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Space for Giants: You’re where the earth began

Locations: News Published

Martha Cochran is executive director of the USA office of Space for Giants (SFG), an international conservation organization that protects Africa’s remaining natural ecosystems and wildlife. SFG, headquartered in Kenya, works in 11 countries in the central, sub-Saharan region of the continent. 

Cochran told The Sopris Sun that conservation is a complicated term. “It can be seen as another form of colonialism,” she said. “That’s why [local communities] need to be involved.” 

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But, conservation is not just about protecting wildlife. The SFG website states that protecting animals and the land brings economic and social value to local communities and national governments. “[Africa is] getting hit hard by climate change,” said Cochran. “But, in many countries and many key habitats, they have the political will to protect their natural assets.” 

The local iconic megafauna — elephants, rhinos and giraffes — evolved with the landscape, and Africa remains biodiverse. But, said Cochran, some national parks have not had the variety of wildlife to keep the land in its natural state. In the ‘70s, for example, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin encouraged the slaughter of wildlife for food and profit. According to London’s Evening Standard, by the mid-‘80s, the rhinos were gone and only 1,000 elephants remained. And, no elephants means fewer trees. 

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“There are 13 kinds of trees that grow only after the seeds have been through an elephant’s digestive system,” said Cochran. “Some grasses don’t grow unless they’ve been eaten down, so it’s a process of bringing back the wildlife and making sure there’s no cattle overgrazing.” 

The local Indigenous Maasai and Samburu are ancient, nomadic cultures who rely on large herds of cattle, and lots of grass. “What [SFG does] is like water in the American West,” she explained. “We treat the grasses like a separate asset. We make agreements with the tribes to give them access to the grasses and in exchange they have to do rotational grazing.” SFG’s genetics program brings in bulls to diversify the herds. 

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SFG’s strategy includes wildlife law and justice and working with anti-poaching teams. “We have a whole legal department for wildlife justice and we’ve written new laws for eight countries in terms of prosecution, evidence, how to build cases, consistent sentencing,” she explained. “It used to be that a country would have strict [anti-poaching] laws, so poachers would just go to the next country. Now they’ve all got the same laws, and it’s really making a difference.” 

The organization’s Giants Club works with six national governments, including Uganda, to restore ecosystems and improve carbon sequestration. 

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Cochran, former director of Aspen Valley Land Trust, took on her SFG role 10 years ago. She’s been to Africa many times but remembers the first time she set foot on the continent. “I always say, you’re where the earth began,” she mused. “There is a primal feeling about that.” 

Cochran and other SFG staff will be at the Aspen Art Museum on Thursday, July 19 for an SFG fundraiser. More information is at 

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Tags: #Africa #ecology #elephants #Space for Giants #Space For Giants USA
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