23 August 2006

Kenya: The Wildlife Policy is Too Archaic to Spur Change

opinion

Nairobi — The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife have recognised that to save wildlife, a new wildlife policy is required. A committee has been formed. It is supposed to revise the Wildlife Act.

Wildlife is disappearing. About 60 per cent of Kenya's game has vanished in the last 40 years.

The reasons for the decline are increase in the human population, the continuing poverty, inappropriate land use, the lack of wildlife policy attuned to a forest, fishery, agricultural and overall land use policy, and the lack of law enforcement.

The controversies concern the use of wildlife. There are those who think that the killing of animals is unethical, and the only use permitted should be "non-consumptive", whereby trade in live animals, trade in ivory and skins and other products should also remain proscribed.

Others point out that these notions failed in conserving wildlife because they prevented the exploitation of a renewable resource. According to this opinion, conservation should not oppose - but should align itself with - development and that the husbanding of these resources on a sustainable basis would safeguard their future.

Much of Kenya's "big game" outside the protected areas is found on land that is used in a manner compromised by the presence of wildlife. As agricultural

activity spreads, the frequency and the magnitude of human wildlife confl icts increase and the cost of damage to crops, stock, stored produce and infrastructure is astronomical.

To pay consolation for loss of life or limb may be possible, but compensation for economic loss due to wildlife may well be beyond the means of the national economy. Agriculture and wildlife do not mix. It is in this context that parliamentarians went on a tour of the Southern African countries: to study the business aspects of the wildlife management there and also to see how consumptive use influences wildlife status. Thereis little doubt that Zambia, Botswana,Namibia and South Africa manage their wildlife better than Kenya.

Because of the human-wildlife confl icts, the wananchi, except those who live from tourism and the urban youth converted to dark greenery, dislike wildlife, hence many are encouraging the bushmeat trade - an undoubtedly cruel, wasteful and unsustainable form of organised poaching, or deal with matters themselves by using weapons and poison.

Presently, the number of predators and scavengers is falling precipitously. Lion, hyena, jackal, eagles and vultures are disappearing. This is so because the pastoralists are fed up with predators, principally lions and systematically poison them, poisoning in the process every carcass visitor. Seen in the context of the political changes in Kenya, the willingness of the ministry to discuss the matter is laudable. Kanu always posed as the great environmentalist, but neglected to formulate policies, excised forest land, allowed encroachment into protected areas and, by virtue of poor legislation and poor law enforcement, engendered the charcoal and the bushmeat trade. Narc, the virtuous, did the same thing during the Banana Campaign:gave away a National Park and distributed forest land and seems to prepare for elections in the same manner.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), however effi cient at one stage, had a hard time, not only with the Government, but also with matters philosophical.

Over the years, while boards and directors came and went, many of the senior staff began to align themselves with varying conservation ideologies, to the point that one was not sure any more what KWS stood for.

Although lately KWS launched a praiseworthy Five Year Plan, its daily actions and utterances tend to be inconsistent.

KWS has many ailments, some congenital and some acquired, yet the accusations that KWS is responsible for the decline in wildlife in the country because it does not enforce the law and hence we do not need a new wildlife policy but a more aggressive KWS is merely "old timer" talk, now voiced by foreign wildlife charities.

Presently, the wildlife policy committee is discussing with the "stakeholders". The views of the stakeholders are well known.

Powerful foreign wildlife charities, posing as stakeholders, oppose the notion of sustainable wildlife husbandry, some of them oppose management altogether.

It is largely because of the influence of these American and British organisations that the Government is so weary to accept that the present conservation policy is a failure. The wildlife welfarists threaten that, should the Government legalise consumptive utilisation, they will turn off the fl ow of tourists from their counties.

This is a bluff. Such threats, explicit or implicit, have been made to other African countries too and turned out to be empty. If Kenya wishes to retain wildlife then the people who live with wildlife must have direct fi nancial incentives.

If Kenya's wildlife policy will continue to be dictated by Western middle class sentimentality, within the next 20 years, wildlife, outside a few well visited protected areas, will have become extinct. Renewable natural resources are there to be husbanded sustainably to the benefi t of people: this is the surest way to conserve species.

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