•PS Silvia Museiya has since affirmed the government’s commitment to investing heavily in addressing challenges, amid taking wildlife conservation to the next level.
•This includes clearing all the pending bills on human-wildlife conflict, amounting to over Sh5.7 billion, which she hopes to have cleared by the end of the current government’s five-year term.
Kenya is home to some 24 national parks, 15 reserves, six marine parks and private conservancies all interconnected to the country’s tourism sector, a key source of foreign exchange earnings.
However over years, human-wildlife conflict has remained a headache for the government, communities and conservationist.
In May this year, ten lions were killed in less than one week within the Amboseli conservation area as a result of human-wildlife conflict, sparking public uproar.
Kenya’s wildlife is threatened by livestock and human encroachment, loss of habitat and targeted poaching.
A report by WWF and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that human-wildlife conflict is the main threat to the long-term survival of some of the world’s most emblematic species.
Communities living around parks are also hit by losses including loss of lives, when the wild animals wander out of the parks in search of water, food or in migration.
Between 2020 and 2022, more than 370 Kenyans reportedly lost their lives after attacks by wild animals, while over 2,040 were injured, according to Kenya Wildlife Service data.
Wildlife Principal Secretary Silvia Museiya has since affirmed the government’s commitment to investing heavily in addressing the challenges, amid taking wildlife conservation to the next level.
This includes clearing all the pending bills on human-wildlife conflict, amounting to over Sh5.7 billion, which she hopes to have cleared by the end of the current government’s five-year term.
“When I took over, files of human-wildlife conflict lay in dust waiting for verification and validation in counties for the years 2021, 2022 and 2023,” Museiya explained during an interview with the Star.
Coming from Laikipia, which is home to some of Kenya's most successful wildlife conservation and untamed wilderness with several parks and reserves, Museiya is passionate about wildlife and co-existent with humans.
During a recent budget review, she argued a case on communities living with wildlife, which has since given hope to speeding up the compensation programme.
The State Department has received about Sh958 million for compensation for the last financial year.
Of this, Sh908 million is going into direct compensation of victims of human-wildlife conflict through an account at Equity Bank that was approved by the National Treasury.
There is however challenges when it comes to making payments as some account holders cannot be traced, some accounts have become dormant and in some cases, families differ on the next of kin.
The decision to open an account at Equity, according to the PS, is to ensure a smooth transfer of funds and ensure the monies are not returned to Treasury at the close of the financial year, as per the law.
“We have about 5,000 beneficiaries where we have transferred up to 90 per cent. It is important that we compensate the affected people as mandated by law,” she noted.
Where there is disparity in the next of kin details and other family issues, we give them time to sort out and once they agree, we go ahead and pay, she explained.
To minimize human-wildlife conflict, the government has embarked on an expansive programme to address water shortages within communities and parks.
Treasury CS Njuguna Ndun’gu in the current financial year has allocated Sh1.1 billion for human-wildlife conflict compensation; Sh800 million for wildlife insurance and Sh400 million for maintenance of access roads and airstrips in parks.
He also allocated Sh319 million for drilling of boreholes in protected areas for provision of water for wildlife and Sh226 million for wildlife research facilities.
“The compensation process is very transparent,” PS Museiya affirmed.
Benefit to communities
Meanwhile, the PS is pushing for programmes that will benefit communities living around parks, noting that they have for long been left out.
Among them is linking them with financiers to support the development of businesses along tourism circuits.
“Communities are not getting a fair share of the wildlife resources. This is something that we have to change,” she said.
President William Ruto in August announced that the national government remit 50 per cent of revenue generated from national parks to counties in which the conservancies are situated.
“County governments must then decide how these communities will benefit,” the PS noted.
She said the government will also ensure a percentage of recruitment of rangers must come from the community around wildlife conservation areas.
“ We must ensure communities become part of parks, reserves and conservancies,” she said.
She is keen to borrow a leaf from Costa Rica, where no facilities are found within parks, with almost all businesses being concentrated outside the parks, mainly along the circuit and entrances.
“Communities can never benefit by having investments inside the parks,” she noted, adding hotels and camps in the parks benefit only a few people and investors.
For the first time in history, the ministry has also budgeted for community conservancies, a budget of Sh569 million, to open up tourism circuit routes.
The initiative has been supported by USAID and World Wide Fund, which has pushed up the budget to about Sh1.6 billion in the current financial year.
The PS recently reversed an initiative by KWS to have private investors put up eco-lodges, tented camps, and visitor recreation facilities among others within national parks, reserves, sanctuaries and stations.
“We cannot convert our parks into construction sites when even the investments we have do not make much sense,” she said.
“The existing facilities contribute less than five percent of income because the lease agreements are skewed in favour of the investors and KWS as an organization. There is no place for communities.”
She said there is a need to first review the existing leases, do a comparative analysis with other countries and private conservancies which are doing well, and then come up with an investment policy that has a business case "that still maintains the ecological integrity of protected spaces."