CONSERVATION POLITICS

It's time to lift 40-year ban on wildlife harvesting

A new ideology is needed around the “sustainable utilisation” of Kenya’s flora and fauna.

In Summary

• In 1977, at the behest of a foreign liberal elite, professional hunting was banned in Kenya.

• Without the professional hunting community to manage large areas of wilderness, there was soon a power vacuum.

Zebra
Zebra

Homo sapiens are materialistic and ambitious, and for thousands of years man has prospered by travelling and trading.

Throughout the course of history, civilisation has been forged on war and conquest. European cartographers drew up Kenya’s boundaries allowing for its exploitation.

We must learn from our destructive past. Our economic progress has come at the expense of our natural environment.

 

In 1858, the British explorer John Hanning Speke established the source of the White Nile as Lake Victoria, Uganda.

The Buganda who lived there were considered progressive people for the time and Britain sought their cooperation. The East African Protectorate was created in 1895. This was followed by a railway line from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi and later Uganda in 1901.

The land through which the railway passed through became the Kenya Colony in 1920 and Ewart Grogan was charged with providing it with firewood to run the locomotive boilers and timber to undertake British construction projects.

Kenya’s tribes traded in livestock and ivory. They had no monetary currency. They had few raw materials and little arable land. Tribal lines were dictated by war. The Maasai controlled areas such as Nairobi, the Rift Valley and Laikipia. Other tribes like the Kikuyu and the Kipsigis lived in the forests of Mt Kenya, the Aberdares and the Mau.

In the late 19th Century, there were an estimated one million people living in Kenya but by the 1950s, the country had a population of more than seven million people.

Across the country, British colonists developed modern agriculture, medicine and education, encouraging a population of hunter-gathers, fishermen and nomadic pastoralists to grow rapidly.

Tribes such as the Kikuyu embraced a better quality of living. They flourished and with it, their desire for modern housing, furniture and industrial energy - all using larger and larger quantities of wood.

 

Winston Churchill may have won the Second World War but Franklin D Roosevelt ensured he lost the Empire. Britain had taken huge loans from America and it was now broke. Change was in the air.

Running all the colonies was expensive and a new class of educated African had begun to question the ethics of colonisation. Once more, the nation’s forests played their part in modern Kenya, this time by protecting the Mau Mau.

Despite the hundreds of NGO’s involved in conservation across the country, it is widely accepted that since Unep arrived in Nairobi over 40 years ago, the nation has lost over 68 per cent of its wildlife and even more of its indigenous forest.

Throughout the modern world, the word “safari” conjures up romantic images of native people, co-existing in harmony with their wildlife. But Africans aspire to the same material wealth the first world enjoys. They seek sustainable protein and they have a right to their own wild animals.

At Independence in 1963, Jomo Kenyatta appointed Bruce McKenzie as his new Minister for Agriculture. Together they furthered Britain’s model of industrial and agricultural development, encouraging larger and larger areas of tea and coffee at the expense of the wilderness.

They also began exploring other fashionable ideas. In the 1970’s they brought the United Nations Environmental Programme to Nairobi. Soon, NGOs began flooding in to dictate more European and American ideology.

In 1977, at the behest of a foreign liberal elite, professional hunting was banned in Kenya. Little thought was given to Kenya’s neighbours struggling with civil war. Without the professional hunting community to manage large areas of wilderness, there was soon a power vacuum.

It wasn’t long before Kenya’s nomadic tribes had bought arms from Uganda and Sudan and began profiting from illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn. The population of elephant and rhino crashed. The government and the NGOs had no idea what to do.

Today there is more hunting in Kenya than there has ever been, even though it is illegal. Bushmeat is snared and sold openly across the nation — often with complicity and alas impunity. Wild animals are the preserve of our corrupt government. The bushmeat obtained illegally from harvesting wildlife is generally free ... and to poor people across the nation, it is a source of valuable protein for their families.

We have a tragic situation before us. Urgent steps are required to reverse these trends. A new ideology is needed around the “sustainable utilisation” of Kenya’s indigenous flora and fauna, one that benefits the people and their government. Continuing the same policies we have had for 40 years would be foolish.

Kenya no longer has an old bull elephant that might legitimately be hunted. But it has a wide variety of antelope and buffalo that could be harvested sustainably, instead of being illegally snared. It is time many armchair conservationists reappraised their ideology and familiarised themselves with modern agriculture.

Factory farming with systemic insecticides and antibiotics is not the answer. Slash and burn agriculture and the overgrazing of livestock are turning the country into a desert.


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