Kicking Goals for Wildlife
Soccer, Oryx and Warriors. This unusual combination is how Zoos Victoria worked with the Melako Community Conservancy and Northern Rangelands Trust to help wildlife in northern Kenya.
Wildlife in remote northern Kenya has come under increasing threat from hunting and habitat loss. Kicking Goals for Wildlife aimed to improve community attitudes towards wildlife conservation by introducing a conservation-based soccer league.
The conservation issue
In Rendille culture, every man within the Melako Community Conservancy between the ages of 15-25 must go through an initiation process to become a warrior. This is an important cultural role within the community and a significant coming of age tradition before creating a family of their own.
Over time the warrior role within the Conservancy has changed, leaving them with idle time and resulting in the hunting and harming of local and often endangered wildlife.
Kicking Goals for Wildlife provided an alternative behaviour that was fun, engaging, provided opportunities to improve leadership skills as well as promoting peace building and an increased awareness for the importance of protecting local wildlife, ie. soccer.
The endangered Beisa Oryx was the face of the overall program, featured on posters and other school and community materials.
How did it work?
Soccer is a little different in Melako. Not only do the warriors play on river beds with branches or elephant dung for goal posts, but they needed to learn the rules of the game before this project started.
More than 200 warriors in 11 teams were the core of the program. Each team had a species focus, e.g. Lkeri (leopard), which acted as a platform for building knowledge of, and empathy for wildlife. The soccer fixtures extended from July 2016 to February 2017, with team Losira (giraffe) wining the grand final.
Aligned with the soccer program, a Conservancy-wide schools initiative was implemented to strengthen community understanding and ownership of Melako and its wildlife. A warrior theatre program was also established and was very successful in spreading messages of community support, respect and collaboration, as well as the purpose of the Conservancy and protecting wildlife.
Achieving the objectives
Despite a severe drought and a cholera outbreak, the major objectives of Kicking Goals for Wildlife were achieved:
- 75% reduction in wildlife harmed as a result of ‘warrior idle time’
- Grevy’s Zebra more at ease close to people, as a measure of positive community engagement with wildlife
- 50% reduction in warrior conflict, and noticeable increase in positive warrior interactions and between warriors and the Melako community
- 70% uptake of preferred behaviour by warriors, from harming wildlife to playing soccer
The Kicking Goals for Wildlife program resulted in decreased intertribal conflict and increased peace and stability in the respective cohort of warriors. This was a significant outcome in a region where these issues have been serious challenges for many years. Similarly the increase in warrior self-esteem, which transformed them from a marginalised group to active contributors in the wider Melako community.
We’re very proud of the warriors for joining the program with such enthusiasm and for being such great custodians of their wildlife. Zoos Victoria participation in Kicking Goals ceased in 2017, but we are delighted that the program is continuing under the guidance of the Northern Rangelands Trust.
Ache Oleng! (Rendille for thank you)