Africans defending national wildlife parks turn from guns to courts
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2005:
NAIROBI, HARARE, GABORONE, JOHANNESBURG–Amboseli,
Kalahari, Hwange, Kruger: the names alone evoke images of
wide-open wild places on a sparsely inhabited continent–at least to
non-Africans. But to many Africans whose tribal lands they
historically were, these and other globally renowned wildlife parks
are symbols of conquest, occupation, and deprivation.
To those who till land or keep livestock, the parks are the
source of marauding wildlife, and appear to hoard disproportionate
shares of the green grass and water.
To those who have nothing, the parks symbolize inaccessible
To politicians, the great African wildlife parks often
represent potential largess, expendible to build a power base.
Preserving the parks as unpeopled as European and American
ecotourists and wildlife conservation donors imagine the “real”
Africa to be is a multi-million-dollar industry, but there is also
big money in opening them to more hunting and other commercial
exploitation, while returning the parks to tribal control is an
oft-expressed rhetorical ideal often most strongly favored by whoever
anticipates gaining easy access to resources in exchange for giving
tribal partners a few more dusty acres in which to graze goats.
Amid all this, growing numbers of educated Africans see the
value of protecting the integrity of the wildlife parks, but are
politically scattered, their tribal identities and value as a
perceived block vote typically lost a generation back, or several,
when their parents or grandparents ventured into big cities to enable
their children to attend good schools.
As the African colonial past recedes, to where only those
already well past middle age were ever part of a European-dominated
establishment, the perennial struggle over preserving the parks is
passing to a new generation of leadership on both sides.
There are still aging “big men” like Zimbabwean
president-for-life Robert Mugabe, cynically exploiting the parks to
pay off their supporters; still neo-colonial bwanas using proximity
to the parks to stock private hunting preserves, most conspicuously
in South Africa; and still some overseas nonprofit organizations
funding paramilitary efforts to defend the parks, as in past decades.
The effect of the Mugabe regime on wildlife habitat is
particularly evident in Hwange National Park now, wrote Peta
Thornycroft in the October 31, 2005 edition of The Independent,
because officials diverted to purchasing new cars for themselves the
funds that were needed to maintain the pumps that keep the Hwange
waterholes filled. Whole herds of buffalo, zebras, antelope, and
other species are left at risk.
“This is mismanagement, nothing more. It’s not a natural
disaster,” said Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force chair Johnny
Rodrieguez. Members of the all-volunteer nonprofit task force
recently donated diesel fuel and made pump repairs as best they could
to try to save some of the animals.
Yet the struggle is now more often among African lawyers in
neatly pressed suits than gun-toting rangers and rebels, with courts
making the key decisions.
Fighting Amboseli giveaway
The battle over Amboseli National Park in Kenya erupted in
earnest on September 29, 2005. With a November 21 referendum on a
proposed new national constitution looming, Kenyan president Mwai
Kibaki directed the Kenya Wildlife Service to surrender management of
Amboseli to the Olkejuado County Council, to be managed by the
Kajiado region Masai in the same manner that the Narok and Trans Mara
councils manage and share revenue from the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
Kajiado leaders contend that the government improperly seized
Amboseli to create a park in 1974.
Other regional councils have also demanded control of
national parks as the price of endorsing the Kibaki constitution.
These demands have come at the same time that Masai leaders including
Minister of State William ole Ntimama have threatened to lead hunts
to kill lions, elephants, and other species whose ventures outside
wildlife reserves often result in human deaths, injuries, and
The lion and elephant populations of Kenya have both been
poached to a fraction of what they were 30 years ago, but human
settlement around the national parks has increased.
As result of the Amboseli turnover, “Kajiado leaders can
anticipate a financial windfall to build schools, hospitals and
roads,” editorialized The Nation, of Nairobi. “In terms of
promoting rural development, the government has done the right thing.
The revenue will directly benefit the local people.
“However, the timing suggests that the decision was based not
on the need to give Kajiado people control of their resources, but
as part of a bid to entice them to back the government position on
the vote for the proposed new constitution. To put it more bluntly,
official policy is being dictated by the need to bribe specific
communities in order to secure their political backing.”
The Kenya High Court on October 12 granted standing to the
East Africa Wildlife Society, Centre for Environmental Legal
Research and Education, Born Free Foundation, and Youth for
Conservation to sue seeking to nullify the turnover of Amboseli. On
October 28 the High Court also granted a restraining order to suspend
the turnover, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
Bushmen win in Botswana
An October 28 Botswana High Court verdict went the opposite
way, as the court ordered the Botswana government to allow Basarwa
tribesman Amogolang Segootsane and his family to return, with their
goats, to their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
The ruling may have been the beginning of the end of an often violent
20-year dispute between the Basarwa and the reserve managers, but
was viewed in some quarters as also potentially the beginning of the
end of the reserve itself.
“Dozens of Bushmen have been evicted from the reserve at
gunpoint in recent weeks,” claimed the indigenous rights group
Survival International. “Three Bushmen, including a seven-year old
boy, have been shot and wounded.”
Earlier, one Basarwa allegedly died during a brutal police
interrogation. Several others have been killed in similar
confrontations during past years.
The September 2005 shooting started after members of an
organization called First People of the Kalahari tried to return to
the park after being removed in 2002. Twenty-eight Basarwa were
arrested by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets on September
24, according to Survival International, after the Bushmen tried to
take food and water to relatives who had not yet been evicted.
ANIMAL PEOPLE was unable to locate any independent media
accounts of the conflict. Survival International said reporters were
kept away by the Botswana government.
On September 2, however, Botswana presidential press
secretary Jeff Ramsay told Sello Motseta of Associated Press that
parts of the reserve were closed due to “a highly contagious outbreak
of sarcoptic mange among herds of domestic goats and sheep illegally
brought into the reserve by Bushmen who resisted being relocated.”
Ramsay said the disease had “a high fatality rate and was
potentially disastrous to native springbok,” Motseta wrote.
About the size of Switzerland, the Central Kalahari Game
Reserve was formed in 1961 to protect the Basarwa and their habitat,
including the animals they hunted. Over time, however, the Basarwa
turned from hunting to herding, resulting in habitat degradation.
Many of those who continued hunting were caught killing endangered or
threatened species. Pressured by conservationists, the Botswana
government began trying to persuade the Basarwa to voluntarily
resettle outside the park in 1986, and started forcibly evicting
herders in 1997.
The Basarwa population of the reserve, now about 1,400,
peaked at circa 5,000 in the 1960s.
Similar conflict may be ahead as result of the merger of
wildlife reserves in Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe to
create the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Fifteen years in
planning, the park “has been praised as an example of regional
cooperation and sustainable development, raising foreign investment
and creating much needed jobs,” wrote Kristy Siegfried in the
October 15 edition of The Guardian.
However, at drought-stricken Salani village in Mozambique,
Siegfried said, “Since officials removed a section of fence between
Kruger National park in South Africa and Limpopo National Park in
Mozambique and enforced a hunting ban to allow animals to begin
populating the land along the Limpopo River, villagers and their
livestock are vulnerable to predators. The hunting ban has depleted
the villagers’ already meagre diet and the promised tourism jobs are
a distant prospect.
“Limpopo National Park lacks tarred roads, running water,
and electricity, much less tourist-friendly amenities. Game-viewing
opportunities are still rare, and it will take years for zebras,
giraffes, impala and rhinos to populate the entire area.”
Further, Siegfried noted, “No donor is willing to fund the
Zimbabwean section of the park, which includes Gonarezhou National
Park. South African papers report that Gonarezhou has been invaded,”
by supporters of Robert Mugabe, “and that much of its game has been