Project Description

Cultivating Wildlife Warriors

January 7, 2020

(This article first appeared on Medium authored by USAID.)

Historically, most African wildlife films have been produced by Westerners for Western audiences. Paula Kahumbu, a Kenyan wildlife conservationist, is working to change that. She is the CEO of the nonprofit WildlifeDirect, which produces a documentary series featuring African storytellers such as herself telling the stories of African conservation heroes.

“When we started, many people told me that (showing) wildlife on Kenyan TV would not work, that people are not interested in it,” said Paula, who hosts the show.

The reality, she says, is that Kenyans are interested, and that interest is spurring wildlife conservation education and action.

Watch a “Wildlife Warriors” promo for season 1. “Wildlife Warriors” is available on YouTube and is shown in schools and communities.

The USAID-supported series “Wildlife Warriors,” which was filmed in Kenya, last month began re-broadcasting its first season across 26 countries in Africa and the Caribbean ― reaching as many as 79 million viewers.

“I am certain that more Africans will become pro-conservation after watching our series,” said Paula. “They say education is key, but it’s much more than that. Pride in our biodiversity and natural wealth is especially important now as our countries struggle to grow.”

The first season originally aired in Kenya last year. Then, a new partnership with Nigerian company Ebony Life enabled WildlifeDirect to expand its audience, connecting viewers across the continent with the iconic landscapes and animals that surround them. The show aims to increase awareness of conservation issues among Africans, and encourage them to visit national parks and take action when they see threats to wildlife.

Kenyans respond with anger and calls for action to a Twitter post of an elephant being attacked (the video turned out to be old, but the reactions were not).

“Kenyans do care about wildlife,” Paula said, “and the more that they learn, the more that they care. A recent video of people killing an elephant went so viral and elicited such a profound outcry from Kenyans that Kenya Wildlife Services had to respond.”

The outcry from Kenyans in response to a wildlife threat was exactly what Paula was hoping to accomplish through the documentary and through a campaign WildlifeDirect started in 2013 called “Hands Off Our Elephants.” Since that campaign, WildlifeDirect reports that elephant and rhino poaching in Kenya has declined.

USAID supports wildlife conservation as an important driver of economic growth. Wildlife plays a tremendous role in drawing tourists to East Africa. In fact, wildlife-based tourism is among Kenya’s top gross domestic earners. It is estimated that 9 percent of Kenyan jobs are in the tourism industry, and that industry is growing.

Paula’s passion has driven the partnerships that have enabled the documentary series to grow. Paula grew up in Nairobi and was mentored by renowned conservationist Richard Leakey. She left Kenya to attend university in England and graduate programs in the U.S.

Paula Kahumbu with one of the turtles showcased in “Watamu Turtles.” / Photo courtesy of WildlifeDirect

After receiving a Ph.D. from Princeton University, she returned to Kenya to work for Kenya Wildlife Services and led the Kenyan delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In 2007, she became the executive director of WildlifeDirect, and since then has received several international and Kenyan awards for her work in conservation leadership, including from National Geographic, the United Nations, and the Kenya Ministry of Environment, Water, and Natural Resources.

“Wildlife Warriors” isn’t Paula’s first show. USAID also supported her previous wildlife series “NTV Wild,” in addition to the first season of “Wildlife Warriors.” National Geographic Society and Wild Lives Foundation also provided support.

During a “Wildlife Warriors” shoot, Paula Kahumbu joins Boniface Momany from Bio Ken Snake to teach children about Kenyan snakes. / Photo courtesy of WildlifeDirect

To inform the next season of shows, Wild Lives Foundation supported an assessment of the impact of “Wildlife Warriors,” asking viewers to identify their interests. Many wanted to know more about the people that work with wild animals. Their favorite episode was about a young woman scientist who studies the Vulturine guinea fowl.

“This series will not solve all of Kenya’s problems, but it might just influence how we make decisions, how we prioritize the protection of our natural wealth as we grow, and therefore how much we will benefit from it in the future,” Paula said.

USAID is a proud supporter of Paula’s work to develop conservation television content. Through the “Wildlife Warriors” series and “NTV Wild,” the story of East Africa’s conservation heritage and its heroes are finding an audience. That audience just became much bigger. Here’s how you can watch, too.

About the Author

Katie Moulton is a Communications Advisor in the USAID Kenya & East Africa Environment Office.