Some Wildlife Conservation Concerns

The critical conservation problem facing Kenya today lies outside the formal Protected Areas where the great majority (c.70%) of wildlife are still to be found.

Up to 1977 Kenya had a broad based conservation policy. Wildlife inside the Protected Areas were completely protected. But outside the Protected Areas it was central to conservation policy that landowners and users should receive benefits from the wildlife on their land. A wide range of both non-consumptive and consumptive utilisation was encouraged, including photographic tourism, sport hunting, bird shooting, cropping, capture and sale - and a vigorous value added trade in trophies and skins.

In 1977 all consumptive utilisation of wildlife outside the Protected Areas was banned, along with the associated value added trades. Since then, some 50% of all wildlife has vanished, 30% of the wildlife within the Protected Areas and 55% of the wildlife outside the Protected Areas.

Under current conservation policy it is difficult for landowners to capture benefits from wildlife, for only a small proportion of the land outside the Protected Areas is suitable for wildlife tourism. Accordingly, wildlife represents mainly a cost to producers, primarily from disease transmission, but also from grazing competition, damage to property, and loss of life and livestock: costs of production are inflated by some 30%-40% on land infested with wildlife.

Population growth, coupled to agricultural and livestock production subsidies, has led to the conversion of rangeland that was previously wildlife habitat. With few benefits to be gained from wildlife, there are even fewer incentives for landowners to invest in conservation or to maintain the habitat.

Fourteen years ago the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) reintroduced financial incentives to landowners by permitting some consumptive use of wildlife, by making direct grants to landowners and communities to support wildlife, and by sidelining tourism cartels by encouraging private sector tourism on private land.

This has without doubt been successful. In two important wildlife areas, Kajiado and Laikipia Districts, and in all areas where cropping is well established, wildlife populations are stable or increasing. The private sector has responded vigorously: private conservancies, concessions, lodges and campsites are springing up everywhere, and state Parks are being restocked from private lands.

However, landowners can still look only with envy at the possibilities offered in southern Africa. Here, investment in conservation remains constrained by the continuing prohibition of all high value activities such as sport hunting, and by the continual vacillation of the KWS and the absence of any consistent policy. Very recently, all cropping permits have been withdrawn, without any consultation, ostensibly to review the situation. This has angered and alienated landowners.

The true custodians of Kenya's wildlife resource outside the Protected Areas are not the KWS but the literally tens of thousands of private landowners and users on whose land the wildlife is found. These are the partners that the KWS must enrol to meet national Conservation goals - yet these are the very people who the KWS fails to consult with and whose very way of life they fail to understand.

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