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Economy

107 wildlife species face extinction in Kenyan parks

Endangered white rhinos at Solio Ranch in Nyeri County. PHOTO | FILE
Endangered white rhinos at Solio Ranch in Nyeri County. PHOTO | FILE 

Up to 107 of Kenya’s wildlife species are slowly edging towards extinction with their numbers having more than halved in the past three decades, a new report says.

The report, which was compiled by Parliament’s Environment and Natural Resources committee, says wildlife populations of different species have declined by between 30-90 per cent since 1977 and warns that some animals could disappear in the next few decades if the trend is allowed to continue.

“The wildlife species that have significantly declined and are critically threatened include elephants, rhinos, Grevy’s zebra, roan and stable antelopes, hirolas, bongos, lions and cheetahs, among others,” the committee chaired by Nominated MP Amina Abdalla says.

Besides poaching, the committee found that habitat loss due to increasing human settlement and developments, human-wildlife conflict, bush meat hunting, climate change and diseases is also contributing to the dwindling numbers.

“Trade in wildlife bush meat was widespread and went on unabated, reaching a commercial scale where meat is sold openly in markets such as Burma in Nairobi,” the committee said.

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The MPs found that although much of the publicity on loss of wildlife has focused on elephants and rhinos, other species are facing similar or even higher levels of threat to their survival.

Kenya has a total of 8,654 known wildlife species, according to the report which further states that the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 witnessed the highest levels of poaching since the crisis began in the 1980s.

Last year, a total of 164 elephants and 35 rhinos were killed compared to 302 elephants and 59 rhinos in 2013. The figures are expected to be lower this year following the coming into force of stringent wildlife conservation laws.

The MPs now want Parliament to fast-track amendments to 11 key laws they say are needed to better support wildlife conservation and restructure the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Parliament is also seeking diplomatic action by the Foreign Affairs ministry aimed at getting African and Asian governments’ commitment to curb demand for ivory and rhino horns in key consumer markets such as China and Vietnam.

The report recommends urgent amendments to the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 to streamline prosecution of offenders and enhance penalties for convicts.

The MPs want laws such as those relating to the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering amended to include KWS officers who now have the power to investigate crimes under the Wildlife Management Act 2013.

“The Prevention of Organised Crimes Act, 2010 should, for instance, be amended to mean a group of two or more persons as opposed to a structured group of three or more persons since poaching groups are rarely structured and often consist of two persons,” the committee said.

The team also said that the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act should be changed to include poaching as an economic crime.

The team is also proposing changes to the East African Customs Management Act 2004 to include a general penalty in terms of fines since courts have argued that prohibited goods such as wildlife trophies do not have a set value to use to compute the monetary penalty under the Act. The Act gives a fine equal to a percentage of the value of goods.

The Penal Code (Cap 63) should include an offence of stealing of government trophies from legal custody including stores, armouries and exhibit strongrooms, the committee says.

Changes have also been proposed to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Evidence Act, Criminal Procedure Code, the Meat Control Act and the Physical Planning Act to enhance penalties, allow use of photographs taken by digital cameras in court, and address human-wildlife conflict.

It has also been proposed that the KWS Act be amended to expand the powers of its officers to enforce, investigate and prosecute offences related to the agency’s mandate.

“KWS should be adequately and appropriately resourced. It should immediately formulate and implement management strategies and plans that will save wildlife species that are under threat from further decline,” the MPs recommend.

The MPs want the KWS board of trustees “to institute immediate reforms aimed at restructuring the service to respond to escalating wildlife security threats.”

Lawmakers also want the Environment ministry, which is headed by Cabinet secretary Judi Wakhungu, to carry out a national audit of all stockpiles of wildlife trophies within three month of adoption of the report and establish a national electronic database of the trophies.

They want the ministry to separate the provision and management of ancillary services such as hotels, lodges, camps and other services in protected areas from the primary mandate of the KWS to manage, conserve and protect wildlife.

The MPs also want recommendations of the task force on wildlife security to be implemented.

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