The East African (Nairobi)
April 14, 2003
Posted to the web April 21, 2003
Two weeks ago, The EastAfrican's Part 2 magazine section carried
three related articles - "Have Licensed Killers Become Poachers?"
by John Mbaria, "How Kenya's Cropping Experiment Aggravated
the Threat to Wildlife" by Michael Wamithi and "Goodall:
Trapped Gombe Chimps Face Extinction" by Paul Redfern.
While some sections of Mr Mbaria's article may have been well researched
and accurately reported, he makes a number of sweeping statements
that are not applicable countrywide, leading to an oversimplification
of a extremely complex issue.
I have been involved with the cropping programme and general game
management in Laikipia for a number of years and have a fairly complete
understanding of most game management issues relating to Laikipia.
The wildlife cropping programme in Laikipia is well administered,
well controlled and carried out with excellent scientific guidance
that provides the "fundamental information on wildlife numbers,
age, sex, spatial and temporal distribution" that Tasha Bioservices
(as quoted by Mr Mbaria) argued was lacking in Kenya's wildlife
cropping programme, in their report to the KWS in April 2001.
Importantly, and despite the well-established game-cropping programme,
Laikipia now carries increasing populations of most wildlife species.
Contrary to Mr Wamithi's article, cropping has significantly benefited
the "poor host populations." Wildlife population densities
in the Laikipia region now rank second to the internationally renowned
Maasai Mara ecosystem. The Ewaso ecosystem (that includes Laikipia
and Samburu) is home to the second largest population of elephant
Laikipia now hosts the highest Kenya populations of many endangered
species such as rhino (over half of Kenya's population), Grevy's
zebra and reticulated giraffe, as well as the only viable population
of Jackson's hartebeest, an expanding population of wild dog together
with significant numbers of other large predators.
It is interesting to note that legal national cropping programmes
only produce something in the region of two per cent of all game
meat that is estimated to be killed and sold in Kenya every year.
The balance (98 per cent) is derived from the illegal bushmeat trade.
Thus it is unlikely that a ban on cropping would have any significant
impact on the illegal bushmeat trade. Similarly, a total ban on
the production and sale of charcoal in Kenya has had almost zero
effect on the continuing destruction of Kenya's forests and rangelands.
In semi-arid areas such as Laikipia, where traditional small-scale
agriculture is impossible and hugely destructive of wildlife habitat,
sustainable harvesting of wildlife resource may represent the best
method of providing people with a legitimate source of income, while
maintaining the integrity of the environment.
Indeed, it should also be possible to "add value" to the
cropping process through the development of "sport" or
"recreational" hunting. If the increased revenue derived
thereof could be targeted towards Mr Wamithi's "host populations,"
further incentives would be provided to protect game populations
in areas unsuited to traditional agriculture.
In summary, there is little doubt that in some areas of Kenya the
cropping programme has been poorly administered. These areas need
to be identified in an objective fashion and solutions sought. However,
in some areas (for example, Laikipia) the cropping programme has
been well controlled in an environment where game populations are
largely on the increase. Important lessons for the management of
wildlife outside national parks can be learned from success stories
such as this.
The truth is that if game is to survive outside the national parks
into the medium to long run, then it will have to "pay its
way." In other words, it will have to become perceived as a
resource worth preserving, just like sheep and goats and cattle.
The chimps in Gombe are under threat because their habitat is disappearing.
That habitat is probably disappearing because the local populations
derive little benefit from their continued presence.
Rather than simply railing against all and sundry in a manner prejudicial
to rational, objective argument, the anti consumptive-utilisation
bandwagon need to gain a better understanding of the real issues
facing wildlife conservation in this country. Successful conservation
of Kenya's remaining wildlife asset will require that current prejudices
are set aside.
The debate must become more detailed, more carefully investigated
and much better reported.
Richard Vigne is general manager, Ol Pejeta Ranching Ltd, Kenya.