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Monday, June 16, 2014

Why poaching affects all of us

Kenyans and the international conservation community are outraged at the death, in the hands of poachers, of Africa’s most iconic and beloved elephant. Satao carcass was found with two ghastly holes on his face from where his magnificent tusks once projected with awesome majesty. Satao roamed Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park for nearly 50 years.

The surge in illegal ivory trade is due to high demand for ivory products in China and the United States of America. Militias and terrorists profit hugely from the unprecedented surge in the value of ivory and using the proceeds to fund mayhem. It is estimated that poachers have killed over 35,000 African elephants in the last couple of years.

Last week I argued that President Kenyatta’s personal involvement was crucial to ending poaching. A good friend asked why I thought tens of millions of ordinary Kenyans who struggle to feed, clothe and provide shelter for their families should give a hoot about wildlife. My friend argues that elephants and rhinos are merely objects of fascination for mostly western tourists and a small minority of affluent Kenyans.  

This comment got me thinking about the thousands of Kenyan farmers and pastoralists who live close to our game reserves and national parks. They know a have a different story about wildlife. For them these animals especially elephants, hippos and lions conjure images of death and destruction. In 2013, hundreds of elephants destroyed crops in Mwatate constituency. Similarly, in 2012 herdsmen angry with the predators killing their livestock speared six lions to death in Kitengela. One of the herdsmen who lost his goats said they were forced to kill the lions even though he understood that they were a treasured heritage.

The apathy and grievance felt by millions of Kenyans about wildlife is not trivial. Kenya Wildlife Service must urgently the issue of human wildlife conflict. Moreover, for millions of Kenyans who bear the cost of conservation, often at a huge personal loss, adequate reparation must flow and revenues from tourism must trickle down in direct and tangible ways. If we are to win the war on poaching, we must get local communities on the side of conservation. It is time to consider a payment scheme to persuade local communities to pursue livelihood options that are compatible with conservation objectives.

Here is why millions of Kenyans who carry the inordinate burden of conservation as well as the tens of millions who have no contact or experience with our most valued heritage must care for wildlife and be concerned about poaching.

Data from World Travel and Tourism Council shows that travel and tourism’s total contribution to Kenya’s GDP was 13.7 percent, supported 778, 500 jobs (11.9 percent of total employment), accounted for 7.5 percent of total capital investment while visitor exports contributed to 18.6 percent of our total exports in 2011. Tourism is vital to the national economy and contributes directly and indirectly to the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans. Kenya’s tourism thrives on wildlife, and is beholden to the majestic appeal of large mammals like the elephant and the rhino. Extinction, in the hands of poachers, of these iconic mammals could orchestrate a catastrophic contraction of our economy.

It is believed that Al Shabaab rakes in circa US$600,000 a month from poaching to fund its activities. Ivory has been found in Al Shabaab in strongholds inside Somalia. In the 2014/2015-budget proposal, the government will spend Ksh.155 billion – about 10 percent of the total budget on security. The budget will be used to hunt down C in Somalia (Ksh. 71.3 billion), enhance policing (Ksh.66.2 billion) and intelligence capacity (Ksh.17.4 billion) here at home to prevent terrorist attacks against innocent citizens and our economic infrastructure. It is very likely that massive spending on security could be crowding out allocations to vital growth sectors such agriculture, which received a paltry 4 percent of the total budget.

Owing to a huge slump in international tourism due to rising insecurity, the exchequer will allow employers tax deductions of amounting to Ksh. 2.4 billions to boost domestic tourism for the next 12 months.  Moreover, Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers revealed that over 7500 hotel workers in the coast have lost their jobs largely due to travel advisories.

We all must say no to poaching and illegal wildlife trade. It ruins our economy and distorts priorities for budgetary allocations. 

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