As of March 2013, Big Life employs nearly 300 people from the local Maasai communities in which it operates, making it the largest single employer in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem.
Without question, Big Life's success in this ecosystem is due largely to the community goodwill created by the revenue streams Big Life programs offer, of which employment is the most prized.
As history has proven, economic self-interest is the prime motivator of human behavior. It is therefore fundamental to sustainable wildlife conservation in the 21st century that those communities that live with wildlife receive sufficient economic benefit to tolerate living with them. Otherwise, living with wildlife in an unfenced wilderness habitat is principally a liability, a threat to one’s life and livelihood.
Employment -- jobs and cash wages -- derived from wildlife-related activities is therefore essential to wildlife's survival in any wilderness region inhabited by people.
The vast majority of Big Life’s employees are engaged in wildlife security work and the resolution of human-wildlife conflict – whether it be to prevent game-meat poaching of virtually all wild mammal species, protect elephants from the ivory trade or farmers trying to protect their crops, protect rhinos from the trade in rhino horn, or save lions and all the great predators from retaliatory killing when they prey upon Maasai livestock.
Excerpt from Nick Brandt’s essay in his forthcoming photography book regarding community employment & Big Life :
As of March 2013, the Big Life teams have achieved a dramatic reduction in poaching of all animals in the region. None of this could have happened without one critical element : The people that live amongst the animals.
With animals constantly moving far beyond park boundaries into unprotected areas ever more populated by humans, the only future for conservation of animals in the wild is working closely with the local communities. Effective conservation is dead in the water without community collaboration. This is at the heart of Big Life’s philosophy. The people support conservation, conservation supports them.
In parts of the world such as this, very poor but rich in natural wonders, ecotourism is the only truly significant source of long-term economic benefit. Take away the animals, and there’s almost nothing of economic value left. The land can only support so much herding, and even less farming. And those meager resources will only become more unsustainable and precarious over time, as climate change kicks in and brutal droughts occur more frequently.
When you’re trying to protect close to two million acres, with the best will in the world, 315 rangers and 15 vehicles are only going to get you so far. That’s where the support of the community is essential. Big Life’s expansive community network is one of the main reasons why the rangers now apprehend poachers most times that they kill.
Every one of those rangers lives locally, and with families whose wellbeing is tied to their success, and the wealth of the region increasingly understood by local people to be tied to the health of the ecosystem, so each ranger has his own small network of other eyes and ears.
Given the size of the area, I find it quite amazing, and very encouraging, just how often information does come through to the teams about poachers operating in the area. And on the poacher grapevine, it is now known that you run a big risk of being arrested if you attempt to kill in the Big Life-protected areas.