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SOS Rhino : In the News : Kenya lines up the return of the great white hunter

Kenya lines up the return of the great white hunter

The Scotsman
Wed 19 Jan 2005

KENYA was once a playground for great white hunters, immortalised in the novels of Ernest Hemingway and the Karen Blixen memoirs Out of Africa.

That all ended in the 1970s as the country led the way in protecting its dwindling stocks of wildlife by banning hunting.

Now conservationists warn that Kenya is about to turn the clock back decades by lifting the blanket ban.

Politicians passed a bill last month that would allow local committees to license ranch owners to hunt.

Mwai Kibaki, the Kenyan president, has sent the legislation back to parliament for further scrutiny as both sides in the debate launch frantic lobbying campaigns.

Conservationists warn that the bill offers a green light to poachers and would harm delicate animal populations if hunters from Europe and the United States were allowed to pay $30,000 (about £16,000) to bag a lion.

Daphne Sheldrick, who runs an elephant sanctuary outside Nairobi, said the country's wildlife was still in a perilous state.

"The return of hunting is the worst thing that could possibly happen. This is not just about animals being killed, because there is a knock-on effect that that animal might have had bringing in money through tourism," she said.

"There is then the effect on breeding. Hunters are more likely to go after dominant males, and those are the biggest and the best of the breeders in the species.

"It passes a very sad message to the local people. The illegal bushmeat trade is completely out of hand, and hunting would appear to sanction it."

The popular idea of big game hunting was largely born in Kenya. Thousands of newspaper readers thrilled to the idea of safaris for the first time when they read about a hunting trip the US president Teddy Roosevelt made to East Africa in 1909. Decades later, Ernest Hemingway followed in his footsteps, recounting his adventures in Green Hills of Africa, and his fictional work True at First Light.

The exploits of Kenya's white colonial elite - gin-sodden garden parties and scrapes with lions - reached a fresh audience in the 1980s when Out of Africa became a film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

But the big game hunters had already left by then, following the 1977 passage of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act which banned the reckless killing of wildlife.

GG Kariuki, the Kenyan MP who sponsored the new bill, said it was designed to improve management of wild animals, which were increasingly coming into conflict with human populations.

He added that big game hunting would not necessarily be allowed.

"That would be left to a series of local advisory boards, which would be responsible for deciding what is permitted," he said.

"There will be a series of safeguards."

Revenues collected from hunting licences or selling animal products could then be ploughed back into conservation, encouraging ranch owners to appreciate the benefits of letting elephants, rhino and lion live on their land.

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