This is a guest post by Mrs. Joan Sikand, Esq. She has served as development coordinator of the Wildlife Foundation since its inception in 2000. She has been a member of Friends of Nairobi National Park since 1995, and served as its vice-chairwoman from 2004 to 2007. Her articles on conservation have been published in the Kenyan daily, “The People.”
Kenya has been a sanctuary for wildlife and a model for community based conservation for decades. However, conservation initiatives are now diminishing in the face of rapid and volatile socio-economic change and growing ethnic and clan conflicts.
The Wildlife Foundation (TWF), through its continued collaboration with local communities, has worked to contain Nairobi’s urban sprawl. It supported an open-ecosystem biodiversity corridor for the Nairobi National Park. TWF began in 2000 with a simple lease scheme, paying local community landowners still maintaining traditional lifestyles a sum to keep their lands open and unfenced. This practice resulted in over fifty thousand acres being added to the twenty-three thousand acres of Nairobi National Park (NNP) under conservation protection. More than a protected area, NNP represents a standard for effective local government. As an intensely fragile ecosystem, NNP is subject to protection under the Physical Planning Act and also the Environmental Management Coordination Act.
In January 2014, Kenya signed into law an updated Wildlife Policy Act, also known as the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, to strengthen conservation and make it sustainable. Under the new law, community conservation committees are set up to ensure communities benefit from wildlife. However, lifestyles are changing rapidly; where once nomadic pastoralists had enough land to follow rain and grasslands and co-exist peacefully with wildlife, now intense population pressures impact traditional wildlife habitats. Without compensatory benefits, landowners can resent and destroy wildlife.
The sale of ivory and rhino horn through poaching is also compromising Kenya’s wildlife conservation efforts. Kenya has lost 25 percent of its elephant and rhino populations in the past five years due to poaching. It is widely expected that without drastic measures, the elephant and the rhino will become extinct within this generation. The revised Wildlife Policy Act outlines responses to poaching through fines and enforcement measures. The act on its own, however, may not be enough.
China recently signed an agreement with Kenya to rebuild its moribund railways, utilizing soft loan terms. As Kenya pursues extraction industries, this should be welcome. However, to the conservationists, this news is also foreboding. China’s ivory industry is a healthy and vibrant trade, which is rapidly eradicating Africa’s elephant populations. The proposed railway line will run through important biodiversity areas including Tsavo National Park, which provides greater access for poachers and middlemen.
There is also strong evidence to connect the ivory and rhino horn trade to terrorism, something Kenya is increasingly worried about. The latest wave of terrorist violence in Kenya has meant that tourists are shying away from Kenya’s parks and beaches. The result is a continued decline in the sector, as infrastructure is decaying and revenues for wildlife protection are falling. One example is the Mwaluganje Elephant Reserve in Kwale, which was set up in 1995. Community landowners contributed their land to the Mwaluganje Elephant Reserve. Now, the entire area is defunct; the gate locked. The local community has wiped out all the elephants through poaching; visitor numbers and revenue have collapsed. Kenya is attempting to counteract these conservation challenges through the new Wildlife Policy Act. The act establishes stronger institutions for wildlife management with a particular emphasis on community involvement, sustainability, and anti-poaching. It remains to be seen when and how the new legislation will be implemented.