Back in 2020, EJN selected 11 journalists for a media workshop, to be held in May that year. The workshop, offered as part of EJN’s East Africa Wildlife Journalism project, would bring journalists to the Mpala Research Centre, in Kenya, which spans close to 50,000 acres on the Laikipia plateau between Mount Kenya and the northern deserts. The region is incredibly biodiverse—home to a rich array of wildlife, including the endangered Grévy’s zebra and the hirola antelope.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to in-person activities, and the training took place online rather than in the field.
Three years after the activity was first scheduled, the journalists from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda finally made it to Laikipia with EJN support, from July 31-August 4.
The journalists selected were:
- Hilary Murani (Kenya)
- Joseph Checky Abuje (Kenya)
- Tebby Otieno (Kenya)
- Ruth Keah (Kenya)
- Benjamin Njumbe (Uganda)
- Jean Baptiste (Rwanda)
- Carolyne Tomno (Kenya)
- Justus Ndichu (Kenya
- Caroline Chebet (Kenya)
- Hellen Nachilongo (Tanzania)
- Gwamaka Alipipi (Tanzania)
Mpala attracts ecological researchers from all over the world, some studying ants, other lions, elephants, lions, and even invasive plant species like opuntia acacia. Because it has functioned as a cattle ranch and not a protected national park or wildlife sanctuary, it has served as a unique “living lab”, a case study where people, livestock and wildlife coexist. In this community conservation model, locals benefit from tourism, raising livestock and showcasing their rich culture.
“The online workshop, at the time an experiment was an eye opener but coming to Laikipia has been a wonderful experience,” said Caroline Chebet of The Standard, Kenya. “I mean, in just a few days, we have been exposed to great research and conservation efforts being undertaken to protect the region’s rich biodiversity.”
The journalists toured the area and had the opportunity to interact with the community to learn firsthand why they were engaged in protecting the flora and fauna they coexisted with and their habitat. Speakers were drawn from organizations who are driving the community conservation model, including the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, Northern Rangelands Trust and the Laikipia Conservancies Association.
They visited the Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy, hailed as one of the success stories of this model.
On July 31, World Ranger Day, EJN staff, workshop participants, other guests and the Mpala leadership observed a minute of silence to remember and honor rangers all over the world who have lost life protecting wildlife. A few days later, some of the 68 rangers at the Mpala Research Centre took part in a commemorative parade.
National and international policies call for scale-up in community-led conservation efforts to reverse the global loss of biodiversity while addressing concerns of exclusion and displacement of Indigenous peoples and local communities, who are too often moved off ancestral lands they’ve inhabited for generations in the name of nature protection. The workshop was an opportunity for journalists in the region to learn more about these community conservation efforts, and to report objectively on their successes and challenges.
“When we embarked on this project in 2019, we made a conscious decision to not hold the workshops in hotels in the bustling metropolis, as is mostly the norm, but instead to roll up our sleeves and make our way to conservation areas,” said Kiundu Waweru, project manager. “This has us taken to the Kenyan coast, to Nyungwe forest in Rwanda, and to Uganda's Tourism City, Fort Portal. But by far, Laikipia was the most inspiring, going by the speed at which participants are producing stories.”
At the workshop, EJN staff led sessions designed to improve journalists’ storytelling skills—the group discussed how to take impactful photographs and make the most of emerging digital media platforms, and brainstormed ideas to sharpen their story pitches.
Waweru attributed their interest to the unique nature of the Mpala Research Centre, home to a rich array of flora and fauna, and the opportunity to interview researchers studying various biodiversity issues. “It was a great learning experience and the journalists made lasting connections with scientific networks,” he added.
With the close of the workshop, the East Africa Wildlife Journalism project, supported by USAID and the US Department of Interior, will now embark on a new phase for a further nine months, focusing on training journalists in how to conduct financial investigations to help combat illegal wildlife trafficking and other transboundary environmental crimes.
Banner image: Group picture of workshop participants and guests at the Mpala Research Center, Laikipia, Kenya / Credit: Hillary Ndereva for KBC, Kenya.