Preventing Human-Wildlife Conflict through a community-based project in Samburu.

The Samburu National Reserve is one of the famous Kenya safari parks. It is a semi-arid region in northern Kenya. It is home to the gerenuk, the reticulated giraffe and the Grévy’s zebra, among many other species of wildlife. But recently it has also been home to a team of specialists and students, who are mainly veterinarians and veterinary technical assistants.

Rift Valley Wildlife Clinics, under Dr Malka in conjunction with KSPCA and Natural Track Safaris organised a neutering and vaccination campaign with the goal of preventing human-wildlife conflict in the area by reducing the transmission of disease between domestic animals and the wildlife in the Samburu National Reserve.

Rift Valley Wildlife Clinics was set up as a non-governmental clinic to neuter dogs and cats from the communities that border the parks. The clinics, along with offering vaccinations against rabies, canine distemper and parvovirus, aim to reduce the amount of issues caused by domestic animals.

This is an operation that not only required lots of planning and time but also meant undergoing a great deal of bureaucracy and finding experts who were willing to work for a week in the scorching heat of the Samburu. The first days of the project involved setting up a physical clinic from where the group could operate.

Fortunately, the project was received with such enthusiasm that many anticipated issues did not arise, and it was such a pleasure to feel so welcome.

Luckily the heavy rains subsided just before the launch of the clinic, and the land was lush for the first time in many years. For the first time, I saw a safari vehicle getting stuck in the mud and sand in the reserve.

The next stage of the project was to explain to the local communities why it was necessary to neuter and vaccinate their domestic animals. We went from home to home along with a translator from the village who helped us to explain the purpose of the project. Many people understood the importance of our work, and even those who didn’t still welcomed us. These personal meetings also offered the opportunity to hear their views and fears, as well as to enjoy some traditional dancing, which isn’t just for the benefit of tourists.

After we had laid the foundations of the plan, the doctors, technicians and students arrived. After introductions, we started unpacking and arranging each piece of equipment in its proposed place in the field clinic, while waiting for the animals to arrive.

The following day we expected a slow day at the clinic but we got the surprise of our lives. The villagers arrived in droves, and we were overwhelmed beyond capacity. We even had to turn some away and request that they come back the following day. We performed back-to-back surgeries with just a short lunch break before returning to more work, and this continued for the whole week.

Luckily the volunteers were happy to work with the local communities to help preserve the wilds of Kenya, which they had the chance to enjoy on game drives within the reserve at the end of their stay. The short drive from the hotel to the clinic was also very interesting as it was through Samburu National Reserve. And, as fate would have it, on our third day of heading to the clinic, a leopard decided to greet us from the top of a tree. We took 10 minutes to take a few shots of this magnificent cat before continuing on our way to the clinic.

Tirelessly the doctors and the students worked, and the week was over in no time, and we still hadn’t helped everyone who came. But it was such a great start to have the community work with us on conservation efforts and also understand the importance of vaccinating their animals against diseases like rabies so that they cannot pass it on to the wild dogs, or contract it themselves.

We know that our work was but a tiny drop in the ocean, but it was still a start, and we already have the next veterinary medical camp planned for April 2016.

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