Moi brings back Leakey to patch wildlife service
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1998:
NAIROBI, Kenya––Anthropologist Richard
Leakey, 56, on September 25 returned to the head of the
Kenya Wildlife Service. His appointment by president Daniel
arap Moi surprised just about all observers.
A third-generation Kenyan, whose British grandfather
came as a missionary in 1902, Leakey previously took
charge of the KWS in 1989, also at Moi’s request. Then as
now, poaching, crime, and mismanagement threatened the
viability of the Kenyan wildlife reserves, which together attract
as many as 750,000 visitors a year, and are the nation’s third
biggest source of foreign exchange.
Attracting strong support from abroad, Leakey
stepped up wildlife law enforcement, scarcely missing a day on
the job even after losing both legs in a 1993 plane crash, but
his legal rigidity openly antagonized some of Moi’s intimates.
Some reportedly wished to undo the Kenyan constitutional ban
on sport hunting, in order to start trophy hunting businesses;
others were accused of farming on wildlife reserve property.
Frustrated by lack of presidential backing, Leakey
resigned in March 1994, leaving a budget surplus to David
Western, his successor as KWS chief. Western reputedly took
a more conciliatory view of hunting and the cronyism associated
with the now 20-year-old arap Moi regime.
With the KWS now an estimated $8 million in debt
and the wildlife reserve system perhaps in worse disarray than
ever, Moi fired Western a week before reappointing Leakey.
In the interim between KWS stints, Leakey helped
organize Safina, one of Kenya’s two major opposition parties,
whose name is Swahili for “Noah’s ark.”
Summarized Associated Press writer Chege Mbitiru,
“Moi made no secret of his dislike of Leakey, and made every
effort to block the registration of Safina. The president
described Leakey as ‘arrogant and racist,’ and ‘not a Kenyan.’
But Leakey won election to the Kenyan parliament
anyway. Sources differed as to whether or not his reappointment
to lead KWS means he is now constitutionally obligated
to vacate his seat. It would, in any event, be filled by another
Safina representative. For the time being, Leakey said, he
intends to fill both positions.
“Obviously, one does not knowingly put his head in
a noose,” Leakey told Mbitiru. “I don’t think I am doing that.
I believe I have an obligation to Kenya. I hope I can help.”
Leakey prominently tangled with the Moi administration
over elephant protection as recently as July, when he
reportedly asserted that from 50 to 100 Kenyan elephants had
been poached during the first six months of 1998 as result of
the June 1997 agreement of the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species to allow Namibia, Botswana,
and Zimbabwe to export some of their stocks of culled and/or
confiscated elephant ivory. Leakey, instrumental in bringing
about a 1989 total ban by CITES of any international ivory
trading, said the loophole in the ban had encouraged poachers
to hope that they could disguise illegally obtained ivory as part
of the legal transactions.
KWS deputy director for biodiversity John Waithaka
claimed the actual toll since June 1997 was 31 elephants, up
just two from the total killed during the 12 months preceding.
The dispute erupted after both the Tsavo East and
Tsavo West national parks were ravaged by June brushfires,
variously blamed on squatters making charcoal, herders trying
to kill ticks, and poachers taking revenge for the arrest of
members of their gangs. Elephant expert Daphne Sheldrick
predicted that the 17-day series of fires might mean starvation
for some of the 8,500 elephants who inhabit the parks.
By August, however, Tsavo East chief warden John
Muhanga cheerfully assured travel writers that the fires had
only permitted vigorous regrowth of grass, and that the loss of
much dry brush just meant elephants, rhinos, lions, and zebras
had all become easier to see––much as fires at Yellowstone
National Park in 1988 improved wildlife viewing and grazing
opportunities for elk and bison.
Western was dismissed soon after ordering about 300
peasant farmers to vacate plots they have been tilling for more
than a year as squatters on the Ruhuru-ini side of Aberdares
National Park. Representatives of the peasants had asked to
remain until March, in order to harvest their crops. The land
now under cultivation is to become part of the path of a 200-
mile fence meant to keep elephants and buffalo out of tree plantations
and human settlements––a project Leakey favors, maintaining
that the 30,000-member Kenyan elephant herd will not
be tolerated and will be poached to extinction if allowed to
Since 1993, according to a recent KWS report, at
least 16 residents of communities in the areas to be protected
have been killed and another 17 have been injured in conflicts
with elephants, buffaloes, hippos, and leopards. About 50
miles of the fence have already been built by KWS, the
Kenyan army, and staff of nongovernmental agencies.
While neighbors of wildlife reserves complain of too
many animals, some species are reportedly in serious decline.
Colubus Trust director Paula Kahumbu said in August that only
1,300 Angolan colubus monkeys remain in Kenya. Special
bridges for colubuses have been built over one road in the Diani
South Coast region, where many have been roadkilled, but a
greater threat may come from fur and meat poaching, along
with logging in their habitat