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This is the right time to restructure KWS

Saturday, October 13, 2012 - 00:00 -- BY CALVIN COTTAR
KWS officers
KWS officers during a recent function in Mombasa.photo Elkana Jacob
Elephant killed
Imenti North OCPD Tom Odero(r) and KWS warden Joshphat Erupe with the recovered rifle stand near the dead elephant alongside the killed poacher in Imenti Forest. Photo/Kirimi Muriithi

Finally,  IFAW announced a structural defect in the wildlife sector and KWS in particular – Steve Njumbi, head of programmes for IFAW, wrote in The Star on October 9 that the KWS spends too much time on wildlife protection and chasing poachers that the KWS director's career is seriously degraded after leaving the organisation.

I agree with this observation. After all, the KWS has an impossible mandate -  to have the burden of all Kenya wildlife costs, damages and management on the shoulders of one man, or one institution is not reasonable, nor is it viable, especially with the increasing evidence that  Kenya is losing its wildlife faster than any other country in Africa not at war (3.5 per cent per year) -a rate that will surely see wildlife effectively eliminated in Kenya (other than a few vestige populations in private conservancies and some national parks) within 35 years. Sadly, this fact is not widely known, nor is the fact that this attrition is not being perpetrated by professional or commercial poachers as is often portrayed in the media, but by the normal rural family clearing their land to make way for other land uses. 

And who can blame these people for killing off the wildlife on their land when the current law denies them ownership and all legal utilisation of the said wildlife? If wildlife on your land caused you to have 60 per cent less productivity from your maize, wheat or mono-cultural livestock, wouldn't you do the same as them and get rid of it?  I think so.

So yes, I agree with Steve that the mandate of the KWS should be changed by a new policy that can spread the burden, revenues and responsibilities of wildlife to the rural people of the country, the very people who will ultimately decide wildlife’s fate.

For this to work, all the government has to do is make wildlife valuable again, and this can be done in three easy steps: 

(1) pass into law that land owners can own the wildlife on their land in perpetuity

(2) allow landowners and Kenyans to use wildlife as they see fit to maximise its economic potential, including wildlife utilisation, hunting  and permitting 'value adding' wildlife industries such as leather processing and game meat sales

(3) KWS to downsize and (while continuing to have a small paramilitary force to deal with commercial poachers of ivory and rhino horn) its mandate should be changed to focus on regulation of the wildlife industry and offering advisory services to landowners as to how to get the most benefit out of their wildlife

(4) KWS to continue to run its national parks as wildlife estates, just like other landowners, doing all it takes to make them economically and ecologically viable and sustainable.

Some of you may not agree to these suggestions, but Kenyans should know the truth in regard to the country's wildlife policy failures to understand how urgently a new approach is needed; indeed, in 1977 when Kenya closed safari hunting and the government adopted the 'preservation' policies  we have today, we had five million head of game or thereabouts (GOK statistics) and now we have less than 1.8 million, a big drop indeed and one that no one can dispute.

And with the population decreasing at 3.5 per cent per year we are looking at a true wildlife catastrophe. In comparison, South Africa in 1976 had less than half a million head of wildlife.

Today it boasts of more than 18 million. Can anyone deny which country has had more success at wildlife conservation? I don't think so, and it is clear that the only difference between the two countries is their divergent wildlife policies – in South Africa (and now all the other Southern African countries following their lead), the devolution of ownership of wildlife to landowners is written in law, while in Kenya the opposite is true.

Interestingly, the continuing devolution of wildlife to landowners in the south is now simply about making land more productive for its owners, and with a consumptive wildlife industry worth $ 600 million per annum, one can see why.

And to think that this is the approximate value that Kenya could be achieving from its own  wildlife industry, and that it is willfully being denied Kenyans by an archaic wildlife policy, is really shocking. And this is the real question.

Looking carefully at the reasons for Kenya to hold onto it's failing wildlife policies, it seems the main driving forces are that policy making is in the control of a very few people (not KWS) who have an interest in keeping the status quo as it is, either because they are investors in tourism, or because they get donor funding for keeping it that way.

For the average Kenyan to give up their wildlife rights so that Kenya has a 'better' image is simply unacceptable, particularly when there is no basis as the evidence is increasingly showing.

Indeed, our leaders' thinking that the success of our  tourism industry would be effected by a liberalised wildlife regime is simply wrong - Kenya gets only 1.2 million tourists a year at the most, while SA gets 8 million, and SA  collects 30 per cent more revenue from each tourist on average than Kenya, and this is the same for every other country that has wildlife utilisation - they make more money.

As the new director for KWS takes over he should consider an entirely fresh approach, and he should consider a visit to South Africa and Namibia to see how they have achieved such remarkable success at using wildlife to uplift their people, and its consequent conservation result. He should see with his own eyes.

Additionally, the director should avoid being influenced by wildlife lobby groups and instead focus on the creation of grassroots associations and district wildlife fora that can get landowners real views and issues into the national wildlife policy, and likewise can be a medium to educate the landowners about the economic potentials of wildlife.

On a final note, the new KWS director should be aware that the Wildlife Bill 2010 ( amended to 2011 I believe)  that is waiting in Parliament to be passed by MPs, must not be allowed to pass into law because it will just make his job even harder than ever - indeed how is he going to pay for all the compensation claims and what will he do after he leaves KWS with all those grievances in his wake? Indeed, this policy merely propagates the same old ideas that have failed us so badly for the last 40 years.