Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Predator Conservation and Hunting in Kenya

Republished Courtesy of African Indaba Newsletter

Predator Conservation and Hunting in Kenya
By Dr. Stephanie S. Romañach

Human-wildlife conflict is one of major reasons why predators are declining in number throughout Africa. Predators are often killed in response to attacks on livestock, and sometimes are killed preemptively as a perceived threat.

In Kenya, wildlife has very little, if any, value to most of its citizens. As a result, wildlife population numbers have been decreasing over the last three decades, with recorded declines of 40 - 90% for most species. The beginning of the steep population declines coincided with Kenya’s ban on trophy hunting in 1977.

Wildlife in Kenya is owned by the government, not by landowners. Some East and southern African countries have devolved full user rights of wildlife to its citizens, allowing people to profit from wildlife on their land. These profits serve as financial incentives for wildlife conservation on privately- and, in some cases, on communally-owned land. In recent years these incentives have led to major increases in the amount of land used for wildlife in South Africa and Namibia, and, on a smaller scale, in Botswana and Zambia.

The Laikipia plateau in central Kenya represents a stronghold for wildlife conservation. The region is not formally protected, but holds high densities of wildlife mixed with livestock, and some agriculture. Wildlife populations are increasing, including significant populations of cheetahs, lions, leopards, hyenas, and endangered African wild dogs. But livestock densities are high, and there are increasing incidences of conflict between people and predators over livestock.

In 2005, I completed a survey of Kenyans in the Laikipia region to explore potential means of promoting coexistence between people and predators. I gained the help of a few assistants to conduct interviews in the multiple native languages used in the communal lands. We completed 416 one-on-one interviews with community members and commercial ranchers to learn about their attitudes toward predators, policies for lethal control when livestock are attacked, and prospects for coexistence.

Livestock losses to predators are high in the region; 53% of interviewees reported livestock losses to predators the previous year. Commercial ranchers were willing to tolerate losses of between 4 - 8 head of stock before killing the responsible predator, and community members were unwilling to lose more than one head of stock.

We asked interviewees how their tolerance for predators could be improved, and the two most common responses we received were to give value to predators through ecotourism and through trophy hunting. Photographic tourism has been successful in the region, and interest remains high among overseas visitors to experience Kenya’s wildlife and human cultures (e.g., Masaai).

Much of Laikipia is gifted with healthy wildlife populations, though this is not the case for the entire region, and not for most of Kenya’s unprotected areas. Areas without easily viewable densities of wildlife (e.g., in heavily grazed livestock areas) may not be able to attract photographic tourists. Another problem with relying on ecotourism alone to provide financial incentive for conservation is that photographic tourists tend to avoid travelling to areas experiencing political instability, as experienced by Kenya following terrorist bombings in past years.

When we asked for thoughts on legalizing trophy hunting in Kenya, older community members tended to be in favour of trophy hunting, mentioning benefits brought through employment. Younger community members were split in their views. For example, respondents involved in ecotourism were concerned that trophy hunting would kill all wildlife and leave nothing to show photographic tourists. One important finding was that reinstating trophy hunting was not considered an ethical issue, contrary to beliefs by groups trying to keep the ban on trophy hunting.

Locals’ concerns about the possible impacts of hunting on wildlife populations suggest lack of knowledge of current practices in neighbouring countries, including quota systems with very low offtakes from wildlife populations. This kind of misconception is perhaps not surprising given that hunting has been banned for 30-years, was poorly-regulated in the past, and is maligned by misinformation in the Kenya press. Such concerns might be assuaged by raising awareness of the low impact of trophy hunting on wildlife populations, and of the importance of hunting to conservation in other African countries.

Trophy hunting has been successful in creating incentives for wildlife conservation on communal lands in countries such as Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. In Namibia, for example, vast areas of community lands are being converted into wildlife conservancies, due largely to the potential financial benefits available from wildlife via trophy hunting.
There are problems associated with the trophy hunting industry in Africa, which not only tarnish the image of the industry, but are also commonly used by animal rights groups in Kenya to lobby for support for retention of the ban on hunting. However, one of the major problems with the hunting industry is one that is also common to ecotourism; there is a need for improvement in revenue sharing from hunting such that benefits reach community members living with wildlife.

The ability to derive income from wildlife can improve prospects for wildlife conservation. Currently, this is not an option in Kenya because wildlife belongs to the state. My findings stress the potential for allocating user rights over wildlife to local citizens as a means for benefits to offset losses from human-wildlife conflict. These findings are timely because they coincide with Kenya’s wildlife policy review. A draft of the new policy has been created and includes these ideas. The proposed policy will be put to vote, possibly by June 2007.
I have presented the results from my interviews twice in Kenya in attempts to let Kenyans know about options for deriving benefits from wildlife, and to provide examples of the workings of the trophy hunting industry elsewhere in Africa. Wildlife policy makers should be urged to consider options for Kenya’s citizens to benefit from wildlife, thus providing incentives for conservation.

Detailed findings from this study are published in the April 2007 edition of Oryx - The International Journal of Conservation under the title ‘Determinants of attitudes towards predators in central Kenya and suggestions for increasing tolerance in livestock dominated landscapes’.