It is an honor and a privilege to feature the following guest article written by Grace Thuo, Executive Assistant, African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW). Grace has written an incredibly compelling and insightful piece to educate us on what’s happening for animals in her home country of Kenya, and throughout Africa, in view of the rapid economic development and massive foreign investment going on in this vast continent. She has also included suggestions for tourists and corporations who care about animals on how to help! Thank you, Grace!!
Animal Welfare and Tourism in Africa
By Grace Thuo, Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW)
Disclaimer: I will readily admit that the title of this entry is somewhat misleading. I will be untruthful to say I can in any way appropriately represent Africa’s views and thoughts on this issue. To take on Africa in its entirety bearing in mind its extremely intricate web of subjectivity is a most difficult task. I am Kenyan and so my thoughts will be skewed this way. I hope the reader however will be able to pick similar threads from the article which are repeated all over Africa.
Foreign investors are knocking on Kenya’s doors. Banging is more like it. Economically, socially and politically and as East Africa’s biggest economy, we have always had a love-hate relationship with this group but they have never been in short supply. As a result, right now, the smell of ‘newness’; sponsored by local and foreign investors, is over powering- super highways, super malls, super gated communities…it is all super. A new constitution has devolved power from the capital Nairobi and broken regions down to counties and in effect opened up interior locations whose dream of development had been hanging on by a thread.
Each county is falling over itself to convene investor conferences and an overriding ‘star’ attraction is tourism. “Come and discover the untapped tourism gem that is X county!” Granted, these meet-ups are serving as eye openers to the opportunities that have been untapped since Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963. But as with many things – and in this case donor funded sparkly ones – double-edged realities are playing out. For Kenya, tourism is it. The more Kenya grows and opens up its spaces, the more the country’s tourism attractions are being spread to ever thinning limits, especially wildlife.
Kenya’s wildlife is our tourism. Yes, we have many attractions but our wildlife comes first and foremost. It is what visitors save up to come and see on two-week safaris. It is what earned Kenya the title safari capital of the world (this title may have changed ownership since then though). Kenya comes in fifth as the most visited country in Africa and besides our long distance running skills; wildlife is the other positive thing we are known for. It goes without saying then that it behooves us to care for our animals and not just care for them, but protect them in every possible way we can.
However, the opposite is taking place. With the growth in development so has the growth in appetites and competition. Our neighbors Tanzania and South Africa are ‘rolling in bagfuls of money’ from sport hunting tourism. Powerful behind-the-scenes arm twisters have been working extra hard to lift the ban on sport hunting in Kenya. We are on the last frontier of this battle. As I write this, the Kenya Government is working overtime to pass the Wildlife Conservation & Management Bill, 2013 with an amendment that re-introduces cropping and culling – and in essence sport hunting through the back door. A previous experiment of the same practices was introduced between 1990-2003 but failed dismally, but it seems lessons were not learned. It is an open secret that some of the foreign wooers banging down our doors are out rightly pulling the strings here.
Meanwhile, at the citizen level, we as Kenyans do not care much for animal welfare either. It is often misunderstood, ignored or non-existent. Whether educated or not, the single most common question animal welfare practitioners must respond to- and this is true for the continent- is, “why are you defending animals whereas people are dying?” This statement presents a very strong barrier to promoting animal welfare especially in scenarios of human-wildlife conflict, where communities accuse us of caring for the animals’ well being more than their own, bearing in mind loss of food and livelihoods that accompanies this conflict.
Further to this, statistics may read that 14 per cent of Kenya’s GDP comes from tourism a big contribution being from wildlife tourism, but to the local man, what has that done for him? He reasons, I am still poor and struggling and resultantly some will take to poaching wildlife to make ends meet receiving peanuts for this violent work while the middle man and the white collar mover gets it all. Anti-poaching campaigns are currently ringing from every quarter because we are facing a poaching crisis not witnessed in recent years. All the hard conservation work that was done to bring back our wildlife, especially rhinos and elephants from the brink of extinction that was the poaching crisis of the 1980s and 1990s is slowly and surely coming to naught.
Many tourists too put their safari interests before animal welfare. As a former travel writer, it was quite distressing when the tour driver received a radio call that a big cat has been spotted. We would watch dumbfounded from afar as the sleepy quiet of the national park would be lost in a cacophony of revved up engines, billows of dust and calls from over-excited tourists to their drivers of faster! faster! just so that the driver can be the first to arrive at the scene, stop his vehicle closest to the big cat for that money shot. In the high season was the worst! A convoy of at least 25 vans and tour buses will be seen encircling and trapping a hapless lion which was in the middle of a hunt for that money shot, interfering with nature’s order of things.
The outlook is indeed wanting, bleak even. Locally, the Kenyan animal welfare fraternity is working hard to ensure animal welfare is not put aside in favor of monetary-fuelled tourism. Around the continent, the Pan African Animal Welfare Alliance is one platform trying to reach out and bring together animal welfare organizations from around the continent into one space, to give voice to animal welfare issues in Africa.
As a traveler, what responsible travel choices can you make to ensure protection of wildlife?
- At the very basic level, honor the call to not litter in the park you are visiting. Wildlife injuries and death from litter are real and some of the harmful toxins left behind from our litter outlive us. We must ensure we protect their environment too.
- Be the responsible tourist who observes guidelines with relation to keeping distance between the wildlife and your tour van and following other park rules you find. It is important to leave the animals to exhibit their natural behavior without being all over their space. It makes for an even more enriching and memorable safari
- Visit lodges and camps which have a clear, audited track record of promoting animal welfare, and of involving surrounding communities in doing this. You can opt for volutourism or simply have a day off your trip to volunteer at such a camp or lodge.
- Stand up against sport hunting. There is absolutely no justification for this. The Africa Network for Animal Welfare www.anaw.org is one animal welfare organization in Nairobi raising funds to call for the removal of culling and cropping from the Wildlife Bill 2013.
- Consider adopting an animal. For instance, you can adopt an elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org which rescues, homes and cares for orphaned elephants before releasing them back in the wild. For a minimal fee, you provide for an elephant’s food and care and you receive updates from the Trust about your Elly.
- Corporations can use their status and clout to promote animal welfare in a location of their choice by partnering with stakeholders on the ground to focus on an animal welfare aspect such as education and de-snaring activities (removing crude snares from wildlife rich areas set up by poachers to ensnare wildlife).
The options are plenty. We must all come together to ensure another 50 years from now, we are guaranteed to see wildlife in whichever part of the world we are in.
Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW): www.anaw.org
ANAW Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Africa-Network-for-Animal-Welfare-ANAW/104162487424
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org
Pan African Animal Welfare Alliance: www.paawa.org/about-us.html