UNRESOLVED HUMAN/WILDLIFE CONFLICT
IN KENYA - THE SOURCE OF MISERY AND POVERTY
by GODFREY M. KIMEGA
ECOFILES - 16. Sept. 2003,
Peasant farmers, cattle herdsmen and landowners in Kenya have suffered
heavy losses thanks to wildlife conservation policies aimed chiefly at
appeasing the international donor community.
Since the colonial era that ended with Kenya’s independence in 1963,
environment and wildlife management 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
In the ostensible bid to preserve the wilderness in Kenya, several
categories of protected areas are recognized by law. These are: National
Parks, National Reserves and Marine National Parks/Reserves.
National parks are intended for the exclusive use of wildlife. Here human
activity is permitted strictly as in the appreciation of wildlife in its
natural state. Some of the national parks in Kenya include the expansive
Tsavo National Park, Mt Kenya National Park, Aberdare Range National Park
and the Lake Nakuru National Park. Nairobi National Park, just 10km from the
Kenyan capital is said to be the only national park in the world close to a
major urban zone. Until recently it also received the highest number of
visitors annually, according to official statistics.
Unlike national parks, which are exclusively for the habitation of wildlife,
National Reserves were conceived in recognition of the need for local
communities to continue benefiting form land, forestry and water resources
while conserving wildlife. A prime example is the internationally renowned
Maasai Mara Game Reserve, where the Maasai people have limited rights to
graze their cattle, just as they did in previous centuries.
Marine National Parks and Reserves act on the same principles only that they
Are not land-based and lie off certain areas at the Indian Ocean coastline.
Fishing is restricted in the marine national parks.
Have national parks in Kenya succeeded in their stated objectives of
It’s a question with no easy answers. What however has been established is
that wildlife numbers, mainly those outside the parks, have declined in the
same time as the human population has grown. In 1970, the Kenyan population was 11 million. Thirty years later, at the
beginning of the millennium, the Kenyan population had risen to 30
million. Consequently hitherto uninhabited areas, including forestland, have
turned into towns, farms, trading centres and roads. The wildlife previously existing in such
areas was pushed into the national parks where there was more or less
guaranteed security from poachers.
Today wildlife within national parks is practically boxed-in by human
activities and as the concentration of wildlife in the parks goes up, there
emerges increased competition for food resources. In this case, vegetation
for the herbivorous animals, and flesh for the carnivores. All these
creatures have to turn, for survival, to areas outside the national parks
where they can obtain food.
As it turns out, for reasons stated earlier, the areas surrounding our
national parks have been settled and farmed on. Herbivores straying form
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, a human being.
Human/wildlife conflict in Kenya, as can be concluded from the facts, arises
from the opposing interests between human development and wildlife
conservation. There exists the inevitable expansion in human settlements
towards areas previously considered uninhabited. At the same time there
exists the attempt to preserve wildlife heritage for the purported sake of
future generations but, in reality, for the exclusive use of a class of people
(foreign and local) who would want to see the legendary wilderness of
Africa and who are ready to pay for the privilege of doing so.
National parks and reserves in Kenya are managed by the Kenya Wildlife
Service (KWS) on behalf of the people of Kenya. Human/wildlife conflict
prevalent in areas bordering national parks should
ideally have been addressed by the KWS. Indeed the Wildlife Act that
governs the KWS states,
in part, that among the roles of the KWS is to:
“… prepare and implement management plans for National Parks and National
Reserves and the display of flora and fauna in their natural state for the
promotion of tourism and for the benefit and education of the inhabitants of
Kenyans have suffered human/wildlife conflict for too long and yet repeated
calls to the KWS to manage wildlife, in accordance with the law, have
persistently fallen on deaf ears. The peoples’
representatives in Parliament, in local government authorities and in
civil society have, at various times, petitioned, pleaded and sued the KWS in
a bid to shove the organization into observing the law by alleviating the
suffering of Kenya’s farmers at the hands of marauding wildlife. In certain
areas of Kenya, such as Taita Taveta District that borders Tsavo National
Park, curfews have been imposed on the people by the uncontrollable movements
of wildlife through villages and farms.
During the dry season, women in the district occasionally encounter
elephants at local community-built water supply points. The elephants
uproot water pipes in a bid to cool their massive
Unfortunately, the KWS has not been able to implement the Wildlife Act
especially as it pertains to management of wildlife for the benefit of the
inhabitants of Kenya. Instead wildlife is getting managed for the benefit
and education of tourists and international conservation bodies.
By now it is clear that there is no long-term wildlife management policy to
ease human/wildlife conflict. If such a policy exists, then it has neither
been published, nor put into operation. According to Mr. Ian Parker, a
former game warden, quoted in the EastAfrican (September 1 – 7, 2003),
issues of wildlife in Kenya are “addressed as they arise on a purely ad-hoc
basis and attitudes can change if not from day to day, then from week to
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-defence will be prosecuted for his act. A farmer who kills a
baboon for feasting on the fruits of his labour will also face charges of
poaching. Killing a snake and skinning its hide can easily attract charges
of illegal trade in game products.
There have been calls for the authorities to eliminate excess wildlife and
thus reduce human/wildlife conflict. The logic here is that once wildlife is
brought down to a level that can be sustained by the
national parks, then incidences of wildlife straying outside e the parks
This logic states that there must be a determination of the ideal balance
between the natural environment in parks and the numbers of wildlife, and
any excess wildlife should be culled off, as it would not be able to get
sustenance from that environment. For instance, determining the number of
zebra per square kilometre of land, and subsequently hunting the excess
through appropriate methods. The remaining zebra would then be able to
confine their feeding to within the particular national park.
This type of wildlife management policy has been found to be successful and
sustainable in Europe as well as Southern Africa. It is a balance between the
demands of human development and the desire to conserve wildlife for posterity.
The KWS has refused to consider such policy, arguing that the country would
lose out on tourism. The KWS also argues that Kenya would lose millions of
dollars in aid from international conservation bodies. Incidentally, a
substantial amount of this money is directed at the KWS itself, where it
goes into excessively high staff wages, privileges for directors and dubious
schemes in wildlife management.
The KWS is oblivious to the fact that human/wildlife conflict is undermining
the economy through the destruction of agriculture, the loss of livelihoods
and the maiming of human life. It has been noted that
some of the poorest rural communities in Kenya live in close proximity to
national parks. Could
this be a coincidence, or is it a direct result of the KWS’ lack of a
practical wildlife policy?
The Kenya government has stated as an economic goal, the creation of 500,000
jobs a year. Kenya is also a member of the United Nations, which is urgently
seeking to reduce world poverty in half by the year 2015. These noble
objectives aimed at uplifting the standards of living of the Kenyan people
will be under threat as the KWS resists any suggestions to proactively
manage wildlife for the benefit of Kenyans.
While it is desirable to have a vibrant tourism industry, close observation
of developed countries indicates that economic growth is stimulated by
agriculture and industry, not tourism. Its difficult to
come across a nation that has grown rich out of the earnings from tour
companies and hotels. The
KWS should come up with a realistic, modern day approach to wildlife
conservation, bearing in mind the rights of human beings, which must be
upheld at all times. The KWS should reinvent itself to
suit the aspirations of Kenyans in the pursuit of a better, healthier life
for all, regardless of social status.
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
harbour the dream of Africa as a jungle and who want to keep it that way for
their own pleasure.
Africa may be underdeveloped for now, but just like anywhere else, the
continent has its owners.