Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kenya: Game hunting may be justified, but who did the experts consult


Rasna Warah
The Nation (Nairobi)
March 12, 2007

Until the arrival of the White Man, Kenya's indigenous tribes, notably the Maasai, had been living harmoniously with wild animals for centuries. Apart from mandatory manhood rituals that entailed killing the odd lion, Africans basically left the animals alone.

The only time they found it necessary to kill or maim a wild animal was when it posed a direct threat to their lives, or in times of drought, when food was scarce and the killing of a buffalo or an elephant could feed an entire village for a week. This harmonious co-existence between man and animal in Africa allowed wildlife to thrive and roam freely on the continent's hills, deserts and plains.

Then came the Uganda railway, and along with it, White men with rifles, who pushed the Africans into "reserves", took over the land, and converted the country now known as Kenya into a big hunting ground.

ONE POSTER ENTICING WHITE settlers to make a home in East Africa proclaimed: "Uganda Railway Observation Cars Pass Through the Greatest Natural Game Preserve in the World". Aristocrats from Europe began flooding the savannahs in search of Big Game. Lions, elephants, rhinos and gazelles were hunted down for pleasure, their heads used as trophies to adorn the living rooms of countless colonial administrators and settlers.

You were only considered a Real Man if you had shot a defenceless maned lion with your own gun. Hunters competed with each other on who could kill the most lions and elephants. Their memsahib wives and mistresses were not impressed with diamonds; they wanted the Real Thing - a claw from a lion killed by their husbands or lovers or ivory from an elephant brought down by a dozen bullets.

Africans were recruited to carry the guns, to put up tents during hunting expeditions and to bring home the carcass. Photos of The White Hunter with his kill took pride of place in family albums.

Then, a few years after the country gained independence, Big Game hunters noticed that the number of wild animals in the countryside was fast dwindling. In fact, the rhino population had grown so small, rhinos were classified as an endangered species by conservationists. Instead of blaming themselves for this state of affairs, they blamed the Africans, who, having been denied access to pasture for their cattle, had resorted to other ways of earning a living - poaching.

The hunters decided that the only way to protect the Big Five and other endangered species from the Africans was to create fenced game parks, where only animals, tourists and the odd Maasai dancer, were allowed access.

When a hunting ban came into force in the 1970s, hunters found themselves out of a job. So they reinvented themselves as game wardens, to protect the very animals they had decimated so cruelly and randomly a few decades before. Hunters metamorphosised into conservationists. Those with enough money became ranchers by buying large tracts of land and turning them into private game sanctuaries for rich tourists.

But the rich tourists soon got bored. They claimed that shooting a wild animal with a camera was not as fun as shooting it with a gun. They proposed to the ranchers that they ask the Government to lift the ban on hunting. There was big money to be made not just by the ranchers, but by the Government as well. Back in Botswana, they boasted, hunters were paying as much as 5000 dollars to shoot a buffalo. Do the maths. That's one million dollars for 200 buffalos. Now, if it was a lion or a rhino, well, that could means billions of dollars not just for the Government but for the conservationists, who could use the money to buy more ranches.

Piece of cake, responded the ranchers. The Government doesn't care if human beings die, why should it care if a few wild animals are killed? er? culled? The country is already suffering from wildlife overpopulation. We will even get donors to bankroll the process.

CONSULTANTS PAID BY DONORS were appointed. A task force was established. Consultative workshops with local communities were held. (No-one consulted the Animals.) The local communities did not understand why White men hunted animals for sport and leisure. Why didn't they just play football?

Finally, a draft policy document was prepared. It called for the introduction of culling and the lifting of the ban on hunting "for the sustainable use and equitable sharing of the benefits of wildlife". When news of the draft policy was published in the press, Tourism minister Morris Dzoro denied that there were any plans to lift the ban on hunting. Apparently he had never heard of the draft policy and thought the consultative workshops had been held to bring development to the people.

The hunters-turned-Conservationists-turned-ranchers-turned-hunters were not amused. But that day, the local communities and the wild animals were united, just as they had been before the White man arrived.


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