Africa Wildlife Update : Make Enlightened Laws or You Will Lose It All

Thompson's gazelles, Masai Mara, Kenya
Image via Wikipedia

In recent weeks Kenyans have been shocked at the sight of elephants and rhinos gunned down for their ivory and their horns. Poaching for bushmeat threatens many of our wild species, our national parks have been invaded by cattle, and our lions have been reduced to fewer than 2,000 individuals, down by 85% in only ten years.

The way we manage wildlife needs to change radically. And we now have the opportunity to achieve this through the enactment of a new enlightened new Wildlife Policy and Bill that could turn the situation around. And that is why there is such enormous citizen interest in the process.

Kenya is still operating with wildlife legislation that is 35 years old, The original Wildlife (Conservation and Management) Act of 1976 established the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department and amalgamated the then Game Department and the Kenya National Parks to form a single agency. Subsequently, through an Amendment to the Act in 1989, the Kenya Wildlife Service was established to replace WCMD. This new act succeeded in enhancing wildlife conservation, significantly reducing wildlife poaching especially of endangered species such as elephants and rhinos, and establishing a unitary institution, KWS, to be responsible for wildlife conservation and management countrywide.

Despite these successes, the law did not adequately address the fact that nearly 70% of wildlife in Kenya occurs outside of protected areas, where conflict between people and wildlife is leading to population collapses of many species even in renowned conservation areas like the Masai Mara.

In 2006 a national effort was initiated to redraft the wildlife laws by going to the public in every region, but the process has been slow and has involved several technical committees. By the time the draft law was harmonized with the new constitution and presented to the public for stakeholder views on August 29 2011, it was clear that the proposed Wildlife Policy and Bill needed completely new thinking to fit into the spirit of the new Constitution and accommodate devolution of responsibility, benefit sharing and rights of citizens.

We need to capitalize on the goodwill and expertise of Kenyans who already care deeply about the environment and wildlife – and who will settle for nothing less than a model Wildlife Policy and Bill. Imagine if we could enlist into conservation tens of thousands of landowners on whose property wildlife exists. We would then create effective buffer zones, safe migratory routes and dispersal areas for wildlife. Imagine what that would do for tourism, jobs, the economy!

The review of the Wildlife Bill underway at present is a rare opportunity for Kenya to get it right. New wildlife legislation is badly needed but we must not rush and risk missing an opportunity to develop the most progressive wildlife legislation in Africa.

Much has changed in Kenya since 1979 when the Wildlife Act was first enacted. Our people are more numerous, better educated, and empowered by the new constitution. The Wildlife Bill and Policy will affect anyone who has a stake in wildlife conservation through tourism and other activities. It also will affect the nation as a whole and of course Kenya’s animals.

History is being made as the citizenry works together with the government on a new approach in which conservation is embraced as an integral driver of mainstream national development and economic well-being.

We have it in our power to get creative with solutions to human wildlife conflict, and to fashion simple incentives to enable land owners to invest in and benefit from wildlife. This results in new responsibility, because the beneficiaries of wildlife will be accountable and responsible for all the costs and rewards of managing wildlife. This will generate new opportunities for jobs and income in all kinds of new enterprises. It is already happening in forestry and water sectors, now it is time for the management of wildlife resources to be devolved now.

Since wildlife occurs on land, we are also looking at developments in our land laws. Today open wilderness might be considered idle land yet it is hugely productive for nature and wildlife. The value of pollination for crops, clean water, carbon stores, pest control, biodiversity, traditional medicines, food and fresh air may exceed our GDP many times over. We need a new land use type called ‘nature conservation’ to be recognized as a legitimate land use along with agriculture, industry and residential.

The kind of development incentives we see in Kenya today reflects our government’s idea of progress. Farmers get fertilizers, builders get loans. But there is no support for conservation. You cannot get finance for wildebeest, water or even for planting trees. Yet much of the economic gain from present development is not sustainable but is destroying Kenya’s natural capital. We are stealing from future generations. Take the Mau for example. Policies that allowed the destruction of this magnificent water tower have cost us far more than we gained by felling all those trees.

Relevant Links

The economic gains of protecting nature will be sustained into perpetuity because if left alone, or used gently, nature replenishes itself. We need a progressive wildlife policy to protect Kenya’s natural assets and wildlife landscapes most of which are outside of the protected areas. The country’s official protected areas cannot survive as islands in a sea of development.

Getting it right with this new wildlife legislation can only happen if we think bigger than we have ever done before, and start being concerned about the future of our natural assets. Kenya should take her place as the global model of successful economic development that makes environmental protection and conservation a key pillar of a new and more prosperous country.

The economic well-being of Kenya depends ultimately, not on the bricks and mortar of runaway development activity, but on the natural environment. By embracing conservation we can create a sustainable basis for our continued economic and social development. It is a future that I hope all Kenyans would be eager to invest in because who does not want a healthy wealthy future?

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