a SOS.
Salama, Kenya: Children and cheetahs, big winners of the first EAFC tournament.
The inaugural Eco-Sys Action Football Cup (EAFC) tournament brought together 10 villages and more than 500 people in Salama, Kenya. Focused on the cheetah, which is slowly disappearing in this area due to habitat loss and continuing conflicts with farmers, it was a huge popular success.
Through a new and positive way the local population was able to learn how to better understand this feline. The event brought together Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (ACK) and Eco-Sys Wana Duma (Eco-Sys Action Association in Kenya).
A cycling race was held the day after the tournament with my friends Adeline and Olivier on our way to Cape Town during our Tandafrika adventures.
Read more in the complete file of the tournament.
Tree planting, Salama, Kenya, May 2008
Eco-Sys Action started a portion of its pledge to UNEP Billion Tree Campaign by planting 1,000 trees in the Salama area in Kenya. This is a preliminary operation to test the soil and sensibilize kids to their environment. As Mary Wykstra, Cheetah Conservation Fund Kenya Director, says, "It helps communities understand that the environment which supports carnivores is the same environment which sustains the livelihood of the people."
Four schools were selected in the Salama area and each tree is taken care by a group of students. A presentation on trees and the environment was given to them by a botanical specialist while an educational program was set up to help them understand the role of predators in the ecosystem.
Indigenous Acacia sp., Lucena, Cassia saimea, Balanites sp. and decorative Neem and Jacaranda were among the species planted. The project will expand to set up tree nurseries and a similar action in the Samburu area with the Ewaso Lions Project. More than tree planting, it's the awareness raised by every single tree that makes this Salama project with kids so special.
About 1,000 more trees have also been planted at two cattle dips where CCF initiated a campaign to improve livestock health and therefore show farmers the benefits brought about by preserving cheetah habitat. Because land divisions in the last 20 years have caused deforestation and reduced water supplies in this area, new trees and the ongoing program to reforest part of this ecosystem have given hope for a better future for both the community and the wildlife.
Eco-Sys Action attends the OGRAN meeting in the Pendjari Park, Benin, March 2008
The OGRAN (North and West African Cheetah Conservation Institute) aims to gather more information on the very rare North African cheetahs and to enforce conservation programs. The exchange of information between the members of this network is an important step to saving this endangered species.
Delegates from Algeria, Togo, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Benin came together and presented the different findings on the status of the cheetahs. During this meeting Christine Breitenmoser, co-chair of IUCN Cat Specialist Group, and Sarah Durant, who coordinates the cheetah program in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, presented global information on cheetahs in Africa and Iran.
Park rangers from the Pendjari and W National Parks were trained on identification and biology.
By working with park rangers and managements, the OGRAN organization will gather more data on the little known status of cheetah in North and West Africa and establish plan to help its conservation.
It was a great opportunity for Eco-Sys Action to meet with these people and understand the needs of such an endeavour. The first focus for Eco-Sys Action will be in the Benin part of the W National Park, in the Banikoara area.
Cheetahs and kids helped by schoolchildren, Cherbourg (France), June 2007
In a wonderful example of how children can help other kids and wildlife at the same time, the Saint-Paul School in Cherbourg (France) organised a photo exhibition, an auction of embroidered works and mosaics made by some students and a bowl of rice day to raise money for the Eco-Sys project in Kenya (see project).
Valérie Pilard and Elodie Lerogeron set up a team of little artists who worked during lunch breaks for months on beautifully made mosaics and embroidery works featuring animals. Combined with the bowl of rice day, the proceeds of the sales brought back over 770 euros to the Eco-Sys Action Foundation.
This money will be a great help to the 35 kids taken in by the Eco-Sys Action project in Kenya in order to raise awareness in the villages about the endangered cheetahs.
It also shows that one person can make a difference and that kids are so sensitive to meaningful actions.