One of the highlights of the year in Northern Kenya is the annual Safaricom Marathon in Lewa. At 42km and 21km through the wild, the marathon is one of the most grueling and also one of the most sought after races in the world. It has been known to attract celebrities, ambassadors, and other wildlife enthusiasts from far off parts of the world. I’ve been to Lewa during the race and although I did not take part, the excitement of running in the wild and running for a good course was almost palpable among those who did.

Other than hosting thousands of visitors during the marathon, communities are excited to come together and participate in this marathon as well. Including children who have their little 5km kiddie race. In fact the marathon is a big part of the everyday lives of the people around Lewa because proceeds spread far and wide in surrounding areas. Monies from the Marathon go into wildlife management and conservation, buying equipment and uniforms for rangers, water projects which are all so important in the mostly arid area, building schools and clinics, and the clincher as far as growing families and communities is concerned, supporting morans and women groups in their micro credit programs. The morans are also trained in leadership, enterprise and governance so they’re better able to manage their finances and their lives.

As for the women, take Kalama Conservancy for example which is a direct beneficiary of the marathon. Money coming from this project is divided between the women and the conservancy office for running operations. 40% goes into operations and the remaining 40%, the group holds an AGM every year and shares it out among themselves. This way the women are able to pay bills, educate their children, build houses, and girls being girls, they’re able to buy beautiful clothing for themselves. Among the extended benefits to the community is construction of the Laresoro dispensary in Kalama.

The Safaricom Marathon also helps the locals own and protect their own, especially the wildlife. Reteti Elephant Sanctuary for example is the first and only elephant sanctuary that is run by community in Africa. Most of the elephants at Reteti are orphaned and instead of having them transported maybe to Nairobi for orphanage purposes, the community takes care of them themselves, with an aim to release them to their natural habitat once they’re ready. The Safaricom Marathon has come through Reteti in many ways, including training the keepers. This initiative could go ahead and improve the tourism offering of this area. The sanctuary has gone through all the necessary checks and has a clean bill from Kenya Wildlife Services.

Another great instance of communities taking care of wildlife is that of a group of community scouts who have formed a team to routinely comb the forests surrounding them, removing snares set by poachers. The scouts are drawn from different areas so that at any point, someone in the group is an expert in a certain geographical area of the forest. The scouts are mostly poachers who have renounced their ways and decided to help in conservation instead of destroying animals.

Other than removing snares, the scouts also help to educate poachers, identify and report areas of illegal logging up in the forests, identify and report illegal water siphoning, as well as help smoke out criminals who hibernate in the forest after committing crimes down in the villages.

The scouts also conduct environmental education programs for kids so that they get the conservation message when they’re young.

When communities living near wildlife are empowered, they are better able to safeguard their welfare as well as the interests of wildlife. 70% of wildlife live outside protected areas and people in these areas face many challenges because of human-wildlife conflicts. It is fascinating to see how in the face of communities feeling included, they’re able to get directly involved in conservation other than fighting it. They come together and take care of the wild and the wild certainly gives back.

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