By Matt Brown
As the meeting facilitator started singing the Kenya National Anthem, I looked around the room at the Pan Afric Hotel in Nairobi last week and was amazed at what I saw. Gathered was a broad representation of people from the wildlife sector in Kenya. People from community wildlife conservancies, private conservancies, ranches, tourism sector, NGOs and government were in the room. Geographically, they represented Taita-Taveta region, Amboseli ecosystem, Mara, Laikipia, Northern Rift, Samburu and northern Kenya and coastal Tana Delta. It was quite a turnout, including well-known players David Western, Allan Earnshaw and Mr. David Mwiraria, chair of the KWS board.
These are the wildlife producers in Kenya. Why were they all here?
In Kenya, 60 percent of the wildlife live outside of national parks. There are more than 100 wildlife conservancies across over 5 million acres of community and private lands. Conservation employees more than 3,000 individuals and brings direct benefits to well over 200,000 people. There are more than 50 NGOs supporting wildlife conservation. Tourism is one of the largest income earners in the country. Yet wildlife numbers continue to fall and conflicts arise as pressure for land continues to increase.
The question posed to this esteemed group was this: Is it time to form a national association of wildlife conservation efforts to better inform national policies and increase coordination between and among individual efforts?
The clear answer was Yes – it is time for a national wildlife association in Kenya. There needs to be a single voice for the wildlife producers in Kenya to help inform wildlife bills and national land policy under the new constitution and to serve as a better negotiator between private and community interests in order to protect this national valuable asset of wildlife diversity and abundance.
What a lucky turnout to answer this question. How did that happen? Munira Bashir (KWS), Sam Weru (WWF) and Charles Oluchina (TNC) had been working behind the scenes for months to develop this idea and gain support from multiple parties. It was not luck that brought this meaningful gathering together. Rather it was months of defining a framework process, preparing a draft constitution, networking with all relevant parties and gaining the top-down support from the KWS Board of Management that enabled this meeting to create such an important foundation.
Membership and other critical details will be worked out in the months to come, but for now we have the commitment to create a national constituency of wildlife producers in Kenya.