By Florence Gichoya
Kenya is losing wildlife at an alarming rate and if something is not done soon we might lose our heritage. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the institution mandated to protect our wildlife, has not been up to the task in effectively fighting poaching. Recently the Director General William Kiprono dismissed wildlife conservationists’ call on the President to declare poaching a national disaster.
The question is: When will poaching be, at least, declared a crisis? When we no longer have elephants and rhinos in our parks? KWS is showing laxity and not reigning on the poachers as expected.
The most affected animals are rhinos and elephants and this year, we have so far lost 18 rhinos and 51 elephants. Last year, we lost 59 rhinos and 302 elephants and if the trend continues, in a few years to come, we will not have these animals. Technically, simple calculations dictate that the rate at which rhinos are massacred far out numbers the calves born. A rhino’s gestation period is about 16 months while elephants have the longest gestation period of almost two years.
We pride ourselves in being a home of the Big Five, yet experts have warned us that if something is not done, then we might lose our heritage and our wildlife may one day be a subject in history books. Conservationists have alleged that there has been increased poaching in Africa because of the high demand of ivory in Asian countries especially Vietnam and China. The rhino horn is perceived to have medicinal value in some Asian communities, a kilogram of rhino sells at more than Sh1 million.
Kenya is not the only country facing the brunt of poaching. Last year, South Africa lost more than 1,004 rhinos through poaching, an activity that thrives in a complex network of cartels taking advantage of our porous borders and corrupt law enforcers.
The culprits seem to be well organized syndicates that use superior weapons and have a network of funders, traffickers and traders who remain elusive to authorities. Although Parliament can be commended for enacting the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act which became operational this year, more needs to be done to end the vice. The security forces must be proactive and make arrests before the killings take place. They also need to conduct thorough investigations so that we can see more convictions from the courts. If poaching is not stopped, it will have a negative ripple effect on the economy.
Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner that heavily depends on our wildlife. The revenue could drastically drop if there are no interventions. For Kenya to retain its position as the world’s ideal safari destination, tougher measures should be adopted to deal with poaching. Right now, the poachers seem to be one step ahead.
New technology need to be adopted to reduce the number of animals killed. The fight against poaching should also involve communities and the private sector. Just like the ‘Nyumba Kumi initiative’, deliberate awareness should be made to communities living in the environs of our national parks and conservancies. Community conservation policy should be encouraged so that people will be on the lookout of suspects and report incidences to the authority. President Uhuru Kenyatta recently said he is disgusted on the rising cases of poaching. He also said he will decisively deal with the matter. Moving forward, the long term solution includes a global ban against ivory and rhino horns trade. The Kenyan government through the African Union should aggressively lobby for the ban, especially in Asian countries. As Kenyans, it is our collective responsibility to speak up and safeguard our wildlife which is our national treasure and pride.