Conservation is key for the future of our planet. This may be the preservation or protection of the environment and natural resources, cultural heritage or plant and animal species.
Kenya, otherwise known as the safari capital of Africa, attracts millions of visitors every year to experience the rich diversity of wildlife, its many national parks, reserves and conservancies.
THE GREAT MIGRATION
Undeniably the Masai Mara is the most famous national reserve and is recognised for the Wildebeest Migration which occurs between July and November each year. Wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson Gazelle congregate and prepare to cross the crocodile infested Grumeti River before heading north to the Mara River and then into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve.
The Great Migration is dictated by seasons and the quest for food and water supplies. The varying rainfall means that herds of animals may migrate sooner making the journey from north to south in a clockwise direction.
The ecosystems of the Serengeti and Masai Mara have been artificially divided by humans. If rainfall remains at an all-time low then animals stay close to the water supplies, where vegetation is at its thinnest.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE RISK TO WILDLIFE
As temperatures continue to rise across the planet, there is a higher likelihood of droughts and cyclones. This will inevitably result in animals being forced to look elsewhere in the search for fresh grazing and water. Wild animals may then travel towards local communities and homes in the search for food or migrate to new habitats completely, resulting in a change to their savannah ecosystem. If imminent steps are not taken to address climate change and habitat destruction, then these wild animals could be faced with migration difficulties in the future.
Unpredictable rainfall, droughts and heatwaves will impact habitat quality and have long term implications on wildlife species. Populations of herbivores such as elephants and giraffe have already started to shift their geographic range, and migration patterns. Forage availability will have dramatic impacts on reproduction and survival rates of these animals placing these populations at high risk of becoming endangered.
POACHING AND ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE
Aside from the risk of extinction, animal populations in Kenya are also at risk of uncurbed poaching. Despite the 2013 Wildlife Conservation Act introducing strong deterrents of a $200,000 fine or life sentence against illegal poachers, it is sadly not enough. Elephants and rhinoceros are the most desired animals because of their horns and tusks. Poachers remain determined to go to extreme lengths to acquire ivory from elephant tusks. Over 70% is exported to China and a large return made from their consumer market after ivory is used to create ornaments and jewellery.
ELEPHANTS AND THE IVORY TRADE
Elephant populations now stand at less than 500,000. Only a century ago these numbers were as high as 5 million across Africa with significant declines of both Savannah elephants and forest elephants.
Elephant tusks are large incisors which are no different to other teeth. They continue to grow through an elephant’s life. African elephants, both males and females have tusks whereas only male Asian elephants have tusks. At least a third of an elephant’s tusk is concealed in the elephant’s head. The remainder which is visible to the human eye has an outer layer of enamel and is made of dentine.
Elephants use their tusks in a predatory manner to fight off other animals. They also use their tusks to assist with digging and foraging, stripping bark off trees and moving large logs.
The difficulty is that whilst a ban on the commercial trade of “new” ivory was introduced, the marketplace is not regulated strongly enough and both old and new ivory is still accessible and being illegally smuggled outside of Africa. Ivory is perceived as a good material for carving. It has been used to make piano keys, billiard balls, door handles and other luxurious items. Ivory is known for it’s beauty and durability as well as having links to wealth and status.
THE THREAT TO RHINOS
Rhino horn, which is made of Keratin, is perceived by many as a status symbol to display success and wealth. However, they are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Poachers are now working with international criminal gangs to track and kill rhinos. They frequently use a tranquiliser gun before hacking the horn off and leaving the rhino to bleed to death. Unfortunately, as rhino populations decline, their horns are even more sought after with the demand increasing particularly in Asian countries, such as Vietnam.
These magnificent animals once roamed Eurasia and Africa, however three of the five species including the Javan Rhino, Sumatran Rhino and Black Rhino are Critically Endangered, meaning they face a high chance of extinction in the wild. The other two species, the Greater one-horned Rhino remain vulnerable and the White Rhino is near vulnerable with only 2 females remaining. Other animals that are vulnerable to illegal poaching include giraffes and cheetahs.
Conservation efforts as well as law enforcement initiatives have led to a significant decline in poaching. However, Kenya’s wildlife scene remains at risk. The Kenyan Government are now taking extreme measures to protect its vulnerable wildlife and biodiversity by proposing that illegal poachers receive the death penalty as punishment. I am sure this proposal will face criticism, and some may regard it as extreme however, unless drastic action is taken by the Government to stop illegal poaching, Kenya’s biodiversity and wildlife based tourism industry will remain at risk.
ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE – KENYA
Tackling climate change both in terms of adaptation and mitigation is key to wildlife conservation but most importantly the future of our planet. For Kenya to address the challenge of climate change, their “focus is on sustainable development initiatives that promote strong, clean and climate-resilient economic growth.”
Kenya has seen an influx of tourists visiting both for business and leisure over the past few years. A pan-African visa-free passport has been introduced. Upgrades to Malindi International Airport and Ukunda Airstrip now mean that this destination is more accessible for both local and foreign travellers to visit Kenya. With many of Kenya’s travel advisories being lifted, and improvements made to security, the government and private sector have begun investing in the economy. Over 12% of the nation’s GDP is from tourism. However whilst wildlife is a key part of the economy it must be managed alongside other core values, such as poverty, infrastructure, waste management, and clean water.
Kenyan infrastructure continues to advance with a strong emphasis on sustainability and low carbon development projects. The vision of low-cost energy has been embraced by communities. The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project introduced 365 wind turbines and covers 40,000 acres. This is the largest wind farm project in Kenya and provides 310MW of low-cost energy to Kenya’s National Grid. In addition solar power insolation is now increasing in rural households.
PLASTIC BAG BAN
As of August 2017, a plastic bag ban was introduced targeting manufacturers, sellers and importers of plastic. Penalties can result in large fines or imprisonment. Environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic bags are now offered instead. Therefore minimising the harmful effects to marine life, domestic animals and wildlife.
Whilst Kenya moves towards an industrialised nation, safeguards are needed for the future of the environment and the animals that roam freely. Sadly, there is a disconnect between Kenyan youth and the significance and importance of conservation. Education, community involvement, sustainability and anti-poaching ought to be the key focus for future generations. However, in order to fully address the risks posed to Kenya’s wildlife government support is also necessary.
“Saving wildlife and wilderness is the responsibility of all thinking people. Greed and personal gain must not be permitted to decimate, despoil and destroy the earth’s irreplaceable treasure for its existence is essential to the human spirit and the well-being of the earth as a whole. All life has just one home — the earth — and we as the dominant species must take care of it”. [Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick]
CONSERVATION IS KEY
Research into conservation strategies alongside technology allows for surveillance and aerial support of animals. GPS collars are now being used to track population trends of elephants, movement patterns and mortality rates. Geographical mapping also helps identify co-ordinates and assessing water sources.
Educating communities and increasing awareness of animal poaching, the illegal wildlife trade and risks caused by climate change are pivotal. By implementing community led projects and exploring the sustainability of agriculture can ensure that communities remain actively engaged and involved in conservation efforts.
Working closely with park rangers and ensuring that they attend appropriate anti-poaching and weapon training courses disrupts the illegal wildlife trade and reduces animals being killed.
INSPIRE AND EDUCATE
This blog post is designed to be informative, to educate you and others around the world about the risks posed to wildlife. Sadly, these facts may come as a shock reminder of what goes on outside of our own home and overseas. However, it is important to remember that there are individuals making a positive impact and inspiring communities to make a difference, people who value nature and the environment that we live in.
I can truly appreciate the risks to posed to our planet. However, I remain a passionate individual. I wish to enlighten others, to empower conservation and to bring about change globally. I recognise that conservation is key.
* The following sources have been referred to in this post, including “Ivory Demand in China – 2012-2014″, Wildaid”, “Save The Rhino“, “Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” and “Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick”. *
* Please note that all opinions are of course my own.*