The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Let Us Teach Our Children to Love Animals

There is nothing as awful to an animal lover as listening to news of poachers having a field day in our well-protected national reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

But when you have to watch real time pictures of decapitated torsos of the victims, then you want to go out there and drive a spear through the guts of the poachers to make them taste the medicine.

I was seriously disgusted watching one of the local TV station last month airing an expose of the poaching situation in the country. It was sad to hear that some of the top government officials knew those behind the menace, yet they were unwilling to act decisively upon the poachers, or totally unable to. I felt like we have been held captive by some individuals who are supposedly untouchable.

Other than Masai Mara, which may be considered too large to be effectively managed security-wise, the rest of the areas that have suffered poaching incidences are extremely secure and well patrolled.

How does one get to a place like Sweetwaters or Ol Pejeta conservation areas without being noticed, get to an area frequented by a territorial rhino, bring it down with a gun, hack the horns and disappear into thin air?

How does one get into Lake Nakuru, an area fully surrounded by an electric fence and patrolled by armed rangers, and does the same trick as at Sweetwaters and again disappears?

Those are questions that generate more questions than answers. The silence from those concerned with the security of the parks, or the weak rhetoric after the act has happened, does not help improve the fight, if at all there is one.

It looks like we have lost the fight before it has even begun. If we, who work in the industry, do not gang up and find a way of dealing with these minorities wrecking our source of income, then we shall all go home and begin our lives anew, doing something else for a living.

Tourism has been placed first or second, every year, as the highest foreign exchange earner. Tourism is also the easiest to run for the government in terms of overheads vis a vis revenue collected, be it central government or county government.

No one goes to the Mara to feed the lions or elephants. No water is taken to the animals when the dry times hit. The only overheads is to improve roads and offer security to both tourists and animals. Yet that has proven a herculean task for the parks' authorities.

If we can't stop poachers from killing our animals, then the least we can do is to educate our children the benefits of having wildlife in our country.

If we are able to change the mindsets of our children and help them love and appreciate natural habitats where animals live, then there will be no poachers in the next 15 years. That is if there will still be animals left in the parks.

The tourists who throng our wildlife sanctuaries do not come solely to see the rhinos or elephants. Indeed, most are not lucky to see the rhinos in Mara or Tsavo. But they still come over and over again. They are always satisfied, rhino or no rhino.

Some conservancies like Samburu National Reserve have no rhinos but tourists still go there. But the mere fact that unauthorised people are able to get into the parks and carry out such killings are enough reasons to instill fear to the tourists.

What else can they do if they run out of rhinos to kill? Their main objective is to get rich quickly. If there is no rhino, they will not stop. They will target the tourist themselves. That is how we shall run out of tourists.

Last weekend, I joined a group of Kenyans and non-Kenyans in celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the most celebrated icon of conservation of wildlife.

The birthday celebration of Jane Goodall was observed all over the world and in Kenya, was done at the Chimp Sanctuary situated at Sweetwaters, where she helped rehabilitate the chimpanzees who were being killed for meat in their natural habitats.

Though the turnout was low, the enthusiasm of the participants, to emulate Jane in conservation effort was encouraging. Children from as far as Garbatula and Nairobi were in attendance. Speakers were emphatic in ensuring the students got the message clear.

Love nature, it will love us back. Sadly, among the adults who showed up, large majority were foreigners or white Kenyans. The indigenous Kenyans were mostly the journalists, who quickly disappeared and missed listening to poems from the children and participating in tree planting.

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