Kenya recently burnt it’s largest stockpile of ivory ever, 105 tonnes with an additional 1.5 tonnes of rhino horn. It was a significant event which sought to show the stance of the nation towards illegal poaching.
Even for people who had no investment in the business of ivory, it was a brave show and despite some people disagreeing with it, a basic sentiment was put forward; Kenyans are tired of seeing elephants fall.
It took quite a trip to get to this point, as Kenya’s history was not especially kind to the elephants. There was a time in Kenya when slaying of elephants by Maasai warriors was a rite of passage.
The people watched elephants fall to prove the manhood of their warriors as well as provide entertainment for on-lookers. Today however wildlife related tourism has afforded the people a stake in the elephants survival.
Maasai land is leased by a luxury eco-lodge and a portion of the tourist fees that this relationship provides is employed to pay for new roads, schools and even scholarship funding for high school and university, academic-related pursuits.
So an age old Kenyan tradition responsible for the death of elephants has been halted and criminal poachers are finding it exceedingly difficult to carry out their illegal dealings, but still elephants fall in Kenya. The reason; a new dynamic has emerged; a growing conflict between humans and wildlife over Kenya’s increasingly crowded land.
In parts of Kenya such as the Maasai mara national reserve, farmers and herders trying to protect their livelihoods kill or injure more wildlife each year than criminal poachers.
The new roads, settlements, agricultural projects; which are all good things; encroach on the habitat of the elephants and they in turn wander unthinkingly into farms and grazing areas. The result is a spate of retaliatory killings by the locals, especially when elephants commit even greater transgressions.
A quick instance was the killing of four people, inclusive of a 4 year old boy returning from school and a 9 year old herding cattle, near Amboseli in Kenya by elephants. Understandably riled up, the locals killed one elephant and speared several others, some of which had not been involved in the deadly incident.
According to Kenya-based African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), the number of retaliatory killings near Amboseli has spiked in recent years, from one or two in 2011 to as many as 30 last year.
The clashes between the humans and wildlife is a huge threat to the lucrative tourism industry which even the local communities benefit from. It must however be admitted that there is no easy solution to the clashes, a few initiatives are however underway, like involving locals directly in conservation.
For example, Big Life, AWF, and other conservation groups in the region have hired more than 300 unarmed Maasai farmers and herdsmen as wildlife rangers in recent years. These Maasai rangers operate outside of national parks, complementing the government’s Kenya Wildlife Service, whose presence is mostly inside national parks.
Also, Big Life has also started a program to compensate locals when lions, elephants or other wildlife kill their livestock. A very important and helpful consideration is ensuring that the benefits from the tourism industry do indeed get to the local communities, so that the people have a sense of involvement and do not feel cheated.
The future of elephants and other wildlife does depend on how Kenya is able to manage this fight for space and resources, if not we will continue to see elephants fall.