No one can work on forest wildlife
in Africa and remain unconcerned
about conservation issues. Most of my work has not focused on
conservation-related questions per se. Nonetheless, I have
been involved in community-level efforts to conserve the forest, and
some of my students have tackled questions about variation in primate
population density or effects of human-induced habitat change on
behavior. I am also certain that our long-term research presence at the
study site has contributed to the safe-guarding of at least a portion
of the Kakamega Forest.
For many years, I was closely involved with KEEP (Kakamega
Program), a registered community-based organization in western Kenya. KEEP was started by Wilberforce Okeka, a
local man with an
grade education who is devoted to making a difference in people’s
about the forest near their homes, with the longer term goal of
the forest’s survival into the coming decades. KEEP’s founding philosophy
the Senegalese ecologist, Baba Dioum, who said: "ln the end we will
only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand
what we are taught".
KEEP’s goals included educating local
people, especially children and
who live in and around the Kakamega Forest about the fabulous ecosystem
their ‘backyard’, and to teach them the importance of conserving
it. Teachers were local people working on a voluntary basis, who provided the young with positive
models concerned with conservation. KEEP also promoted
changes that relieve pressure on the forest, including tree planting,
generation from cultivation of forest products and tourism, and fuel-efficient
technology. Some of this work involved collaboration with local
research and service institutions in Kenya.
While KEEP is an
organization, it has functioned in
collaboration with the Kenya Forest Service and the Kenya Wildlife Service (two parastatal
project served as a model for a community-initiated
helps to carry out national goals.
I have helped KEEP in two main
ways. First, I advised
members in their development of a children’s education program.
I raised funds to to construct conservation
centers (three so far) and to provide educational materials (a library
magazines and teacher’s manuals, microscopes, puppets, etc).
Although KEEP was a pioneer in community-based conservation around the
Kakamega Forest, other community based organizations are springing up
as well now, which is a good sign. I hope to continue assisting where I can.