Recently it has become a common phenomenon to hear of the escalated animal-human conflict in Kenya. The clash between animals and residents has left a noticeable dent in both our cultural and economic status. Residents have taken stiff measures against the unlucky animals which cross their path by killing them. This has attracted strong reactions from the international community.
The major cause of this conflict is the ever expanding population which has led to invasion of land left solely for animals. It is now a norm to hear the land grabbing in our forests and other rich heritage places which causes threat to the animals living there. These animals are eventually pushed into our resource constrained parks where competition for food and water is stiff. All these animals have to turn, for survival, to areas outside the national parks where they can obtain food bringing them in contact with the people living near those areas. Herbivores straying from the congested national parks find their food in the settlers’ farm produce. Staple foods such as maize, cassava, beans, potatoes and fruit trees are the targets for the hungry herbivores that encompass elephants, baboons, zebra, buffalo and wild pigs. Carnivores devour cattle, sheep, goats and occasionally, human beings.
Kenya’s environmental and wildlife conservation has been geared towards preserving the status of pristine areas solely to attract tourists from the developed countries. With the tourists came the much sought after tourism dollars which has boosted the country’s economy. However this has been achieved at the expense of the local residents who stand to lose much rather than gain. People are rarely compensated for their losses and often don’t see the benefit of this animals hence kill them whenever they attack their crops or animals. In recent case, eight lions were speared in Kitengela after escaping from Nairobi national park and killed animals. The herders from the Maasai community took the matter into their hands, since the government has been too stingy to compensate them whenever their animals are attacked by wild animals, to protect their animals.
The current practice of the KWS is strictly to conserve wildlife at all costs. This means active policing to eliminate poaching. Anyone who harms or kills wildlife is considered a poacher. Even the villager who kills a wild animal in self-defense when attacked will be prosecuted for his act. A farmer who kills a baboon for feasting on the fruits of his sweat will also face charges of poaching. Killing a snake and skinning its hide can easily attract charges of illegal trade in game products.KWS has failed to educated people on the importance of the animals hence creating animosity between the organization and the community living around the parks. This trend is expected to continue if effective measures are not taken by the government.
It may not be possible for every Kenyan community to benefit from wildlife resources, but its possible to have agriculture, economic growth and tourism taking place hand in hand, each complementing the other. The Kenyan government can play its part to salvage the national pride, and it can do so by turning away from Western conservationists who still have the dream of Africa as a jungle and who want to keep it that way for their own pleasure. The animals are part of our heritage but as much they need conservation, residents have the right to be compensated for the loss caused by this animals otherwise they will continue to protect the little they have possibly by killing the animals.
The government should also restrict development in areas kept aside for the animals to avoid conflict. For example, the animal migratory route between Nairobi national park and Maasai Mara game reserve has been blocked with vast development. This has led to constant conflict since the animals are boxed in by human activities losing their natural habitats. This has also exposed them to colt of the poacher’s gun which has done extensive damage to the animal’s survival. Some are at blink of extinction if nothing is done, and done fast to correct this poaching nightmare. Our game rangers, however, are poorly armed and paid and are of no match to the poachers who are ready to do anything for juicy paycheck of landing any animal trophy. Am told ivory and rhino horns are costly than gold in far-east countries such as China this days where they are used to make luxurious articles and traditional medicines.
The Wildlife Act does nothing better since the fines, if at all you are caught, are just but a fraction of the fortune and one will walk direct from the court to the parks to try his luck again. This exemplifies the shortcomings in government to protect the animals and soon or later we shall tell our grandchildren there once were animals such as Rhinos and elephants now available in movies and photos. Everyone has the responsibility and duty to protect our animals. Humans should learn how to live with the animals without killing them.
Article by Joshua Mwonga,
Law student- Parklands Campus, University of Nairobi