By John Ngirachu
The Ministry of Environment and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are opposed to the campaign by conservation lobbies to declare poaching a national disaster.
They say such a move will result in massive losses for tourism as it will mean limited access to national parks and game reserves which will henceforth be under heavy security.
Instead, the ministry and the parastatal want collaboration enhanced between security agencies to deal firmly with poachers.
They also want the National Assembly to approve an allocation of Sh3.2 billion to enable the KWS pay salaries and recruit 1,500 more rangers.
“Declaring poaching a national disaster will mean Kenya’s national parks will no longer be accessible to tourists as they will become highly protected areas under heavy security surveillance. In essence, this will mean closure our parks and reserves,” the two argued in a report presented to National Assembly’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee by Environment Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu and Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe.
“Such a move will not only damage Kenya’s economy, but her image as a world tourist destination,” the report states. “Majority of tourists cite game park visits as their primary motivation for touring Kenya. Just as the Egyptians have the pyramids, Kenya has wildlife as her national heritage.
“Poaching is not a natural phenomenon, therefore declaring it a national disaster may be seen as if the government is unable to manage Kenya’s wildlife.”
WILDLIFE NUMBERS INCREASING
Poaching has increased in recent years, particularly that of elephants and rhinos. However, the ministry and KWS say their censuses have shown that wildlife numbers are increasing.
The House committee is scrutinising a petition to have poaching declared a national disaster.
Last March, veteran conservationist Richard Leakey raised the alarm over increased cases of poaching and urged the government to declare it a national disaster. “It’s a national disaster, and we have to stand up and say it cannot go on,” Dr Leakey said.
He said Kenya was acting as a conduit for smuggling across East Africa which had made her “the worst in the world for ivory trafficking.” An Interpol report said 13 tonnes of ivory were seized last year.
An online petition on change.org by Kenyans United Against Poaching urging President Kenyatta to declare poaching a national disaster had by midday yesterday attracted more than 20,000 supporters.
The report further argues that even countries with more serious poaching cases have not declared it a national disaster because of the consequences such a move would have on their economies.
“Kenya is yet to reach such a critical stage,” the reports further adds.