To conserve wildlife is to pay homage to nature’s gift to us

By: TOM ODHIAMBO

That humankind has been quite unkind to nature is not in doubt. The media is full of stories of damaged environment, extinction of flora and fauna, flooding, hunger and starvation.

Calls to conserve the environment are becoming louder by the day even as industrialization and growing consumerism continue to contribute to the ravaging of the environment. In this inexorable march to ‘progress’ humankind seems determined to bulldoze everything in its way to build dams, superhighways, skyscrapers, shopping malls, exclusive suburban homes, modern mono-crop mega-farms etc. Very few seem to be able or willing to defend the environment.

In this march to ‘development,’ many beautiful things have been invented and created, but there is no doubt that the world has become uglier in many parts and lost most of its animal life. Wildlife has very few advocates, fighting on its side. Indeed there are regions of the world where animal life is extinct; all hunted for food and raw material.

For those who live in places like Kenya, we can count ourselves lucky that one often still sees a wild monkey, giraffe, baboon, hare, gazelle or a bird, by the roadside or outside one’s window in many parts of this country. Indeed if one travel throughout Kenya, even to its most arid parts, one will still encounter some wild animal.

It is, therefore, not too much to be expected to protect wild animals. Animal conservation is not the ‘problem’ of the Kenya Wildlife Services or some mzungu, as many Kenyans tend to imagine, but a collective responsibility.

Animals aren’t just beautiful. Yes, they may bring in foreign earnings from tourism. But animals also help in balancing the ecosystem. Snakes reduce the population of rats in a place.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

Monkeys eat fruits or berries in one place and spread the seeds in another place. Bees are a major part of the pollination network. Many carnivores control the population of herbivores. These herbivores are food to man. In other words, the survival of human beings is closely tied to that of wildlife.

It is for such a reason that a ‘journey’ with Dinesh Patel’s book, The Journey Within (AuthorHouse, 2015; 2009), a 256 page pictorial, is a profound experience. The collection of photographs in this book is not just another addition to the many books on Africa’s wildlife in existence.

This book stands out in many ways. In the Foreword, Richard Leakey says: “What distinguishes this book from the myriad others? There are two unique and striking. First is its simplicity and purity – the wildlife photography in the book is uncomplicated and pure, capturing snapshots of the wild as it is intended to be, devoid of human factors. Second, building on its simplicity, unfettered with commentary, the photographer has successfully created a world that gives the reader (sic) an experience of being there, accompanying the photographer as he moves on his journey.”

Dinesh was born in Nairobi in February 1940 and “taught himself the art of shooting wildlife with a lens.” He is an Honorary Game Warden of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Indeed, what The Journey Within offers the audience is a close encounter with the photographer. From Nairobi National Park to Lake Nakuru National Park, Masai Mara National Reserve, Serengeti National Park/Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Amboseli National Park, Tsavo National Park to Samburu and Shaba National Park, one imagines to be travelling with Dinesh Patel and his longtime safari companion, Praful Patel (editor of the book), and the rest of their support crew on the journeys that are celebrated in the tens of photos in the book.

There is a sense of co-creation in the moments that the cameras capture. As Leakey notes in the Foreword, the absence of the narrative describing the experiences of the photographer, except for a note of the particular place where the photos were taken, leaves the observer with much license to fill in the gaps.

But considering that The Journey Within is a tribute to a love affair with wildlife in East Africa for a period of over 50 years, this book is also a testimony to what many can do to conserve Africa’s animals and environment. The question is: If this is what one man can do, what can’t a country, a region or a continent, do if they truly fall in love with the many species of wildlife still existing?

The photos here aren’t just spectacular images of lions, flamingoes, hyenas or giraffes. These pictures reveal moments of intense concentration, commitment and fascination with life in the bush.

PRICELESS PARAGRAPHS

Yet, at another level, this book is a memorable archive. Its photos will etch themselves in the minds of the audience because of their intensity and immediacy. Many people just hear of the famous “Great Migration” of the wildebeest in Masai Mara. They probably will never encounter it. Very few Kenyans have ever seen a live rhinoceros, hippo, elephant or lion.

Millions of young Kenyans will probably only ever see these animals on television, if at all they do. But books, such as The Journey Within offer a near-experience of the wonder that is, for instance, watching a pack of hyena hunt down a buffalo or an elephant mud bathing or guinea fowls marching, to wherever.

There is no doubt that the photographs in The Journey Within are priceless. Such are books that are passed down from one generation to another. This is a book that will be treasured by both the young and old. Also, considering that African wildlife is immensely threatened, a book such as this one should act both as a warning to the likelihood disappearance of such a beautiful heritage but also a reminder of this irreplaceable gift of nature. It should be an invaluable tool in the conservation efforts.

However, the one nagging question that will ever shadow all good-intentioned efforts to preserve wildlife and nature is: Why is access to wildlife increasingly a preserve of the rich, with the poor neighbours to nature parks and animal reserves largely alienated?

How can wildlife management work together with the communities bordering forests and sanctuaries for mutual benefit?

SOURCE: DAILY NATION