Is Consumption of wildlife conservation?

ourheratageKenya has fought at the forefront of conservation for decades. We showed the world we could stand up to the illegal wildlife trade by burning our entire ivory stockpile. We became one of the brave few countries to ban hunting in the face of much opposition. This approach has led to us creating innovative models of conservation, melding community needs and cultural values and having impactful results on the ground, both in terms of in both community and conservation benefits.

The assembly of a task force to explore consumptive utilization of wildlife has led to concern amongst most Kenyans and the world at large. The broad definition of consumptive use of wildlife is generating revenue from wildlife by consuming it. The concept of consumptive use of wildlife might make sense to economists, however, the efficacy and unwanted side-effects of such models must be thoroughly considered.

The task force is looking into how consumptive utilization can contribute to the national GDP, food security, job creation and livelihood support, with a view to creating co-existence between communities and wildlife.­ In this regard, there are several pertinent questions that we would like to raise.

Is there any conservation value to farmed animals? Hybridization and intensive small-camp breeding may be producing thousands of large, valuable animals, but these are of almost no conservation value. A preliminary assessment for South Africa’s Red List of threatened species indicates that less than 10%  of the sable on private ranches can be considered “wild and free-roaming” or have enough genetic integrity to contribute to conservation targets. Only about 5 % of roan antelope, another species commonly bred in camps, are considered “wild and free roaming”. Therefore, although thousands of sable and roan are kept privately in South Africa, both species are on the Red List and considered at risk of extinction. For many species, commercial breeding and a legalized trade in farmed products will have the opposite effect to what is desired for conservation. Main reasons are the consumers’ preference for wild products, the ongoing dependency on the wild population, and laundering of illegal products into the legal wildlife trade. Furthermore, wildlife farming could only work as a conservation tool when the demand is not increased by the legal trade and when farming becomes more cost-efficient than illegal harvest.

Do communities living with wildlife truly benefit from game farming or game ranching? Do they have the financial resources and structure to support this type of wildlife use? Is this type of wildlife use consistent with their beliefs and cultural values? Studies in Zambia and Zimbabwe have found that the direct and indirect costs of running a community game ranch, far outweigh any benefits realized to the communities. In fact, local politicians or other elites capture and control any benefits coming from community game ranches rather than community members themselves. These power relations create a divisive culture and inequitable distribution of any benefits. Overall it appears in most cases that the policy ambition of devolving wildlife management to local communities has to contend with the realities of predatory sectional interests which policy actors cannot afford to ignore.


Will consumptive utilization magnify the divide between rich and poor and split the country along racial lines? South Africa’s game ranching industry is not racially inclusive. An overwhelming majority of ranchers and managers are white and almost every low-paid ranch worker is black. This was also the case in Kenya during the pilot “cropping” experiment that took place in the 90’s.


Will game farming or ranching lead to the development of fences resulting in landscape fragmentation? It has been noted in South Africa that as intensive breeding of animals became more lucrative, game ranches were increasingly enclosed by very tall game fences, which, unlike low cattle fences, prevent almost all wildlife movement. These game fences can cut wild animals off from traditional feeding and drinking areas and from potential mates, causing population collapses. Because they are often electrified, they directly kill many animals too.


Does the commodification of wildlife through game farming and game ranching lead to an increase in human conflict with other species of high value to conservation and photographic tourism? In most southern African countries and across Europe and America, where consumptive utilization of wildlife has been adopted, a noted decrease in tolerance towards predator species has led to local extirpations of these predator species. The top three species killed as problem animals (leopards, elephants, and lions) are also the most desired for non-consumptive tourism. These are all keystone species that not only contribute to Kenya’s economy by attracting tourists but are integral to maintaining ecosystems.


Will consumptive utilization negatively impact our tourism industry and dramatically reduce the benefits accruing from non-consumptive uses of wildlife (e.g., photographic tourism, community conservancies etc.)? As the world trends towards ethical, educated consumerism, more and more consumers are making choices based on animal welfare, human welfare and environmental sustainability. There are concerns that moving towards consumptive use will alienate a large number of people who choose Kenya as their destination based on our current refusal of consumptive wildlife utilization and hunting. Tourists hearing the news that certain hotels in Kenya want to serve “game meat” are rebooking at other places. How will this trend affect brand Kenya if we are to go down the utilization route?

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Will game farming and game ranching address food security issues in Kenya?  A significant problem with captive breeding such as game farming or game ranching is that it’s inevitably more expensive to house, feed, and otherwise care for animals in captivity than to collect them from the wild. In parts of Asia where eating wildlife is a status symbol, people may be willing to pay that added price. But that does not appear to be the case in much of Africa. Furthermore, will this lead to an escalation in bush meat poaching as it did in the past? Will this provide loopholes to launder illegal bush meat? Because wild species can be so difficult to breed in captivity, game farmers also routinely re-stock from the wild. Studies have shown that 90% of cane rat farms in Ghana, half of the porcupine farms in Vietnam, and up to three-quarters of green python farms in Indonesia still take animals from the wild. Instead of preventing poaching, this continued reliance on wild stock serves simply to launder illegal bush meat.


Do the benefits from consumptive utilization outweigh those of non-consumptive utilization? Our research indicates no. In fact, the benefits from non-consumptive utilization of wildlife are spread across more people, more evenly than consumptive utilization of wildlife. Most recently Botswana has switched from a consumptive utilization to non-consumptive utilization. They have found that in almost all cases, photographic lodges run year-round operations employing significantly greater numbers of people under conditions that offer a host of career opportunities.  Accordingly, due to the greater number of clients, the trickle-down economic benefits to the wider economy are substantially greater than consumptive utilization. Northern Botswana has achieved remarkable growth over the past two decades, a situation that is attributed almost entirely to the growth of the photographic tourism industry.


Will the push for profit that is the driving force behind consumptive utilization lead to genetic mix-ups and affect the long-term survival of a species? In South Africa where the game ranching and consumptive utilization of wildlife has been ongoing for decades, wildlife ranchers are now aggressively breeding for specific characteristics leading to genetic mix-ups. Ongoing hybridization causes what biologists call genetic homogenization; as different subspecies are mixed together, they become increasingly similar to each other. Unique local forms, which may be superiorly adapted to their environments, can thus be lost. Inbreeding, or breeding closely related individuals, can be bad for a population’s long-term survival, especially if there is a high incidence of genetic problems within the population. But the opposite, outbreeding, can also be dangerous. If you cross animals from an outside population that has evolved to thrive in particular conditions with a local population that has evolved to suit different local conditions, you may well “dilute” the local genes and produce offspring that are less fit than either of their parents. This is called outbreeding depression, a real danger to the survival of a species.


Will game farming lead to sports hunting? Can Kenya afford to tempt fate? Studies across southern Africa show that the “real” money is in sports hunting. In fact, traditional game ranches where wildlife has more open space to roam bring in more dollars from hunting permits than from the sale of meats and by-products. This has led to the development of canned-hunting and other such practices. Essentially bestowing custodial rights of wildlife to individual property owners has encouraged innovation among the private and communal sectors that has ultimately inflicted a significant cost to wildlife conservation without any benefit to the communities that live with wildlife.


Have circumstances in Kenya changed since the last failed “cropping” experiment? In 2001, KWS commissioned Tasha Bioservices to conduct an evaluation after the pilot project had run for over 10 years, several pertinent issues emerged. Poaching had increased throughout Kenya during the cropping programme. Only a few small-scale landowners or communities were awarded user rights, causing conflicts especially where large-scale landowners had little interaction with the neighbouring communities. This resulted in increased poaching (particularly for bush meat) in such areas, with communities accusing the large-scale landowners of legalized poaching while they were arrested for snaring animals like dik-diks. Methods used to count animals were not species-specific yielding unreliable results. There was controversy as to who needed to undertake the census, what methods should be employed and whether verification was necessary. The criteria used in allocating quotas was not based on scientific findings. Census’ and quotas were done on an individual ranch basis as opposed to an ecosystem approach that would have been more sustainable. There was a large disconnect in the communities, while single landowners might have been keen on consumptive use of wildlife, communities such as the Maasai did not support the idea of killing of wildlife for money. The project lacked fundamental information to ensure sustainability including inadequate knowledge of cropping methods employed on wildlife populations, lack of monitoring of change in wildlife numbers and a quota setting process open to cheating and corruption. One of the goals of the pilot was to establish KWS’ capacity to oversee and control consumptive utilization. The evaluation clearly showed that KWS did not have the capacity or resources to monitor or supervise the pilot-cropping programme. This led to abuse by the landowners, including breaches of the terms and conditions of cropping regulations. Furthermore, KWS was unable to distribute benefits effectively in group ranches or neighbouring communities. Neither was there a consistent method of distribution. One of the most important conclusions of the report is that demand-driven markets work against conservation and may deplete some highly sought and valuable species.


Do we have the framework and legislation in place to implement consumptive utilization in Kenya? Kenya is currently developing the wildlife conservation strategy to support the WCMA 2013. It seems counterintuitive to presume one of the strategies will be the pursuit of consumptive utilization without completion of the overall wildlife conservation strategy. Furthermore, all community conservancies are still in need of management plans as are our protected areas. These are pre-requisites for any licensing. Once again, we need to ensure we are not putting the cart before the horse.


Do the people of Kenya want to farm wildlife and consume game meat? Should Kenya change our fundamental approach to wildlife conservation that has seen us hold the moral ground across the globe to a model that has not worked for us in the past? Meaningful, informed and inclusive dialogue must take place in order to draw any conclusions on this matter.


What other models exist in Kenya today that have promise and can achieve the same outcomes desired by the ministry? Community conservancies and conservation organizations across Kenya have been innovating over the last decade and proved that both can be effective in conserving wildlife as well as providing significant benefits to the community. Should we not be looking at how we can further these models?

Given the myriad questions and concerns that the announcement of this task force has raised, we urge you to join us and say no to consumptive use and divisive profiteering at the cost of our wildlife and our people. We are calling on the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife to banish consumptive utilization to the colonial archives where it belongs and dismantle the task force.


Joining us in action by signing the following letter which will automatically be sent out to the relevant authorities!

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