Why do we like to hide the true meaning of a very ‘sensitive’ activity? The government, through the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, is foreseeing bringing back wildlife harvesting. Hunting. That is what it is. It is not game farming or game cropping. It is not a way to enhance the country’s food security. The only people who will benefit from this are mostly restaurants owners, especially one in particular, which gets fewer clients since the day hunting was banned in the country.
Carnivore’s Tamarind restaurant was the place to be. Well, since 1980 up until the 90s, the name Carnivore was associated with the only restaurant in Nairobi which served game meat. The meat is barbequed and curved right in front of you and they could easily get it without having to break any laws. Carnivore was the go-to place. Tamarind restaurant is next to Splash water world, a swimming arena. Carnivore was the best place to take your family as everyone would be happy at the end of the day. Ask any affluent Kenyan back then and they will tell you the difference between the zebra’s and buffalo’s meat. When the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act was amended in 2013, this made it difficult for Tamarind Restaurant to continue selling their prized signature game meat dishes.
The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife headed by Cabinet Secretary Hon. Najib Balala has convened a Task Force to amend the previous laws held on Wildlife utilization. This prohibited any game farming in the country. We only have to ask why the government and private stakeholders, who seem to have no clue about conservation practices in Kenya (it just business for them) have to be ignorant of the effects of amending such a law to accept game farming as a normal butcher practice. This task force manel raises more questions than answers.
Hunters and gatherers have existed in arid zones from pre-historic times. Harvesting, processing and utilization of wildlife products formed the basis of their livelihoods. This continues to happen today but within close circles in Kenya and some African countries such as Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Communities in Kenya are not allowed to hunt the wildlife they live with, yet this is the utilization of a resource which supplements their dietary needs. The concept of utilizing wildlife resources in arid zones is not a new one and wholly accepted when done within community boundaries. The perception of this practice only benefiting a particular group of people using it as a way to bring back hunting in the country is disturbing.
Wildlife utilization is a source of animal protein that is most significant in arid zones. In some areas, hides and other products are traditionally processed for domestic use. In the case the task force decides to go through with amending this law, we will see disturbing activities whether hidden or open. Skins and animal trophies will be processed to meet the demands of tourism through local crafts and rural industries. There may also be export demands for such products. Let’s just call it hunting. It is what it is whether they choose to blind the public with the concept of wildlife utilization. Using sterilized words does not hide the hidden agenda.
Compared to traditional domesticated livestock species in arid and semi-arid areas, many wild animal species have distinct physiological and ecological advantages. They have the ability to thrive in the absence of surface water as they make optimal use of vegetative resources and have a minimal impact on the environment. They are also disease-tolerant, heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant (Dassman and Mossmann, 1964; King and Heath, 1975; Furley, in press). This results in wild species being very effective when utilized well as a source of protein.
Since these are wild species, the harvesting methods are quite different from domesticated animals. It involves using subsistence hunter’s traps, snares, shooting with bows and firearms, spearing them in a quarry or using fire to collective trap them. Shooting from vehicles is probably the most efficient harvesting method for small-scale cropping operations in remote areas. When it comes to trophy preparation, to facilitate high prices, they must be suitably prepared, free from damage and blemishes and be properly stored before being offered for sale. Indeed, this is a call to bring back game hunting.
When wildlife utilization is properly managed, it is the simplest and most economical means of food acquisition for local consumption. As wildlife management practices continue to evolve, practical efforts to realize the potential which wild animal species offer have taken the form of cropping schemes, game ranching and game farming activities, some of which are launched as government projects while others are undertaken on a commercial basis (Dassman and Mossmann, 1964; King and Heath, 1975). This has seen the systematic harvesting of free-ranging wild animals, through various degrees of confinement to attempts at “domestication” as in crocodile and ostrich farming which have been compared to chicken farming.
The ecological and economic aspects of such efforts, as the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife is bringing up, have ordinarily received the needed attention. However, the sociological considerations have been completely neglected. Will communities, living with wildlife, benefit? How will the harvesting procedures be done? Will it be a private enterprise affair and a money minting machine to satisfy the so-called middle-class needs? Unless rural development becomes a top priority, not just in providing boreholes, hospitals and schools, their future implication for the country must remain in doubt.
As arid zones continue to expand, the reality today is wildlife in these areas has been depleted. If wildlife utilization is to play its role in multi-use systems (private sector, conservancies and government) while still benefit the local communities, we will need long-term programmes for the restoration of wildlife resources and their habitat. Expecting to begin wildlife utilization in an area that does not need wildlife as a food source is impractical. Community participation is also paramount. The task force should have included a local pastoralist community elder since they will be more affected by this implementation.
Featured Image: Antony Muwasu – Tony Wild