Kenya has stood its ground against the consumptive utilisation of wildlife for decades now.
Alliances between wildlife tourism enterprises and the communities offer unforgettable experiences for visitors, who often return for more.
In a post-Cecil world where people are increasingly aware of and angered by trophy hunting, Kenya has been a guiding light, one that is now threatening to self-extinguish.
In March headlines from Kenya informed us that Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala had initiated a task force to reevaluate wildlife game farming in community and private lands.
This committee would be chaired by former Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director David Western. Western supports trophy hunting in Africa and has argued that tourists should have no say in the matter, in spite of foreign hunters having a very big say.
He now seems to have given up his chairmanship, perhaps to assuage concerns of bias, but he is still very much in the room. Questions about legality of actions, including his appointment, have not been answered.
Public comment was invited, with a closing date of July 31, yet there was a sense no one was listening. Instead we read of a new era in wildlife conservation policies, and that its proponents have been "former big game hunters who retain large scale ranches that host wildlife".
Looks like Western is taking a page from South Africa's game book, and that if left to its own purposes this task force will conclude that utilising wildlife contributes to the national GDP, food security, job creation, and enhances co-existence between communities and wildlife.
Safari Club International (SCI) lobbyists are on the sidelines, and have been since the hunt ban was implemented. In online forums, American hunters are salivating over fresh trophy prospects.
Then came the rhino translocation fiasco. In its aftermath, Kenyan media reported that the government was "concerned" about the multiple deaths, warning it would not spare "anyone doing injustice to the country’s tourism sector".
Kenyans on social media were calling for the resignation of none other than Balala, the man behind both the translocation and the task force. Balala told them all to "go to hell", a revealing outburst for which he later apologised.
What a mess. The great land of Kenya described in 1977 as "the last great reservoir of wildlife on earth", is failing on its stated goal to protect that reservoir. At the time of the ban companies and persons holding concessions were ordered to immediately turn hunting trips into photographic safaris.
Mathews Ogutu, then Minister for Tourism and Wildlife, said no one would be allowed to enter Kenya with firearms or other hunting weapons. "It is an electrifying and bold move," said a special adviser to the United Nations Environment Programme. "The millions of people who are interested in the future of East African wildlife will be greatly encouraged by this step."
What has gone wrong? Consumptive use of wildlife for profit makes no sense morally, economically, or from any conservation-incentive point of view. It has no place in today's world, the vast majority of people everywhere are against it.
As for the "tradition" of foreign hunters coming to hunt big game, some traditions should die. Here is what the Daily Nation had to say in an editorial from 2000: "The massacre of animals for sport...is unAfrican and an abomination...Countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe refuse to see what is essentially a simple truth: The only way to guarantee the future of the world's wildlife is to ruthlessly destroy the market for animal products. "
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) defines sustainable utilisation as an economic activity that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations.
But in reality it facilitates systematic killing and environmental destruction. Political compromise has ensured the term 'sustainable' now means whatever the user wants it to mean. New research warns us that the misplaced belief we can use wild animals for profit is driving many species towards extinction. These findings should inform all policies surrounding wildlife everywhere.
Instead we see the Kenyan government and its advisers poised to step back in time. Popular opinion among Kenyans however seems overwhelmingly on the side with its wildlife. Concerns about the potential for corruption and conflicting interests are high.
This is a misstep that will be intensely controversial in the international community, which does include tourists. If this reaction doesn't matter to the individuals on this task force, it should matter to the Kenyan government.
Tourists Against Trophy Hunting (TATH) is an international lobbying coalition. We are conservationists, journalists, photographers, activists, tourism operators, and tourists, and through member connections reach a global audience in the millions.
We oppose trophy hunting everywhere. Kenya has been the example, and in more recent years Botswana too, of how to shut down these violent people who are intent on depleting our wild places for ego gratification.
Safari Club International has said that anti-trophy hunting arguments are based "merely" on morals. They are not, but they certainly do include the moral values and laws of nature that are central to all our societies. We trust Kenya will continue to uphold these values.