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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Linking local perceptions of elephants and conservation: Samburu pastoralists in northern Kenya

  • Author(s): Kuriyan, Renee
  • et al.

This paper examines the development and implementation of a grassroots elephant conservation program based upon the Samburu people's perceptions and knowledge of elephants in the areas surrounding the Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves in Northern Kenya. Ethnographic methods were used to understand these perceptions and demonstrated that strong customs and traditions for conserving wildlife, particularly elephants, exist among the Samburu people. It became evident that these customs are changing given various factors influencing Samburu culture and younger generations. The use of economic incentives is a widely accepted method to foster positive attitudes and behavior towards wildlife. The value of using ethnographic methods to reinforce positive indigenous knowledge about wildlife, however, is underestimated. This case study highlights the significance of using ethnographic methods in community conservation program design. The paper demonstrates that in local contexts where cultural perceptions and traditions towards elephants are largely positive, this is a viable approach for community based wildlife management that is complementary to economic incentives programs.

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