Since 2011 Animal Ark has participated in a pilot launch of C.O.O.L. Crafts, a unique conservation project.  Through this project, local artisans in Kenya are able to create items representing a diversity of talents, styles and wildlife found throughout Kenya, and are empowered through business training to develop their livelihoods.  The unifying theme: Cheetah, Otter, Owl and Lion.  All crafts are formed using locally available, renewable materials such as recycled wine bottles, wood, wool, metals, leather, banana leaves and so much more.

Tourism is Kenya’s second largest source of foreign exchange revenue following agriculture, forming 13.7% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 2011.  However, populations of the very animals that visitors travel to Kenya to see continue to decline.  Unless directly involved in the tourism industry, rural communities who live in close proximity to native wildlife derive little financial benefit from it and often perceive wildlife as a threat to crops and livestock.  Within Kenya, demand for crafts within the tourism sector is high but profits are meager since the market is flooded with cheaply-made items sold at low prices from commercial production.  Craftspeople throng around tourist vehicles seeking to sell handmade crafts for meager profits.  Others attend special craft markets that attract local buyers and international visitors.  Few artists are financially rewarded for taking the time to produce unique and high-quality products for sale at traditional markets and the lack of individual resources prevents them from tapping into the international market.

The COOL Crafts business is unique because it is driven by conservationists who understand that the best way of conserving wildlife is through community appreciation and financial gains from living with wildlife.  Negative views of wildlife are pervasive in rural communities because few people benefit from wildlife.  Coupled with poverty, negative attitudes often lead to illegal poaching and other activities harmful to wildlife.  By increasing the demand for quality products made in community groups, COOL Crafts provides alternative jobs for individuals who may otherwise become caught up in illegal activities.  Unsustainable use of resources and poaching might give people instant financial gain, but by promoting the use of renewable and recycled prodcuts that show the beauty of Kenya, COOL Crafts give the community and the world a better understanding of what is needed to sustain the environment for future generations.

You can find COOL Craft items in our gift shop the next time you visit.  Have you purchased a COOL Craft item on a previous visit?  Action for Cheetahs in Kenya would would love to hear your feedback!  Write them at info@actionforcheetahs.org.  To learn more about activities supported through the COOL Crafts project, visit www.actionforcheetahs.org.