Wildlife: Giving up our heritage because of progress – why we should think twice

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Is there a connection between the reportedly decreasing numbers of tourists visiting the country and the abandon with which we are treating conservation parks and our national wildlife that we previously guarded jealously? I will illustrate my question shortly.

Mid last year, an agreement between the National Land Commission and the Kenya Wildlife Society was signed. This deal allowed the Kenya Railways to carve out 216 acres from the Nairobi National park and use it for the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway. The other alternative route would have involved the destruction of property that was estimated at billions of shillings. So in their wisdom, National Land Commission decided that destroying the natural habitat of wild animals was an easier way out.

nairobi national park grab

This development came hot on the heels of another similar development by the Kenya National Highway Authority which also seeks to slice 89 acres of land from the national park and use it for the construction of the Southern Bypass. You can get more details here.

Apart from these, there is also a huge problem on the ecosystems. The Mau Forest Complex is the source of about 12 rivers and yet, it has declined by 40% because of logging and other forms of deforestation.

That is not the end. March 2016 has also seen a spectacle of lions seemly breaking away from the park “for leisurely” strolls around the city. This has been attributed to the construction that is happening around the national park which has been a distraction to the King of the Jungle. This –the straying of lions— happened around four times in March alone culminating to the shooting to death of one of the lions by the KWS officials.

Environmental Consultant Fred Pearce writes that the traditional means through which African governments used to conserve wildlife may no longer work now because there is an increase in the demand of the natural resources by both animals and human beings. That is why there is an upsurge in the destruction of natural habitats as humans increasingly require more space. This has been occasioned by the increase in population as well as the advancement in technology. Perhaps one needs not look far before they can see this point; the above illustrated Kenyan scenarios are good examples for these.

As alluded to earlier, Kenya is not the only place where the future of wild animals is bleak. Overall, the state of Africa’s wildlife looks bleak as the population of these animals continues to drop and their inhabitants encroached into. In Tanzania for example, there has been a 66% decline in the number of elephants since 2009, rhino poaching is also rising with over 1,000 rhinos killed in Africa in 2012 and in Western Africa, and rhinos are actually extinct. In South Africa, 1215 rhinos were killed in 2014 alone. Poaching which is emerging as a high income generator has become a deep web of organised crime that is not easy to beat. The numbers of Africa’s lions have decreased by 30% in the past 20 years.

So what’s the way for our wild animals? Why do our conservation efforts seem to be dwindling?

I. Well, to begin with, I think that wildlife conservation in Africa has been happening for purely commercial reasons – attracting tourists and earning income for the countries. In Kenya for example where tourism has dropped because of travel advisories in various countries following the flare up of terror attacks, we suddenly begin to see no need to keep or protect wild animals because they are no longer bringing in any money.

But should this be the case? Is the need to protect our wildlife completely relational to the amount of foreign exchange that they can bring forth? Africa should be immensely proud of their heritage as one of the earliest wild frontiers and the only continent that still hosts the largest land mammal(the elephant), the tallest land animal (the giraffe) and the fasted land mammal (the cheetah) and where the greatest land apes still live. This alone should be a motivation enough to make Africans proud of their heritage even without the monetary value added to it. African elephants are often referred to as mega-gardeners and they help maintain vast, open grasslands by pushing over trees and clearing away bush. Lions on the other hand prey on many species which if left unchecked can proliferate, leading to habitat degradation through overgrazing. These are just some of the possible reasons we should protect our wildlife.

There is need for an attitude shift from this completely commercialized point of view and a return to the roots which means, seeing wild animals as part of our heritage and which we should protect because we should, in fact, protect our heritage for the purpose of posterity.

II. There is also need for education on the importance of wildlife and why we need to protect it. For the average mwananchi, there is no clear connection between wildlife and their immediate lives and needs. As pointed out earlier, nowadays the idea of wildlife conservancy is very foreign for communities so that the need for the protection of these animals and conservancy areas is not something that necessarily concerns them. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why there has been no uproar from the general public regarding the continued apathy and neglect with which wildlife and national parks are being treated.

Last year’s theme for World Wildlife Day that was observed on March 3, 2015 on the theme of Wildlife crime is serious; let’s get serious about wildlife crime seems to have clearly noted the fact that for the average African, wildlife is more lucrative in the illegal business than it is while roaming and this attitude further endangers the survival of wild animals on the continent.

III. A seeming negligence on the part of Kenya Wildlife Service officials could also be a contributing factor to the lack of interest in the well-being of wild animals in Kenya. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of stray wildlife attacking human settlements and ending up destroying domestic animals, lives and properties that run to millions of shillings. However, the government’s handling of these cases has been in such a way that puts the affected individuals at a disadvantage, going many times without proper compensation.

The state of the nation by Patrick Gathara. Image from http://www.wandianjoya.com/blog
The state of the nation by Patrick Gathara. Image from http://www.wandianjoya.com/blog

People who live next to wildlife conservation areas also live with the constant fear of being attacked by wild animals because the Kenya Wildlife Service has not been able to guarantee their security and perhaps this is why there is a very strained relationship between Kenyans and wildlife.

IV. The politics and corruption that continue to afflict many African states is also pilfering into the wildlife conservation efforts and so much seems to get compromised between money and practical conservation efforts that were stronger in the past. There seems to be a reluctance to prosecute even the known cases of animal poaching and that has led to the deepening of the rackets that operate the transnational wildlife mafia.

We need to rethink our wildlife policies and the reason why we need to save both our environment and our wildlife. Dr. Wandia Njoya has written a great article on Let the lions roar that you should definitely read.

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