By Gilbert Koech
Trade in illegal bush meat may cripple the ailing tourism sector if not immediately checked, a report by task force on wildlife security warns.
The report, Lifting the Siege: securing Kenya's wildlife, says subsistence bush meat poaching has reached unprecedented levels while the growing commercial bush meat trade is now a multi-million shilling industry.
The problem is now as serious as poaching for ivory.
Bush meat consumption in Kenya dates back to the pre-colonial times when there were plenty of animals to be hunted.
The trend is still going on with the few remaining wild animals getting caught in snares across the country.
According to data from conservationists in the Mara Triangle, a record 5,337 snares were recovered in 2013.
In Kenya poachers mostly target ostriches, dik dik, antelope,Zebra, Impalas and Kenyan endemic species such as the rare bongo and the roan antelope.
The report says in February this year, a vehicle was impounded on the Narok-Mai Mahiu Road with 6,000 kilogrammes of bush meat. If sold at Sh200 per kilogramme, this would amount to Sh1.2 million.
The report says the impounded bush meat explains the increasing disappearance of wild game particularly in major wild life areas.
"Vicious poaching for bush-meat is experienced in both protected and non-protected areas throughout the range lands. All species of wildlife are harvested indiscriminately using snares,bows and arrows,spears,clubbing and occasionally firearms,this practice is unsustainable and could lead to extermination of many species," report says.
In Tsavo, the report says, gangs go on poaching expeditions for continuous periods lasting several weeks, during which the meat obtained is ferried wet to the market where it is in high demand.
Vehicles, motor cycles and pedal cycles are the preferred mode of transport.
The report estimates that 3,000 animals are poached in a year in Tsavo, alone yielding 643,950 kilograms of wet meat.
Poaching trends are replicated across many parts of the country including Narok, Naivasha, Isiolo, Samburu, Machakos, Kitengela, Namanga and the coast. Consequently, wildlife has declined or disappeared in most of these areas including parks and national reserves, report says.
The report says the tourism sector, currently facing problems associated with insecurity in the country, has also declined due to low number of animals making the Northern tourism circuit to almost stop.
The report says bush meat poaching is not the priority of the KWS as their attention is directed to stemming poaching for trophies.
According to the wildlife charity Born Free, rising food prices, crop failures and the wide-ranging impacts of the global recession, have led to a sharp rise in the bush meat trade in Kenya.
The charity also said that the snaring of wild animals and consumption of their meat, is one of the most serious threats facing wildlife in Kenya today.
"In some areas the commercial bush meat trade is threatening to wipe out Kenya's precious natural heritage entirely," Born free says in its website.
Inadequate resources and equipment for anti-poaching field operations in combating bush meat trade are some of the challenges the report says the country faces in addressing meat poaching.
Others are increased unplanned settlement bordering protected areas, droughts and long delay of wildlife policy and legislative review and the insufficient data on poaching for bush meat.
The report says that the KWS should prioritise bush meat as a major threat to wildlife conservation to galvanise support against bush meat poaching activities at national level to village level administration.
This should be underpinned by encouraging community and private conservancies and the implementation of incentive mechanisms,the report says.
It further says policing and surveillance of bush meat trade needs to be scaled up by all enforcement agencies and local administration along all roads leading to cities, urban centres and major outlets across the country.
Proper and elaborate research should be done on bush meat poaching and their markets to ascertain the scope and magnitude of the menace to inform the planning and decisions making, the report adds.