There's a new wildlife policy in Kenya: use it or lose it
by Yvonne Baskin, reprinted from Science, vol. 265, with permission
rom the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro to the shores of Lake
Turkana, Kenya teems with elephants, gazelles, giraffes, and lions-and its
national parks teem with tourists. Yet parks cover only 7 percent of the
land, and 75 percent of these animals are not posing inside the parks earning
tourist dollars. Instead they are roaming across rural Kenya, often trampling
crops, eating grass intended for cattle, killing or maiming dozens of villagers
every year, and being killed themselves by angry farmers or poachers.
Surprisingly, the newly appointed director of the Kenya
Wildlife Service (KWS), ecologist David Western, wants to keep these animals
roaming outside the parks, in fact to enhance their opportunities to do
so. Even more surprising is that a number of Kenyans and a host of international
development agencies think this is a very good idea. The reason: Many conservationists
see this strategy as a way not to exacerbate conflicts between people and
wildlife, but to reduce them. They also see this strategy as key to wildlife
Western, who was appointed head of the KWS in March
following the ouster of paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, wants to give
rural communities and landowners a direct stake in wildlife conservation
by providing park revenues and international donor funds to help them establish
wildlife-based businesses. These could include hiking, canoeing, or horseback-riding
safaris; selling meat and hides from game farms; or earning lucrative fees
from trophy hunting on privately or communally owned lands-a sport banned
in Kenya since the late 1970s.
His goal is to help Kenyan pastoralists grab a direct
share of the $436 million in tourism-related revenues that flowed into the
country last year. If landowners find wildlife more valuable than crops
or cattle, Western hopes, they will start to protect it themselves.
But Western is fighting a battle against time. Although
Leakey is widely credited with stemming poaching within the parks, agricultural
development around them is now a more pressing problem for the animals,
Western believes. Traditional pastoralists around many of Kenya's savanna
parks, especially the Maasai, are putting increasing amounts of land into
cultivation. And once the savanna is fenced and plowed for onions, beans,
or corn, the struggle to make elephants or zebras welcome-or to bring tourists
through on safari-will be all but lost. Mark R. Stanley Price, director
of African operations for the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) in Nairobi,
says that Kenya has "a very short time horizon to really make radical
changes in wildlife management before we are overtaken by events."
The approach has other risks as well. Getting successful
grassroots enterprises going is far from guaranteed, especially on the communal
and trust lands where most of Kenya's pastoralists live. Conceptually, "the
principles are all correct, but the devil is in the details," says
Tim Resch, the biological diversity adviser for Africa for the U.S. Agency
for International Development (AID). One detail in particular-how
to get development money down to the individual pastoralists through entrenched
local power structures that are notorious for siphoning such funds away-may
prove to be the policy's undoing.
A new type of conservation
The new wildlife managers can't be accused of dallying.
Two months after he was appointed, Western won approval for his goals from
the government board of trustees that oversees KWS. He's also got the backing
of major development agencies, which currently supply 60% of KWS's operating
budget. "We're giving him our full support," says Agi Kiss, who
oversees the distribution of World Bank funds to KWS in Nairobi. Resch agrees
that community management of wildlife and other resources is "the trend
that's rolling across Africa."
Without these changes in wildlife policy and programs,
Western sees a bleak future for both the parks and the animals. Kenya's
fast-growing human population, which rose from 6 million to 20 million between
1957 and 1987, is placing more pressure on the land to sustain it. That
means more pressure to plant crops, which in turn means more opportunities
to go head to head with baboons, zebras, and elephants-a contest the animals
will always lose.
Nor will game parks alone continue to sustain the animals:
They are losing biodiversity. Confining herds of waterbucks or elephants
to relatively small areas has transformed many vital savannas into barren
moonscapes. In Amboseli National Park, for example, most of the woodlands
have disappeared, along with half of the park's plant species and woodland
animals such as giraffes and vervet monkeys. The complexity and diversity
of the savannas can only be maintained by extensive management, including
culling of animals, or by providing more room for large animals to migrate,
Western says. And they will only find that room outside the park. Making
wildlife directly profitable outside parks "is the only way to move
beyond what I call the 5% solution," he says. "That's the amount
of land in protected areas around the world today, and unless we can make
some inroads for wildlife on the 95% outside, those parks will never ever
be ecologically self-sustaining."
The perils of protection
Another problem is that Kenya's parks are not yet financially
self-sustaining. Only 11 of Kenya's 26 national parks actually earn revenues,
and only about eight could be considered self-sufficient. Overall, KWS earns
about $1 million each month in park revenues. The continuing calls from
the community for a share of that money as compensatory damages for marauding
wildlife will, Western says, soon drain the coffers. "Containing the
conflict between agriculture and wildlife is the single biggest cost KWS
will incur in the coming years," he says. "If we have a very strong
protectionist policy towards wildlife, the cost is going to completely overwhelm
us. Yet if we can reverse the dependency on park profits, reinstate a policy
of wildlife utilization, and make wildlife profitable outside the parks,"
KWS may be able to meet its longtime goal of reaching financial independence
within five years.
Certainly the present system has brought people and
wildlife toe to toe. In Kenya, this conflict helped inflame the controversy
that ended the 5-year tenure of Western's predecessor. Leakey had taken
over a corrupt and ineffective operation and, through vigorous anti-poaching
patrols and successful fund raising, strengthened the agency's coffers and
its ability to protect the animals within the parks. To win the tolerance
of park neighbors for damage caused by wildlife, KWS had also begun a program
that included both revenue sharing and the promise of financial help for
wildlife-based businesses. But Leakey was charged with favoritism by some
members of government in the disbursement of these funds-charges he vigorously
disputed. In the ensuing furor, the KWS board of trustees failed to approve
guidelines needed to make more than $8 million in AID and World Bank funds,
as well as some of KWS' park revenues, available to landowners to help launch
game farms or build tourist facilities.
This made a bad climate worse. The expectations for
revenue sharing from the parks have gotten "completely out of hand,"
says Kiss. "You can read the mood of the country from the letters in
the newspapers. Anywhere you're growing maize, you've got baboons [and]
bush pigs," which destroy the crops. "People don't have to be
anywhere near a national park to feel KWS is responsible for those problems"
and should therefore pay out money as part of a solution, Kiss notes.
Moving toward changes
Western's appointment seems at least to have restarted
the stymied moves toward a solution. The wildlife-based business guidelines
were approved by the trustees in June. Stanley Price, whose foundation was
contracted by AID to help draw up the guidelines, calls this development
a "major logjam broken." KWS has now begun reviewing proposals
from landowners-and providing staff help to other landowners and communities
to plan and draw up proposals-for grants and loans to finance new enterprises.
Western also won board approval to send an independent
five-person team out this summer to listen to the views of private ranchers,
holders of communal land, and local officials who control both game reserves
and trust lands occupied by pastoralists, tour operators, and others. The
team's report in late August will be used to reassess various KWS revenue-sharing
More recently, Western also won board approval for legislation
to lift the ban on sport hunting. The proposal has now gone to Kenya's cabinet,
where it is facing little opposition so far "because of the perception
that this is for the benefit of local communities," he says. Although
hunting may create some public relations problems in the West, Western points
out that KWS itself had to authorize culling of more than 20,000 animals
last year-most of them herd animals encroaching on cattle-grazing or crop
lands, but also including 50 problem elephants that were threatening human
lives and property. These killings brought no protests, but they also brought
few profits. "Basically [a return to hunting] is inevitable,"
says Kiss. "If wildlife doesn't have direct utility, it will disappear."
Western argues that a return to tightly controlled big
game hunting for non-endangered animals on private lands and the reopening
of markets for meat and skins of abundant species can bring both profits
and an understanding that wildlife must be sustained to be useful. This
has been the outcome of an AlD-sponsored hunting and game-fanning program
for rural communities in Zimbabwe called Campfire-touted by Resch and other
development specialists as one of the most successful examples of community-based
A potential for failure
These projects all make sense in theory and in limited
practice, but even proponents concede that creating successful wildlife-based
tourism or hunting operations will be a tough challenge, fraught with the
potential for failure. One problem is that many of these projects must involve
Kenya's communal landholdings such as the Maasai group ranches, which Stanley
Price and others note are legendary for their "fossilized" power
structures and mismanagement. Yet these are the lands that border most of
Kenya's savanna parks. If profits from wildlife-based enterprises don't
make it all the way to individual farmers or herders, their incentive for
permitting wildlife on their lands will vanish-and the animals may follow
"I'm not pessimistic, but I think we have to be
realistic and cautious about our expectations," notes Michael Wright,
the new president of AWF. Economic development programs in rural communities
are difficult enough even when they are not linked to a second goal of wildlife
conservation, he says. Dennis McCarthy, who oversees AlD's programs with
KWS, says his agency realizes that "when you get into the development
of enterprises with group ranches in particular, there are going to be some
Western hopes to minimize problems by encouraging the
formation of legally registered and audited landowner conservation associations,
a relatively new type of organization that can either build on or bypass
traditional power structures. These associations could apply to KWS for
technical and financial help to create private game parks or negotiate with
tour operators to view wildlife on their lands. Since 1992 he has had a
hand in encouraging formation of such associations on Maasai ranches near
Amboseli and Tsavo national parks, the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and
more recently in the Rift Valley. But the track record is too brief to tell
how well such associations will fare at launching businesses or serving
all of their members.
Conservationists around the world will be watching what
happens in Kenya intently, and their opinions are divided on whether Western
can pull off his ambitious agenda. Community-based conservation is a long-term
investment, Wright notes. "We're trying to figure out how to manage
and build a relationship between people and wildlife for the next century,
and we really need time to figure out how to put the puzzle together."
Time, however, is one thing that wildlife conservation in Kenya may not
have in any abundance.
Yvonne Baskin is a free-lance science writer who lives m San Diego.