Lessons from Namibia


Should things continue as they are, the (Kenyan) government will be politically forced to order removal of wildlife populations by the army and possibly even order de-gazetting of some of our larger protected areas to provide land for settlement and farming It is notoriously difficult to get precise numbers on the populations of Kenya's remaining wildlife. We emphasise “remaining” because, while the numbers may be disputed, the general trend of rapid decline is universally acknowledged.

But the rate of that decline is not easy to measure, in part because we are dealing with populations living in wilderness areas, and still in large enough numbers to make it impossible to count each and every one: statistical models for arriving at scientific estimates have to be used.

The most widely accepted estimates however, are as follows for some of the key species:

·       In the 1960s, Kenya had about 20 000 rhinos, but now has just about 1 000 of them left.·       Kenya had about 150 000 elephants in the 1970s, and now has about 30 000 elephants. This in itself being an improvement, as the elephant populations had at one point fallen to less than 20 000 in the 1980s.·       There were more than 20 000 lions in Kenya back in the 1970s, but there are only about 2 000 of them left now.

We should also note here that despite these numbers reflecting a seemingly irreversible decline in animal populations being very bad news indeed for the country, at least we have some kind of baseline to conduct our assessments.

Greater Populations


Two neighbouring countries, which in all probability have even greater wildlife populations within their borders are South Sudan and the DRC.

A good number of those tusks which are shipped out in containers from Mombasa Port – and sometimes detected in time, and thus confiscated – are the result of elephant massacres in the DRC.

And South Sudan has a large population of wild animals in its Sud Wetlands and in game parks close to its border with the DRC and Ethiopia, and even has a migration of some 1.3 million antelopes within its borders which is every bit as dramatic as the annual wildebeest migration of the Mara-Serengeti Plains. But given that South Sudan has only recently started to recover from decades of civil war; and the DRC with its endemic violence is yet very far from starting on the path to a lasting peace, these are not the countries which we should seek to compare Kenya with, when trying to assess loss of wildlife populations, and what can be done to reverse this decline.

A better comparison would be with Namibia, a country which is largely desert and semi-desert, much like most of Kenya's land where most of our remaining wildlife lives.

What Namibia is doing right

From the early 1980s to the present time, Namibia's elephant population has risen from about 5 000 to more than 10 000. Its rhino population has risen from 750 in 2002, to more than 1 500 at the present time, and the total wildlife population is now estimated to be 3.5 million heads.

While Kenya's wildlife populations are in steep decline, those in Namibia are growing exponentially, despite both nations facing much the same challenges in terms of the huge demand for rhino horn and elephant tusks in China and elsewhere in the Far East, which has made these trophies infinitely more valuable than they were a decade ago. The question we then have to consider is, what is Namibia doing right?

And is there any aspect of Namibia's wildlife policies, which we would do well to adopt here in Kenya? Admittedly, Namibia is a far richer country than Kenya, and is a middle-income nation, with its per capita GDP standing at US$5 668 compared to Kenya's US$800. But then, you have to consider that both Namibia and Kenya have roughly 50 percent of their populations living in poverty.

So although Namibia only has a population of about 2.2 million people, there are plenty of poor people there, who would face much the same temptations that Kenyan villagers face, once they realise just how much money they can make if they turn their hands to assisting the gangs of professional poachers. So where does the difference lie that makes Namibia's wildlife populations increase while Kenya continues to lose wildlife at an insupportable rate?

Reason for Wildlife Deaths

Well, you may already be aware that Kenya has a wildlife policy that does not allow any form of consumptive utilisation or trade in wildlife products. Indeed, it seems to be the right thing to do considering the massive loss of wildlife in Kenya over the last few decades. While the architects of the current policy would have you believe that, by making wildlife “valueless” and criminalised, this will, in and of itself, stop poor rural people across the country from killing wildlife on their land.

The problem with this idea is that it assumes that wildlife is only being killed for a “product” (horn, ivory, etc) when in fact by far the biggest reason for it to be killed is to clear it away for “land use” change as well as retribution for wildlife damage on alternative land uses … any bush meat that results from this is “by catch” and is consumed locally – if it is not commercially transacted it falls into the legal grey area of what exactly constitutes a “trophy”. It is for example quite normal for the KWS to allow local people to take home meat from animals shot on “problem animal control”.

In a protein-poor country such as Kenya, is it really reasonable to deny that “bush meat” is a staple of millions of people's diet? It may be a surprise to learn that the cost of having wildlife (to the landowners) can be as high as 60 percent in lost productivity from agriculture and domestic livestock because of direct competition, disease and damage by wildlife – leave alone human injury and death.

Since the law of the land makes sure that wildlife and its products cannot be owned and commercially traded, landowners have no choice but to remove it to allow agriculture and domestic livestock to succeed as their primary resource base.

Also in these laws is a clause that makes it legal for any landowner to kill any wild animal on their land if it is a threat to human life and livelihood, as long as the KWS are informed after the fact, and as long as no commercial trade in any products occurred. Is it possible to draft a more perfect policy to eliminate wildlife?

 Inevitable Elimination

Unless the wildlife policy makes it possible for wildlife itself to become the primary resource base for landowners, wildlife will inevitably be eliminated. Indeed, should things continue as they are, the government will be politically forced to not only order removal of wildlife populations by the army (particularly elephant, the most destructive of all the wildlife), but possibly even order de-gazetting of some of our larger protected areas to provide land for settlement and farming.

Examples of population removal by governments abound throughout Africa and the world (the elephant removal in Akagera Park in Rwanda in the 1960s). Under both the current and new “just-approved by Cabinet” wildlife policy, Kenya's wildlife prospects are exceedingly bleak.

Indeed, if current trends continue, we face having virtually no wildlife remaining on private and communal land within as little as 20 years, and wildlife numbers within parks and reserves will inevitably continue to fall as well.

What seems to be missing in the Kenya wildlife debate – and which is the root cause of our massive wildlife loss and continued impoverishment of rural Kenyans – is that there is no legal mechanism to make wildlife a primary resource base for rural people. Considering that the liberalised wildlife industry is potentially worth US$500 million to US$800m per year, the fact that it is being denied to the poorest segment of our society living in the driest part of our country is to me the biggest policy failure in the history of the country, and possibly criminally negligent on the part of our previous governments and policy-makers. Millions of our most needy people could benefit from such an industry.

Political Costs

We do, however, have hope that the new national and local governments will see the futility of continuing to bear the political costs of wildlife damage around the country, and will also see the impossibility of avoiding the negative publicity from the international community and donors for the downward spiral of wildlife loss in the country … having acknowledged this futility, they should begin the process of liberalising the ownership of wildlife so that landowners can take up more responsibility for wildlife conservation through tourism and sustainable utilisation.

So how important could this liberalised wildlife industry be for Kenyan landowners? Firstly, land values would jump; land where the Big Five species exist will be far more valuable than where there are only dik dik and goats.

Secondly, a liberalised industry will encourage a culture of live capture and translocation of wildlife as landowners attempt to improve value of their land, and it would provide a destination for excess animals being removed where they are not wanted. Thirdly, landowners where tourism is not viable or present (70 per cent of the country) will have far more revenue generation options for their own survival than they have presently.

Fourthly, the liberalised wildlife industry relies on the fact that commercialisation of wildlife is no different in principle from the existing commercialisation of domestic cattle and goats, but capitalises on the superior physical attributes of wildlife to live in its natural African environment (for instance, antelope and gazelle are disease-resistant and virtually never need to drink water), as well as having extremely high abstract values that are literally hundreds of times more valuable than pure meat values as compared to domestic livestock.

No longer does one have to domesticate or “farm” animals to get their full revenue earning or biological potential – “wildness” and “wilderness” being the new value.

Conspicuously Successful

Returning to the example of Namibia, we note that the keystone of their wildlife conservation policy which has been so conspicuously successful, boils down to just three key policy initiatives:

1. Landowners have ownership of wildlife on their land.

2. Landowners can use wildlife in all possible ways to earn sustainable revenue into the future which include sustainable off-take for tourist hunting quotas, as well as for meat and hide production.

3. These activities all require markets for wildlife products, strong regulations, enforcement of rational laws, and most importantly, trust by the government that the rural people can and will protect Kenya's wildlife heritage. All these policies are well within our reach here in Kenya, provided there is political will to implement these changes. – The Star

November 2013
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