In Case We've Forgotten, There's Money in Wildlife

Monday February 16 2004


When, 50 years ago, the national park movement arrived in East Africa, unlike in America, the areas to be set aside were still in use by the local population in one way or other, mostly for grazing, watering, wood and plant collection, traditional hunting and, not the least, for commuting through.

The establishment of most national parks was thus not applauded by the local population, particularly if the creation of the park entailed resettlement, eviction and denial of regularly utilised resources.

The people living around national parks and other protected areas lost access to resources without commensurate compensation and have had no regular and reliable financial benefit from the neighbouring protected area except occasional sops in the form of wells, boreholes, classrooms and clinics.

Over the years, public attitudes towards the parks have become increasingly hostile, particularly because of the consequences of the growth in human population: as the numbers of people have trebled, land, water and wood have become scarcer and human-animal conflicts have increased manifold.

The decimation of wildlife in Uganda, perpetrated by the vandalism of Amin’s army as well as by the invading Tanzanians and completed by Museveni’s liberators, concentrated the minds of the government. At present, the Ugandans have the best wildlife policy in the region and, in the form of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the best and most functional agency. The pillars of the Ugandan policy are decentralisation, local involvement in decision-making, revenue sharing (however meagre that may be) and utilisation. Wildlife numbers are slowly increasing.


Tanzania is handicapped by still not having one wildlife agency. There is Tanapa in charge of the national parks, there is another agency in charge of the hunting areas and then there is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area with its semi-autonomous status. Although the operations of these agencies are not entirely transparent (consider the Loliondo saga and the recurring accusation that the Selous is over-hunted) the national parks in Tanzania appear to be in reasonable condition and there is some revenue sharing, particularly in the hunting areas. Some provisions for traditional hunting also exist. Altogether, Tanzania has a considerable income from its wildlife. Wildlife numbers are apparently nevertheless declining, though this is attributed to habitat loss and to corruption aiding overexploitation and the bush meat trade.

Kenya has no comprehensive wildlife policy. With Nairobi being the seat of numerous conservation NGOs confessing various shades of imported animal welfare philosophies, the government and the agency responsible for wildlife were always under pressure to eschew any form of wildlife management and utilisation other than tourism.

Tourism, even under the best of circumstances, is not capable of generating enough revenue to vouchsafe the survival of wildlife. Moreover, tourism is concentrated in a few areas and, particularly in its mass variety, is detrimental to the environment.

All in all, Kenya’s conservation efforts have failed and wildlife numbers have plummeted in the last 25 years by more than half.

There are currently four major contending philosophies with regard to protected areas.

While the old type conservationists are also in favour of revenue sharing, their major tools of wildlife conservation are vigorous law enforcement and education, hoping that Africans, inculcated with Western notions of conservation, will become animal lovers. Utilisation and management are anathema...

Environmental managers wish to improve the revenue basis of protected areas by means of introducing all manner of activities hitherto not permitted, such as walking safaris, night game drives, fishing, some bird shooting, and culling associated with processing of meat, skin and trophies.

The third group are the privatisers who are wildlife managers at heart, for they are obviously profit-oriented. Their clarion call is that private organisations are more successful in any and every field than the government.

The fourth group, in the process of gathering momentum, are the degazetters: the people who want to repossess what they call their ancestral land–

So far, the attitude of governments towards tampering with the boundaries of protected areas (in most cases rather arbitrarily designated by the colonial administration) is the same as the attitude of the African Union towards national boundaries (arbitrarily designated by the colonial powers): as the slightest change of the status quo will inevitably trigger a domino effect, change must not be contemplated.

The protected areas of East Africa suffer from specific constellations of universal problems. Human encroachment is the worst in Queen Elizabeth Park where no one so far has succeeded in capping the growth of the villages around and in the park (the legal situation, whereby the fishing villages are enclaves and not part of the park, is mere obfuscation).

Insecurity is worst in Kidepo and on the way to Kidepo, and in the Kenyan parks bordering Somalia, where there are no visitors, hardly any infrastructure and certain species of game have disappeared altogether.

Invasion by domestic stock is rampant in many Kenyan parks and to a limited extent in the southern parks of Tanzania.

Environmental degradation has affected many protected areas, some directly, others indirectly. The greatest damage is to the mountain parks, because of deforestation and the subsequent landslides and erosion.

Indirect man-made environmental degradation is the result of overstocking. This is now the case in Nakuru, where there are probably too many animals of almost every kind, and the Shimba Hills, where there are too many elephants, and Amboseli, where there is a complicated interaction of hydrological change, pastoralist and tourist invasion and elephant damage.

Neglect and indolence is one thing, active mismanagement is another. Of all the protected areas of East Africa, the Mara is the most mismanaged one and it is astounding how the Narok County Council was able to do grievous harm to Kenya’s prime wildlife areas without being checked.

Forty years ago, wildlife was synonymous with East Africa. Now the world looks increasingly upon Southern Africa as the successful conservation example. The Ugandan learned their lessons from South Africa. There are things that the Tanzanians are learning (as have the Zambians). Kenya, the former big game champion of the world, has been left behind. There are no discernible environmental policies and there is no agreement on what such policies ought to entail.

What we need in Kenya and to a lesser extent in Tanzania is a few clear thinking women and men who can make a paradigm leap and formulate arguments that can convince the governments that to pursue the old concepts of conservation in the protected areas will lead to the continuing loss of resources and that that resource is worth saving not only because it is beautiful and mysterious but, above all, because it is valuable and its value will increase if it is well husbanded.

If we do not use our resources, we will lose them. In 2020, there will be 50 million Kenyans. It is inconceivable that they will tolerate wildlife if they have no benefit from it.

Imre Loefler is chairman of the East African Wildlife Society.