Report from the National Symposium on Kenyan Wildlife
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2006:
Report from the National Symposium on Kenyan Wildlife
by Chris Mercer, www.cannedlion.com
In September 2006 I was invited by the Steering Committee of
the National Symposium on Kenyan Wildlife, appointed by the Kenyan
government, to attend the symposium and present the case against
Hunting has been banned in Kenya since 1977, and dealing in
wildlife trophies since 1978.
Attended by about 160 people, the Symposium was held as an
indirect result of a campaign lavishly funded by Safari Club
International in 2004, which involved flying Kenyan
conservationists and officials to elite hunting farms in South Africa
and Zimbabwe in order to persuade the Kenyan government to resume
trophy hunting. No expense was spared. Industry experts regaled the
Kenyan representatives with statistics purporting to show how much
money Kenya could make out of trophy hunting, as opposed to
A bill to legalise hunting was secretively prepared and
rushed through the Kenyan legislature without debate. Before
President Mwai Kibaki could sign the bill into law, however, Youth
for Conservation and other grassroots animal welfare groups and
wildlife organisations began an unprecedented joint campaign against
it. Twenty- two animal welfare organisations arranged for petitions
signed by thousands of Kenyans to be presented at 100 separate
demonstrations throughout Kenya. At the same time, hundreds of
demonstrators delivered a petition against the bill to the
President’s house in Nairobi.
Unlike in South Africa, there is no hunting culture in
Kenya, and the majority of Kenyans are opposed to hunting. Under
great pressure, Kibaki referred the hunting issue to a national
public participation process, to continue until April 2008.
The National Symposium that I attended was the first step in
the process ordered by the President to test Kenyan public
opinion–but the conference was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for
International Develop-ment, which has long used U.S. tax money to
promote hunting through programs such as CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe.
To avoid my participation being blocked by pro-hunting
interests, I was introduced as an expert on “Community Involvement
and Benefits of Wildlife.”
The Symposium was a great success. It was jam packed for
both days by everyone who was anyone in wildlife conservation,
except former Kenya Wildlife Service chief Richard Leakey and his
successor David Western, whose paper was read by one of his
assistants. The presentations were delivered mainly by Kenyan
scientists, academics and wildlife experts. The current Kenya
Wildlife Service director was in attendance.
I was treated at all times as an honored guest, and was
introduced to all the senior officials. Unlike in South Africa,
where animal welfarists are deliberately excluded from participating
in wildlife and environmental policy-making, I felt as if I were a
member of the Symposium family, rather than a foreigner.
Youth for Conservation cofounder Josphat Ngonyo, more
recently founder of the African Network for Animal Welfare, kept me
informed at all time. I also connected with Rob Carr-Hartley,
son-in law of Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the famous elephant
orphanages operated by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust at Nairobi
National Park and Tsavo National Park. Now that Sheldrick is 75,
Rob and Sheldrick’s daughter Gillian Woodley manage the orphanages.
The picture that emerged at the Conference was not happy.
The situation for wildlife in Kenya is critical. Refugees from
strife-torn Somalia and Sudan have added to the impact of the Kenyan
birth rate, now among the highest in the world. The Kenyan
population rose from five million in 1946 to 30 million in 2006.
This has resulted in massive human encroachment into the land
surrounding the national parks, and in turn causes human/animal
conflict and wildlife snaring for bushmeat on an unimaginable scale.
The Kenyan wildlife population has cumulatively declined by
more than 40% in the past few years. Some species, such as buffalo,
have declined by 90% or more. Roan antelope are down to 900, from
an estimated 20,000 at peak. Rob Carr-Hartley believes that within
two years Tsavo West National Park may be denuded of wildlife.
Poaching is completely out of control. Deforestation in all six
watershed areas of Kenya is causing the rivers to dry up. Even the
Mara is expected to run dry sooner or later.
I was given 20 minutes to speak. There were gasps of shock
from the audience as my first videos showed a poor lioness being shot
out of a tree with an arrow and a wounded lion charging a hail of
bullets from a mob of hunters. When I followed this by explaining
the colonial aspects of hunting, and showing how hunting perpetuates
colonialism, many delegates cheered. I moved on to statistics
published by Africa Geographic, showing how poorly revenue from
hunting benefits a nation, compared to ecotourism.
After my presentation, I was given a further ten minutes to
take questions from a forest of hands, and then we broke for tea. I
was at once besieged and surrounded by delegates. Most were
congratulatory, but a few were visibly angry. One woman scientist
demanded to know where I got my statistics. Apparently she had given
a report to the government which relied upon the figures given to her
by the hunting industry. She was therefore highly embarrassed,
pointing out that if my figures were correct she had in effect given
the Kenyan government a false report.
The pro-hunting types were visibly glum and shell-shocked,
but the animal welfare brigade was delighted.
The only time I felt I was back in South Africa was when Lord
Andrew Eniskellin, an elderly land owner, gave a monotonous reading
of his belief that his estate could not survive without the income
from hunting, and that Kenyans should not be swayed by “interfering
foreigners who are not stakeholders, and who appeal to sentiment.”
Otherwise, the depth of the anti-hunting culture in Kenya
was brought home to me most vividly in a touching presentation by
rural community representative Dr. Darius Mombo. After recounting
the horrifying damage suffered by his community from wild animals
straying out of Tsavo, including 47 human deaths, mainly caused by
elephants, and crop destruction of unthinkable proportions (about
80% of some crops were lost), as well the as social upheaval caused
by, for example, children being too tired to attend school because
of all-night vigils to keep wild animals out of crops, Mombo might
have been expected to endorse the calls for hunting.
Instead he announced that his whole community was against any
form of hunting, including for problem animal control, because “It
makes the animals angry with us.” All his community wanted was a
fair system of compensation for losses. Afterwards I shook his hand
and told him that he had restored my faith in human nature.