Players in the conservation sector say government plans to reintroduce game meat business in restaurants and hotels is a ploy to bring back sport hunting.
This comes as the Task Force on Wildlife Utilisation wound up its public hearings on Friday. The task force, gazetted by Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala on March 29, was mandated to propose modalities of reintroducing game meat, culling, game capture and sale as well cropping, among others.
Game meat, the ministry said, will boost tourism by making hotels and restaurants competitive in culinary business.
The report is expected to be forwarded to the CS this week for adoption and implementation. However, conservationists have vowed to explore all means to block it.
Among those upset are zoologist and wildlife management expert Perez Olinda, who served as the first African director of the then Kenya National Parks, now Kenya Wildlife Service, between 1966 and 1981.
“Balala is an old boy at the same school I was — Kakamega High School. Therefore, it is not proper to speak to him through the media. But I am forced to rebuke him openly on this matter. It is ill-intended and perhaps driven by vested interests and not public interest,” he said.
“I will never entertain that thought. One, we don’t have numbers. Furthermore, we should jealously preserve and guard our wildlife as a heritage not just for ourselves but for future generations.”
Debates on consumptive utilisation, Olinda said, could have been partially entertained if the task force’s terms of reference were strictly to do a census to determine game numbers, and how to preserve them.
“It is an extreme decision. It seems Balala prejudged the numbers. It is like he is queuing at a bank to withdraw money he doesn’t have nor even checked the account balance. He should explain to us where this idea came from. Hope is not informed by what is happening and interests from Laikipia,” he said, adding that he will join others to shoot down any recommendations that will approve consumption of wildlife.
Josphat Ngonyo, executive director of the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, warned that killing wildlife for food is unsustainable and a ticket to wiping out Kenya’s wildlife.
“If we accept this idea of consumption, we are pacing down that road that was taken by some West African nations that decimated their wildlife. The only consolation they have is drawings and stories of the wildlife they used to have but ate them all,” he said, adding that Kenya’s wildlife is a national heritage, with value beyond money and utility.
Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivore, Cameroon and Liberia are among African counties that adopted consumptive utilisation. Today, they hardly have wildlife. Ngonyo termed “suspect” Kenya’s push to go the consumptive way, saying it is being rushed, with professional views and research on the matter being tactfully shoved aside by proponents of the game meat business.
“The 20 years I have been in the conservation field, I have never seen such pressure and urgency to pursue the consumption utilisation course. What is the motive behind all this?” he asked.
“An Action Aid report of 2007 shows that communities aren’t for consumptive utilisation. All they want is fair compensation. They are happy to live with the wildlife. Therefore, bushmeat can never be a solution.”
In 1910, sport hunting was introduced in Kenya, but following drastic loss of some game species, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1977 put a total ban on the practice. During his tenure as KWS director in the 1990s, Richard Leakey reintroduced an experimental cropping programme. It was supposed to run for five years, but it went on for 13 years.
“The opening up was due to pressure from large ranch owners. It was against the judgment of many conservationists,” Ngonyo said.
In 2001, a cropping evaluation report was done that established that poaching for bushmeat increased around areas in which cropping was allowed. This led to a total ban of consumptive utilisation of wildlife by the then minster, the late Newton Kulundu, in 2004.
“Communities felt shortchanged that despite having wildlife on their farms, licensed ranches were the only beneficiary. They found no reason why they should not benefit from wildlife like their neighbouring ranches, which were licensed,” Ngonyo said.
If the current proposal is adopted, he said, it will lead to destruction and clearing of the wildlife, which has already been hurt by the ongoing illegal bushmeat trade, land use plans, development and human settlement.
“Sport hunting and cropping wildlife contradicts tourism principles. You cannot shoot down animals today and expect to view and photograph its next of kin the following day,” he said.
Dr Mordecai Ogada, a carnivore ecologist, said consumptive wildlife utilisation was being pushed by foreign ranch owners “hell-bent” on reintroducing sports hunting for pleasure and minting money.
“We are being fooled that we have numbers so we can start thinking of culling. The culling and cropping they are talking about is just a decoy to open up Kenya for sport hunting,” Ogada, a lecturer and a co-author of The Big Conservation Lie, said.
Once approved, he said, it means people will own permits to kill some game, say buffalo or zebras, which will give them licence to own those game as their own property.
“What this means is that lions, which feed on zebra and gazelles, become a problem animal, so it extends to killing the lion because the lion is killing quote and quote your buffallo,” he said.
“In Namibia, so many cheetahs are killed because they are killing impala.”
He said the use of ranching is misleading, given that there will be no animal tethered like cattle. Moreover, killing of the wildlife will be done by guns.
“There are those who enjoy shooting and will pay any amount to get the licence. Ranch owners will cash in, taking advantage of difficulties to draw the line whether the buffalo was shot for sport or meat,” he said.
He said killing of gazelles, impalas, zebras and buffalos will cause an imbalance in the wildlife ecosystem detrimental to the survival of carnivores. And that other than sport hunting, it is a plot to control the rangeland used by pastoralist communities by pushing them out of their lands.
“The firing and gun noise will keep away herders and force them to move to safety, destroying their way of life,” he said.
Rangers who spoke to the Star anonymously for fear of victimisation said the idea to allow game meat business was ill thought out. They said it will spike poaching and illegal trade of ivory, rhino horns and other wildlife products.
“We are just opening the floodgates for poachers, who will be called businessmen and tourists,” one ranger said.
“The CS should come to us and stop listening to those people whose conservancies he is patronising day in and day out. He is here to serve public and not private interests. I doubt if consumptive utilisation of wildlife can be of any interest to the public.”
Another ranger added: “For us who live in the wild, it’s a ridicule to our commitment. We do this work of protecting our wildlife not to consume them or convert it to some business enterprise. But we do this with passion because it’s our heritage and a prestige we pride in, with hope to bequeath our great great grandchildren.”
When reached for comment, CS Balala didn’t pick our calls or respond to text message inquiries on what motivated the push to create the task force and whose interests he is serving.