ANIMALS 24-7 reports from the scene
NAIROBI, Kenya––Most of the delegates to the 2018 Africa Animal Welfare Conference, opening on September 3 at the United Nations Complex in Nairobi, will have already seen the second most controversial wildlife-related topic in Kenya, a four-mile Chinese-built railway overpass crossing Nairobi National Park, on their 20-mile ride into the city from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Among those delegates will be the ANIMALS 24-7 team. We are fortunate to be sponsored by an anonymous longtime reader to attend the 2018 Africa Animal Welfare Conference, and to visit other points of contention pertaining to Kenyan wildlife, to report our findings from first-hand investigation.
Unpopular as the railway overpass has been with Kenyan wildlife advocates since the hour it was proposed, it is now under construction. Enough of the overpass has already been built for park visitors to develop informed opinions as to whether the resident zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, leopards, and lions are inhibited in their use of the corner of the 45-square-mile national park it occupies.
Set aside for wildlife in 1946, Nairobi National Park may now be the most visited urban greenbelt habitat in the world.
The $3.8 billion railway, however, linking the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa to Nairobi, is the most ambitious transportation project in Kenya since the 1899 construction of the original railway route between the two cities.
The Ghost & the Darkness
This was the episode leading to the deaths of 135 track workers in a series of lion attacks that inspired the book the Man Eaters of Tsavo (1907) by John Henry Patterson, the railway construction engineer who shot both lions involved, also remembered in several other books and films, most notably the 1996 film The Ghost & The Darkness.
(See Man-eaters of Kenya: The Ghost & The Darkness.)
The original railway from Mombasa to Nairobi was built by Patterson et al to serve the ivory trade.
The new Mombasa/Nairobi route, 90% funded by the China Exim Bank, is the first part of a Kenya Railway Corporation plan to eventually serve both routine commerce and ecotourism to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
Trafficking vs. ecotourism
It is also part of a Chinese government plan to expand global influence by underwriting badly needed infrastructure through Southeast Asia and Africa.
Like any transportation conduit, the new Nairobi/Mombasa railway will undoubtedly be exploited by wildlife traffickers, to whatever extent they are able to use it and avoid apprehension. But it might also help to build the revenues of five nations from ecotourism, in the long run enhancing nonlethal wildlife conservation.
Wildlife meats & “cropping”
The same cannot be said of the hottest topic on the 2018 Africa Animal Welfare Conference agenda, a proposal by Kenyan tourism and wildlife cabinet secretary Najib Balala to reintroduce the legal sale of wildlife meats and “cropping,” the Kenyan term for game farming.
The Balala proposal is widely seen as a thinly camouflaged attempt to reintroduce sport hunting, fast-tracked by a Balala-appointed “Task Force on Wildlife Utilization” that concluded a round of public hearings on August 24, 2018.
Any step toward consumptive wildlife use will be “ill-intended and perhaps driven by vested interests and not public interest,” zoologist Perez Olinda told Ramadhan Rajab of the Nairobi Star, from his perspective of having been from 1966 to 1981 the first indigenous African director of the Kenya National Park Service, now called the Kenya Wildlife Service.
“We should jealously preserve and guard our wildlife as a heritage not just for ourselves but for future generations,” Olinda emphasized. “It is like Balala is queuing at a bank to withdraw money he doesn’t have, nor has he even checked the account balance. He should explain to us where this idea came from.
“Hope is not informed by what is happening and interests from Laikipia,” Olinda added.
Laikipia is home of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum, an association of landowners mostly of European descent, who reportedly lent behind-the-scenes impetus to a December 2004 stealth repeal of the 1977 Kenyan ban on sport hunting.
Then-Kenyan president Emilio Mwai Kibaki vetoed the bill after the indigenous organization Youth for Conservation rallied opposition. Among the most committed opponents of the scheme to re-introduce sport hunting on private game ranches were semi-nomadic pastoralists who recognized in it a threat to the open-range grazing they have practiced for millennia.
The Laikipia Wildlife Forum was backed in 2004 by pro-hunting U.S. organizations, including the African Wildlife Foundation, Safari Club International, and USAid, an arm of the U.S. State Department. The Balala proposals appear to have similar origins.
“Today, they hardly have wildlife”
Warned Josphat Ngonyo, who then headed Youth for Conservation, is now executive director of the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, and is convenor of the 2018 Africa Animal Welfare Conference, “If we accept this idea of consumption, we are pacing down the road that was taken by some West African nations,” whose only consolation now “are drawings and stories of the wildlife they used to have. Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivore, Cameroon and Liberia are among African counties that adopted consumptive utilization,” Ngonyo recalled. “Today, they hardly have wildlife.”
Recounted Ramadhan Rajab, “Sport hunting was introduced to Kenya in 1910, but following drastic losses of some hunted species, [first Kenyan president] Jomo Kenyatta in 1977 put a total ban on the practice. Richard Leakey, during his tenure as Kenya Wildlife Service director in the 1990s, reintroduced an experimental cropping program. It was supposed to run for five years, but it went on for 13 years. In 2001, a cropping evaluation report was done that established that poaching for bushmeat increased around areas in which cropping was allowed. This led to a total ban of consumptive utilization of wildlife by the then [wildlife and tourism] minister, the late Newton Kulundu, in 2004.”
“We are being fooled”
“The opening up was due to pressure from large ranch owners. It was against the judgment of many conservationists,” recalled Ngonyo. “Sport hunting and cropping wildlife contradicts tourism principles,” Ngonyo explained. “You cannot shoot down animals today and expect to view and photograph their next of kin the following day, ” Ngonyo told Rajab.
Agreed carnivore ecologist Mordecai Ogada, co-author with journalist John Mbaria of The Big Conservation Lie (2016), a critique of western-style wildlife management, “We are being fooled that we have [large] numbers [of wild animals] so we can start thinking of culling. The culling and cropping they are talking about is just a decoy to open up Kenya for sport hunting.”
If cropping is approved, Ogada explained to Rajab, “people will own permits to kill some game, say buffalo or zebras, which will give them license to own the game as property. If lions become a problem, the license extends to killing the lion because the lion is killing ‘your’ buffalo.
“Those who enjoy shooting will pay any amount”
“In Namibia,” Ogada mourned, “many cheetahs are killed because they are killing impala.”
“There are those who enjoy shooting,” Ogada continued, “and will pay any amount to get the license [to kill wildlife]. Ranch owners will cash in, taking advantage of difficulties to draw the line whether the buffalo was shot for sport or meat.”
Meanwhile, “Firing and gun noise will keep away herders and force them to move to safety, destroying their way of life,” Ogada concluded.
“What is the motive?”
Observed Ngonyo, “In the 20 years I have been in the conservation field, I have never seen such pressure and urgency to pursue the consumption utilization course. What is the motive behind all this?”
The answer to that question appears to be about 2,400 miles almost straight south, in Johannesburg, South Africa, where President Cyril Ramaphosa, elected in 2017, has moved to make good on an election campaign promise to seize and redistribute land held in alleged excess by farmers of European descent: specifically, game farmers, who do not produce food or fiber and employ relatively few workers, while leaving vast tracts fallow as “wildlife habitat.”
Caracals & jackals
Much of the “wildlife habitat” involved is arid and inhospitable to growing crops, but is not used much by wildlife other than the species kept to be shot. Non-“big five” trophy predators, including caracal cats and jackals, are particularly persecuted as alleged threats to “game” species.
The Ramaphosa government appears to envision returning this land to pastoralists for cattle and sheep grazing. The pastoralists would likely also persecute caracals and jackals. Competition from cattle and sheep for the sparse grass and water might harm other wildlife, or might not, depending on which wildlife species favor the habitat. Aardvarks, for example, as burrowing nocturnal insectivores, might barely be affected.
Hunting ranch seizure
The Daily Mail on August 21, 2018 reported that “Johan Steenkamp and Arnold Cloete, co-owners of the Akkerland Boerdery hunting farm in Limpopo province, said they were ordered to hand over their land after talks to buy it at a tenth of the [asked] price broke down.
“Since Cyril Ramaphosa took power, tensions in white farming communities have been rising,” the Daily Mail assessed, “as he has committed to a program of land expropriation. African National Congress chair Gwede Mantashe last week said, ‘You shouldn’t own more than 25,000 acres of land. Therefore if you own more it should be taken without compensation.’
“A record number of white farmers have put their land up for sale as the government has been accused of earmarking almost 200 farms for seizure,” the Daily Mail continued, “trying to sell their land before the seizures begin, but nobody is buying, making the land effectively worthless.”
As the Daily Mail mentioned, “land seizures in nearby Zimbabwe,” beginning circa 2000 and also initially targeting privately owned conservancies used chiefly for trophy hunting, “sent the country into an economic spiral from which it has never fully recovered.”
The 2004 drive to reintroduce sport hunting to Kenya coincided with the height of disruption of the Zimbabwean trophy hunting industry occasioned by land seizures, redistribution, and officially unauthorized yet nonetheless condoned “land invasions” by supporters of the Robert Mugabe dictatorship.
The pressure on Kenya at that time eased after Mugabe regime insiders re-established the Zimbabwean trophy hunting industry more-or-less as it previously existed, but now with themselves as “conservancy” owners or partners.