Story and Photographs by John Mbaria (A version of this story first appeared in The EastAfrican)

Carefully, the elderly woman holds on to a solar-powered light. In her hands are two of her tools of trade; a small hammer and a screw driver. She then picks a solar panel, a hands-on manual and four solar lamps in readiness to fix the items in a manyatta in Pardamat village close to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Narok County. To the amazement of all present, she goes on to confidently fix the panel, wires and lamps inside this Maasai traditional dwelling with the expertise of an accomplished technician.


Her head is clean shaven, her earlobes decisively adorned with multi-coloured beaded bangles. Around her neck dangles a multitude of equally beautiful necklaces that blend perfectly with her side cloth and the long blue Maasai dress. The woman is a living testimony of how marginalised people can improve their own fortunes and change neighbourhoods if given the opportunities so often denied to them.
The traditionally-adorned woman laughs easily as she fields my questions. She is evidently happy as she explains her enviable role in the community. Nemanyatta Kipetu is a solar ‘engineer’, trained at the Barefoot college in India. She now installs solar panels and lights in different manyattas in the area. For her pains, she is paid Ksh1, 000 per installation. She is also involved in training young men who she relies on to climb rooftops as she instructs them.
“She is trained and experienced in solar engineering,” her daughter -who was present during the interview- quipped. By installing solar power, in this unlit part of Kenya, Nemanyatta has contributed positively, in more ways than in, in improving lives and livelihoods in the area.

The village is part of the wildlife dispersal area outside the Maasai Mara. Here, wild animals roam all over the place with the herbivores -mainly gnus, zebras, buffalos and giraffes- attracting carnivores. Lions visit here at night in search of prey. At times, they steal into homesteads, killing livestock in a human-wildlife conflict that remains unmitigated by different approaches adopted by KWS, conservation NGOs and the Narok County Government.
Homes here are set widely apart; the entire place is engulfed in pitch darkness when the night falls. Those able to install solar power are envied by their neighbours as this keeps the lions, hyenas and other carnivores from killing their livestock. “Lions, hyenas and leopards tends to keep off any home that has the lights,” says Moses Ntoroge, an official from World Concern, the organisation that has partnered with UNDP Small Grants Programme in the project.
What is also interesting is that the lights are used as landmarks by people travelling at night as they aid in locating their homesteads across the monotonous plain. Children are also now able to do homework or read at night. It is clear from the interview that the solar panels put in place by Nemanyatta not only serve as security installations but are also extremely important for the local people in many other respects.
A member of the Nkopelia Women Group, Nemanyatta has so far installed over 40 units in the area. She is unable to explain how she fixes the solar panels in Swahili or English. Throughout the interview, she speaks in Maa and relies on Ntoroge who translates my questions and later relays her responses in Swahili.

The elderly woman says that she did not see the inside of a classroom when growing up. “I was married as a young girl and was mainly involved in looking after my husband’s livestock,” she say. But she is quick to point out that she was able to understand the training lessons imparted by trainers at Barefoot College in India.
Nemanyatta was accompanied by other women from Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Chad to India, credit to a programme run by the Small Grants Program of the United Nations Development Programme which is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (UNDP/SGP-GEF). The funding has also been used to subsidize the cost of solar panels making it affordable for the local people.
The funding enabled Nemanyatta to travel to India to learn not just how to install solar power but also how to make the lamps, candles and chalk. She was trained together with four other Kenyan women who are now involved in similar activities in different parts of the country. None of the women were able to understand the Hindi Language spoken by their tutors; but as Nemanyatta demonstrates during the interview, she is quite competent in installing the devices. In fact, it is perfectly clear that she very well understands the nitty-gritty of her new occupation and is as accomplished as any technician who might have gone through formal training.

Flight experience
When I ask her about her flight experience, she laughs openly, looks at me saying that it was unlike travelling in a motor vehicle. “It was smooth and enjoyable…(and)… an experience of sorts” she tells me through the translator. The first “hurdle’ for officials of World Concern, who identified Nemanyatta and the rest of the women, was how to convince her to agree to travel. “ I was not sure the airplane would arrive safely and didn’t want to be away from my family for six months.” She had to be coaxed by her daughter who says that this was not as tough as it would have been if her husband was alive.
Nemanyatta says that she did not like Indian food. “The food was either too sweet or had lots of pepper in it…I didn’t like buffalo milk at all because it made my body itch.” She says that her diet was normally composed of rice, pumpkins, chapatti and mandazi which was altered slightly after she complained. As she explains, Nemanyatta was greatly surprised when she learned that Indians treat the cow as a sacred animal. “I found it surprising that they would wait for a cow to grow old and later go on to bury it when it died.”
Her classes commenced from 7.00 a.m. and ended at 1.00 p.m. She was taken through hands-on training on soldering and how to make candles and chalk. She says that the trainers mostly spoke in Hindi but would occasionally switch to English. “But I didn’t find the language barrier much of a problem.” She was able to grasp the lessons since much of the training was practical, was done through gestures and that all the trainees were given an illustrated manual. “I would shout “probem” if I had a problem and “medika” to get medical attention.”
Nemanyatta says that she was astounded by the sheer number of vehicles and trains in India. She was however unable to operate a computer assigned to her and fellow women. “We did not even touch it the entire time we stayed at the college,” she laughs as she says this.
“By the time we were through with the training, we had soldered 400 solar lamps.” She says that Barefoot College donated all the lamps and the candles to her women group but clearing them with the Kenya Revenue Authority proved difficulty as the latter charged duty on them.

Training the forgotten
Barefoot College is a not-for-profit institution that provides rural and marginalized communities with the wherewithal to attain self reliance by providing them with training and solutions to their predicament.
This includes training in solar electrification, clean water, education livelihood and how to fight for their rights. The institution uses ‘barefoot’ as the symbol that universally identifies many rural folk forgotten by governments and other agents of change, many of who walk barefoot. “The College believes that for any rural development activity to be successful and sustainable, it must be based in the village as well as managed and owned by those whom it serves,” the College says in its website.
Barefoot mainly targets women in marginalised communities whose fortunes are affected by exploitation and sheer poverty. It sharpens the resources that local people have and their traditional knowledge and skills to build homes for the homeless, collect rain water in rural areas where potable water sources are scarce, as well as to spread messages that are beneficial to target groups through puppets.

Barefoot college then goes on to give the beneficiaries training on only those technologies they can easily understand, access and control. This has not only demystified technology but also accords its ownership to those who live difficulty situations.
Among its beneficiaries have been rural men and women who can barely read or write. Today, as many as 6,525 women involved in smallholder farming, petty trades, wage labour, mid-wifely and housewives have been trained as hand-pump mechanics, FM-radio operators, masons, dentists, solar engineers, artisans, weavers and as teachers. The college prefers to train people who will continue to live in the villages and has a bias for women who are either single mothers, middle-aged, divorced, physically challenged or illiterate. As the College says in its website, these are the people who have dire need for employment and income generating opportunities.

A village celebrity
Nemanyatta was one of the beneficiaries of the training. She was later taken through a refresher course at the Base Camp, a tourism facility located outside the Mara Reserve. Nemanyatta is now contracted by fellow villagers and has to traverse long distances to reach the manyattas.
She says that some clients do not pay her. “But I am not concerned about this…I am grateful to God that I was picked for the training.”
Her training and the work she does for the community has made her a celebrity in the village. Since she started installing solar power, the mother of eight children, was selected by other villagers to sit in a committee of a local primary school.

Assault of the Biopirates

Posted: May 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

By John Mbaria, 2004 (original article link:

THEY COME as tourists and we urge them to feel at home in our land and to travel as far and wide in it as they can. Others come as associates of a clique of “conservationists” who have maintained a traditional hold on Africa’s conservation policy and practice.

Some come openly as researchers or students eager to dig as much information out of the countryside as possible. Yet others live with us, either as “visiting scientists” working in our national research institutions and universities or as “expert” expatriates.

And we are always eager to extend our generosity. Our governments are equally eager to license them. In Kenya, such licensing carries a caveat, in writing, that the researchers must share with the country the proceeds of their research and must not take away any specimen from any corner of the republic. We also impose other rules and guidelines and ask the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) and the Ministry of Education to enforce them.

Then we sit back. The government forgets to give the NCST teeth and rarely asks its intelligence arm to monitor the visitors’ activities. And so, for the time they are in Kenya, they have our entire wilderness to themselves. Sometimes they come into contact with our “men in green,” the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers on the beat. But in many cases, they are all alone or are accompanied by a few guides who act more like David Livingstone’s porters, Suma and Suzi, often providing intimate services to spice up the research expeditions.

Inevitably, many specimens are spirited away from Kenya and the rest of Africa. For instance, The EastAfrican last year ran a story on how the Mount Kenya Bush Viper a species of snake discovered whose venom is believed to contain chemicals that can prevent breast cancer is shipped out of Kenya. All the smugglers need to do is to place it in a deep freezer shortly before they ship it out. This knocks the reptile out for 7-9 hours, which enables the thieves to carry the snake on their person and fly out to Europe and the US.

IN MANY CASES, RESEARCHERS dig up things that look unimportant to us. But almost always, Africans through ordinary conversations unwittingly give them vital leads. We even encourage them, wondering at the same time why these queer fellows are so interested in chameleons, beetles, slugs or giraffes’ dung.

Years later, we may read a newspaper article about how a biotechnology company has come up with a wonder drug without making the connection.

For instance, a colleague says that, in the 1970s, there were claims that a muddy substance found in Lang’o District in Uganda had the power to heal a number of different ailments. However, he says, these claims were dismissed as unsubstantiated rumours put about by witchdoctors.

But as detailed in a new report published by a US think-tank, Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing, a British company, SR Pharma (formerly Stanford Rook Ltd), took the “rumours” seriously. After intensive research, the company ended up isolating a unique bacterium, Microbacterium vaccae, that is now used effectively against chronic viral infections, including HIV. Needless to say, SR Pharma made millions of dollars in annual sales and, according to the report, never saw any reason for sharing a single shilling with those who came up with the “rumour.”

The British firm is in good company. Dozens of multinationals have been looting biological resources and traditional African knowledge with impunity. “It’s a free-for-all out there,” says the report, “and until the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) solves the problems of access and benefit-sharing, the robbery will continue.”

That seeds, plants, bacteria, algae, viruses, not to speak of larger animals have and continue to be stolen from Africa is no longer a secret. The robbery is open, widespread and ugly. There are those who say such robbery is part of the official policy of governments in the West, pointing to the fact that in almost all cases, the relevant multinationals end up getting patents for what they have stolen. For instance, the report says that 12 different medically valuable natural products have been stolen from different African countries to make antibiotics, antifungal drugs, appetite depressants and drugs that are effective against diabetes and other diseases.

In addition, six different sources of cosmetics have been illegally acquired from Africa, ending up as vital formulae for the manufacture of whiteners and skin and hair products. Further, agricultural and horticultural products acquired illegally from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa are now generating huge profits for those who hold equity in various multinationals.

But even after such public exposure, the culprits remain unremorseful, often voicing the opinion that there is no such thing as biopiracy. In most cases, the media and the Internet are used to whitewash these corrupt acts while arguments on who, in Africa, is the true owner of such biological resources as bacteria and viruses are advanced to confuse the issue.

Even in cases where African communities have clearly isolated certain plants or organisms and used them to treat different ailments for hundreds of years, someone still disputes their ownership of such knowledge.

But African countries have wittingly or unwittingly abetted the robbery. First, few of these countries have got round to enacting rules to govern access to and sharing of benefits accruing from their natural wealth and the traditional knowledge of their peoples. Meanwhile, African nationals sometimes even government representatives play an active role in the robbery.

For instance, The EastAfrican last year exposed how the stealing of industrial enzymes from two of Kenya’s Rift Valley Lakes, Bogoria and Nakuru, in 1992 was aided by senior wildlife officials, while researchers working at one of Kenya’s public universities collaborated with British nationals in the research.

Moreover, governments in the West routinely disregard the African input in the development of medical, cosmetics and other products during the patenting process. In essence, what patents do is to give the thieving multinationals the exclusive right to earn millions or even billions of dollars from a product identified and sometimes partially developed by Africans. The latter are locked out from sharing any of the profits and if they dared produce similar products for commercial purposes, the World Trade Organisation and other trade watchdogs are at hand to prevent this, while the West is itself ready to defend such patents with its superior economic and military power.

There are reports that thousands of patents on African plants have been filed. These include brazzeine, a protein that is 500 times sweeter than sugar and is obtained from a plant in Gabon; teff, used to make Ethiopia’s flat injera bread; thaumatin, a plant sweetener from West Africa; the African soap berry and the Zulu cowpea; and genetic material from the West African cocoa plant, to name but a few.

The case of Bayer is significant. The German drug-making giant got a patent for a diabetes drug whose ingredients were drawn from the water masses of Ruiru in central Kenya and had, by 2004, raked in a profit of $379 million. On its part, the California-based biotech company, Genencor, which is associated with the stealing of industrial enzymes in Kenya, reportedly has annual sales of $3-4 billion.

Africans, intellectuals have been complaining, Africans are reduced to begging for crumbs from the robbers’ tables. “They are stealing the loaf and sharing the crumbs,” Dr Tewolde Berhan Egziabher, a leading expert on the topic at the Institute for Sustainable Development in Ethiopia, was quoted as saying during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002. Attempts to force the companies to share their wealth with the true owners of the knowledge or biological resource have been made at the South-South Biopiracy Summits.

Such conferences have raised awareness about the ongoing robbery and how biologically rich Africa is. They have also shown how Africans had isolated and developed, centuries before Europeans scramble for the continent, useful products based on the properties of plants, seeds, algae and other biological resources. But passing on this message seems to be the only success achieved so far by the anti-biopiracy activists.

In some cases, experts have called for the enactment of legislation and pleaded with the West to respect the seemingly toothless Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). In principle, CBD which came into force in 1993 asks signatories to respect sovereignty over biological resources. In 1999, efforts were made to give it some teeth, with further negotiations being carried out during the WSSD in 2002. But even after lengthy negotiations and renegotiations (the latest round was held recently in Spain), nothing tangible or binding has so far been achieved.

One campaign for justice has paid off. The most unique case is that of Hoodia, a cactus that the San people of the Kalahari desert have used for centuries to ward off hunger, the Kalahari being a harsh environment. But elsewhere in the world, food and particularly fatty and sugary food is available in such quantities that while the San used Hoodia to suppress hunger, Westerners began to use it to suppress their appetites.

In came the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (SCIR) which, in 1997, realised that the lead compound of hoodia was an active appetite suppressant. SCIR then got patents for extracts from several species of the hoodia and traded these to a British drug company, PhytoPharm.

In turn, the latter sold the patent to the giant Pfizer company. Of these deals, the US report says, “All this wheeling and dealing took place without anyone bothering to contact the San.”

Interestingly, when the story hit the headlines, PhytoPharm defended its action by claiming that the 100,000-strong population of the San were all dead. But following international pressure, SCIR agreed to give the San an estimated 0.003 per cent of the royalties it receives from PhytoPharm. In addition, media attention forced Pfizer to terminate its hoodia research and to return the rights to PhytoPharm. Apparently, though, PhytoPharm was not deterred. A year later, it licensed the hoodia to Unilever, which curiously claimed that it would not be making any drug from Hoodia but would be selling “functional food” products from the species after three years.

Unilever is reported to have paid PhytoPharm $12.5 million and pledged a further $27.5 million and undisclosed royalties once its products were in the market.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE done to stem such robbery or, at least, to ensure that Africans benefit from their resources and from what they have all along known? There are those who call for speedy legislation for purposes of guaranteeing a reasonable system of benefit sharing. “Legislation is required and it is required yesterday,” Nolwazi Gcaba, a South African patent and copyright attorney, was once quoted as saying.

Others place their hopes on the CBD. Ratified by 183 countries and in force since 1993, CBD recognises the sovereignty of states and communities over their genetic resources. However, the treaty has been opposed by some Western governments, including the US, whose Congress refused to ratify it in 1994. In addition, its provisions are contradicted by the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO has required member countries to recognise Trips since 1995.

It will be difficult for African communities wishing to be paid the true worth of their traditional knowledge to do so, because the entire system of global trade, intellectual property rights and patents does not recognise that they too are thinking beings who possess knowledge and practices that are different from what emanates from the West.

When the ongoing robbery is finally taken seriously by Africans (and peoples in the rest of the developing world) they will find that they may need to fight for an alternative intellectual property rights system that will accord what emanates from Africa due recognition. A starting point, as some have demanded, would be for developing countries to freeze each and every patent on living things. They ought to take the cue from the agitation made by representatives of African countries who, during a WTO meeting in Seattle, US, demanded the cessation of the patenting of life and the protection of community knowledge and heritage.

by @salisha_ww

Today approximately 60-80 people gathered outside KWS to honour Mohawk. It was a morning filled with overwhelmingly raw emotion – there were not many dry eyes as the lady from Kitengela read out her poem, the tears would not stop as the lady guitarist sang that haunting melody…we all laid our flowers, lit candles and paid our respects. This outpouring of emotion was needed – we all needed that moment. At one point, a friend turned to me and said I wonder if he (Mohawk’s) watching us…and I thought I sure hope he is …that way he can see how much he is loved and the dignity we are giving his life.

IMG_4587Please note that todays event was about honouring Mohawk and paying our respects and it was fantastic that everybody who came observed the sanctity of the moment.

Please also note that most of us there are also going to ensure that Mohawk’s death is not in vain – there has to be change and we are going to fight for that. More on this later.

The below is the statement we shared with the press this morning.


Today we are all here to honour and celebrate Mohawk’s life. Mohawk was one of Nairobi National Parks most iconic male lions, named such because of the shape of his mane when he was but a young boy. He was also the only lion who had a black mane.

In his years on this earth, Mohawk spent much of his time with the well-known “Ivory” trio – Sam, Cheru and the late Simbeo. But he also liked his time alone and would often go out of sight for a few weeks. Mohawak was a great hunter who could take down a fully mature eland bull all on his own. He also helped to sustain the Nairobi Park lion population by siring the Kingfisher cubs (both present and previous litters) and Elsie.

With the untimely death of Mohawk, we are now down to two mature males of the nine that had previously been there. Sam, Cheru, Mpakasi and the sub-adult males are now the future of Nairobi National Park.
Many of us would have loved to see Mohawk continue to roam the plains of Nairobi National Park, but this is not to be. We only hope that he may RIP and that his genes live on in the cubs he sired.

We have gathered here today in our green shirts to bring peace to his soul, to show him how much Kenya loves him and to send him off with dignity.

We will miss you greatly, MOHAWK. May your soul R.I.P


Kenyans United Against Poaching (KUAPO Trust) along with several other organisations and Kenyans are demanding that an inquisition be held into the events that led to the killing of Mohawk. We believe that his death is symptomatic of the systemic issues within the Kenya Wildlife Service specifically around human-wildlife conflict and problem animal control. Furthermore, we believe that concerted efforts need to be made to secure the broader Nairobi National Park ecosystem for the safety of both our wildlife and our human population.

We share the outrage of Kenya and world citizens at the senseless killing of Mohawk as well as the avoidable injury to the motorcyclist. Mohawk’s death must not be in vain. We must learn from this experience and ensure that such a situation is not repeated again. For this a proper understanding of the events is required to reform policy and take concrete actions. This should also involve joint dialogue with all stakeholders. We want to help make this change. We can help make this change.

For more details, please read our full joint statement of demand to the CS, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the DG, Kenya Wildlife Service. (…/demand-for-inquisition-…)

KUAPO, Eseriani Wildlife Association, Ulinzi Africa Foundation, Walk With Rangers, Lights For Life,Jane Goodall Institute – Roots & Shoots Kenya, Safari Exposure Tours Ltd, A Walk for Wildlife, Athi Kapiti Wildlife Conservancies, Lion Entry Deterrent Systems

Artwork by Ken Cunningham




KUAPO Strongly Believes Fencing of National Parks & Reserves Will Cause a Broad Range of Negative Ecological, Social & Economic Effects

We, members of the Kenya United Against Poaching Trust, strongly believe that complete stakeholder engagement and education on alternatives needs to be conducted before any decisions are made regarding fencing of National Parks and Reserves in Kenya.

KUAPO supports a national conservation agenda that actively involves the People of Kenya as caretakers of wildlife by embracing age-old philosophy, traditions, and cultures alongside newer practices for the purpose of eradicating poaching and other environment and wildlife crimes and promoting environmental and social well being. We aim to bring a complete halt to poaching and other wildlife and environmental crimes in Kenya through a participatory approach that inculcates ethics, honesty and age-old cultural conservation practices as well as respect for the individual and joint contribution of all the members.

We are concerned that a unilateral decision may be made on the fencing of national parks and reserves. This fear is based on Dr. Richard Leakey’s recent interview in The Star newspaper. Among other things, Dr. Leakey said that KWS will eventually put up chain link fences with alarm and supervision systems, which cannot be crossed, and that he intends to start raising money for the fencing project in the next six months.

KUAPO understands that fencing is a tangible solution that can appease communities living with wildlife but strongly believes that it does not consider the long-term interests of communities inhabiting wildlife dispersal areas. It is also an approach that reduces general tolerance towards wildlife and one that does not fully take into account the future sustainability of the species and populations that KWS has been protecting.

While scientific thought and analysis is divided on the issue of fencing, with most of the older researchers siding with fencing as policy, there are many newer schools of thoughts that need to be considered. For instance, in Conserving large populations of lions: the argument for fences has holes published in Ecology Letters (2003) the authors says that though fences can reduce conflicts outside protected areas, they however “carry important costs, including ecosystem fragmentation, loss of dispersal and migration routes, genetic isolation, reduced conservation value of buffer zones and consequent loss of wildlife-based economic benefits in buffer zones.” They also say that there is a tendency for the fencing materials to be used for wire snare poaching. Further, they argue that rather than fence off parks, effective lion conservation requires better-funded law enforcement inside reserves, landscape-level strategies that reduce human-wildlife conflict outside reserves, and a high priority for conservation in large and intact ecosystems.

We also cite a policy direction published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, which says that apart from a few countries that have considered fencing an option, in other African countries, authorities are removing fences to restore wildlife populations and migratory movements and to promote wildlife-based economies for conservancies and local communities. The 2015 report; Developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems says that Southern African Development Community (SADC) made the Phakalane Declaration in 2012 which recommended strategic realignment of veterinary cordon fences (i.e. fences erected for wildlife disease control) to counteract the harmful impacts of fences on wildlife populations. In addition, the non-governmental organization (NGO)-led Transfrontier Conservation Area and privately led conservancy movements across Africa are encouraging the widespread removal of fencing to re-establish large-scale animal movements and to restore wide-ranging species whose populations are no longer viable in small reserves. Some scientists also say that fenced populations have markedly higher budgets for substantially smaller areas that often hold intensively managed lion populations well above carrying capacity.

Furthermore the report; Barriers to Migration: Case Study in Mongolia: Analysing the Effects of Infrastructure on Migratory Terrestrial Mammals in Mongolia by B.Lkhagvasuren, B.Chimeddorj and D.Sanjmyatav , warns against fencing off migratory animals. The report says that denying such animals the “escape option” results in high intra and inter-specific competition, poor body condition, low birth rates and high mortality. It states: “fences constitute death traps for nomadic gazelles, and unhindered movement for gazelles between these areas should be one of several conservation priorities…effective conservation of such species requires integrative approaches that blend science and public policy, such as a willingness to accommodate transboundary animal movements.” The report also states that fencing and fragmentation of habitat into small, and often non-contiguous patches, decreases capacity of large wild herbivores to escape locally poor habitat conditions. Today, it is also quite clear that as climate change increases the importance of wildlife mobility and landscape connectivity, fencing of wildlife should become an action of last resort.

We would like to further stress that no fence can deter human beings from entering a park or reserve to access resources there. This is reiterated in the Journal of Applied Ecology that states that though such fences may be well-constructed and well-maintained they can only be wildlife proof but can never be human proof. “Even the most heavily fortified fences have not prevented the illegal killing of white rhinoceros and black rhinoceros in South Africa over recent years. People are likely to be able to circumvent any fence, but they may also destroy fences in order to gain access to useful resources on the other side of the barrier, such as bush meat, ivory, honey, medicinal plants and grazing.”

For KUAPO, the secret to conserving wildlife lies in forging effective and beneficial engagements between national wildlife authorities and local communities.

We urge KWS to learn from the mistakes made in other countries, where large-scale fencing has not stopped poachers, encroachment and led to genetically isolated populations. We strongly recommend that KWS continue to partner with communities surrounding national parks as provided for in the ‘Wildlife Act 2013’ like some other parastatals are doing. The Kenya Forest Service has partnered with Community Forest Associations in a co-management scheme that is fostering forest conservation successfully. The Kenya Marine Research Institute has partnered with communities through Beach Management Units (BMUs) for restoration of fish spawning areas, fisheries and sustainable fishing. At the same time, non-profit organizations across Kenya are working successfully in community lands and creating corridors of tolerance for wildlife.

Fencing our wildlife may exacerbate the commonly held belief that the wildlife of Kenya is really not Kenya’s collective heritage but the preserve of the government authority mandated as its caretaker on our behalf. Let us take this opportunity to use appropriate land-use planning to develop policy that will further inculcate communities into the protection of their wildlife, as opposed to alienating them. We ask for the necessary engagement of all stakeholders to discuss, educate, plan and implement how to resolve human-wildlife conflict, poaching, encroachment and trespassing with a holistic view of cost-effective options.

Over the last week, there has been a certain level of hype surrounding the proposed Waa Whale Shark research and tourism project that has recently been granted a license by NEMA. At the offset, we want to stress that this approval from NEMA does not mean that this project CAN go ahead. There are many licenses and permits they still need to get.

But for those of us who have not been privy to all the details regarding this endeavour, we would like to take a moment and rewind back to early 2013 when the Whale Shark research and tourism project (far cry from a sanctuary so we shall not call it that) was unveiled as an emerging threat to the tourism industry and marine wildlife in the area.

In early 2013, Seaquarium Ltd proposed to capture and place healthy migratory whale sharks in an open sea enclosure off the southern Kenyan coast purportedly for the purposes of “tourism and conservation”. This proposal drew widespread criticism from marine biologists, conservation and animal welfare groups, nationally and internationally as the proposed project not only violated the welfare of the Whale Shark but also because the proponent appallingly cast aspersions on members of a local community inferring that they have been hunting the sharks – claims which were and remain completely unsubstantiated.

Following a public hearing in March 2013, the plan proposed by Seaquarium Ltd to capture wild whale sharks and transfer them to a circular enclosure (whose dimensions would be 150m across and upto 14m deep) and charge tourists to swim with them was rejected by NEMA on several grounds including animal cruelty and a flawed ESIA which did not take into account the negative impact on the tourism industry of enclosing animals that are migratory in nature and move large distances and inflated the tourism benefits.Many groups were involved in this opposition including the Kenya Wildlife Service, Africa Network for Animal Welfare, Born Free and several others.

Following the rejection by NEMA to grant them a license, Seaquarium Ltd appealed the decision and the trial was ongoing at the National Environmental Tribunal (NET) since mid 2013. We  reviewed the appeal and found that it suffered from much the same flaws as did the initial ESIA in that it grossly understated the effects of capture and captivity on a Whale Shark while overstating the financial benefits of the project. Since tourists have the option of swimming with wild, free-living whale sharks at a number of sites on the East African coast, there would be no reason for them to choose to come and see the animals placed in an enclosure in Kenya. Furthermore, this project still does not have the endorsement of the Kenya Wildlife Service, which is ultimately the protector of all wildlife in Kenya – terrestrial and marine.

The case was ongoing till August 2015 when all of a sudden it was withdrawn by the project proponent. A month later, we learnt that NEMA had now granted Seaquarium Ltd a license to capture and enclose one whale shark for an indefinite period of time for a research-tourism project. While there are many requirements before the project can commence, most of us are left flummoxed by this turn of events. 

We would like everyone to understand that at this point, in our reading of the license accorded by NEMA, there are still many more permits and licenses required for Seaquarium before it can begin to operate and actually capture (god forbid) a whale shark. We have written to NEMA asking for the following clarifications but are yet to receive a response on what Seaquarium can and cannot do before it gets all the licenses and permits required. We encourage everyone to read the attached license provided by NEMA and if you have any questions, thoughts or concerns please feel free to write us at

Kenya is known as one of the last places in the world where wildlife can run, swim and fly unfettered. Let’s keep it that way.

We would like to welcome Seaquarium to use its extensive resources to fund conservation, research and education in a constructive manner, which can enable the free-living Whale Sharks to retain their animal freedoms and also provide benefits to the community.