‘Indigenous people respect all species’

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is an environmental activist and member of Chad’s pastoralist Mbororo community who believes in twinning traditional knowledge with science to tackle ecosystem challenges.

Can you explain more about indigenous peoples’ relationship to nature?

Indigenous people from every corner of the globe recognize that other species are part of nature and as human beings we are also part of nature. We do not see other species as separate.

My community in Chad, the Mbororo people, when we leave one place to go to another, we give way for the ecosystem to get regenerated. We know that we can learn from the birds, the insects, the cattle, the trees and flowers, because we observe them. They give us the information we need for our food, for our medicine. All the species for us are important and they are equal; we respect each of them.

As a cattle-rearing community, how do you strike a balance between maintaining the herds and living with predators and other species?

In my region, the savannah, we have all the different predators that you can imagine. But you can get a young boy of seven who can take a hundred cattle away from other people for the whole day and come back. He does not get attacked by a lion or by other predators. They know how to live in harmony, how to move in harmony, by knowing and respecting each other.

The time that the predator comes and drinks the water is not the time that the cattle can come and drink. When we go out, we know the spaces and the appearance of all the animals that live in our path and they also know that we are respecting them. They do not attack because of the centuries-old knowledge that we have of the behaviours of each animal.

In the dry season, when there is not enough food for the lion or other predators in the bush, the communities meet and they sacrifice some cattle. They feed the predators, if they do not have anything else to eat. Then the predator does not attack. We never hear that people are scared to go out with their cattle just because there is a lion there.

What do you think of the ‘protected area’ approach of conservation? There have been instances when indigenous people have been evicted from their lands to create national parks.

We do not agree that they create a national park and then lock it down completely, because it is not the way that nature lives. They also lock down the diversity of the ecosystem. We know how to keep the balance, how to avoid that one species becomes dominant. The hunter-gatherers know which animals to hunt and which to leave. It is all about balance, about how we can manage all the resources in a better way. But when you close it, the pastoralists cannot get access to water, you have to go around the park. Each park has hundreds of kilometres and some of them are transboundary. They think they can put nature in a box and lock it and say, ‘Oh, we are protecting it.’ But protecting nature is not like this. Nature is a natural state, a natural way and it is really about living in harmony.

It has become a business, at the end of the day. We don’t want nature to become a business. When they lock it down, who can pay to get inside and watch? It is the rich tourists. You do not get a tribal person who can pay to go into Zakouma [a 3,000 km national park in southeastern Chad] and then say, ‘Oh, I fed a giraffe and that has made my day.’ We already live with them, we do not take a photo of them, we leave them to live their lives.

There is now UN recognition of the need for participation of indigenous communities in biodiversity conservation. Is that happening on the ground?

It does not happen. That’s why we are asking to have full and effective participation at all levels. If they only involve us at the international level, it’s going to be only a declaration or paper – but those who will implement it will be at the national level and at the local level. If they accept what we propose – respecting rights, involvement, participation – they have to apply it in laws and decisions at the national level. And that is not happening.