Licensed game meat sellers in Kenya are rethinking their business models following a continued sales ban and refusal by the government to allow imports from South Africa.
A restaurant such as the Carnivore which has been selling game meat since the early 1980s has now become more of an events-hosting entertainment facility rather than a game meat haven it has been known for.
Sale of any game meat was banned in Kenya in 2004 because of concerns over poaching, forcing game meat outlets to restrict themselves to selling crocodile and ostrich meat whose sale remains open.
“Our customers have become disappointed over the last few years because the government won’t even allow us to import game meat from South Africa,” said Martin Dunford, the chairman of the Tamarind Group, which owns the Carnivore Restaurant.
Carnivore has been selling game meat since it was established in the early 1980s, but what is has been associated with for over two decades stopped abruptly, cutting out game meat enthusiasts from its customer base.
Since then, visitors expecting to sample game meat of antelopes, gazelles, zebras, wildebeests among other wild animals have to bear with the only two types on offer ; the ostrich and the crocodile.
“We shall continue lobbying the government to lift the ban or allow us to import from South Africa because it is an added advantage to the restaurant and the tourism industry,” said Mr Dunford, whose company also operated a game meat restaurant in South Africa.
“Our business has been under severe attack because we have specialised and associated with the game meat for many years.”
Kenya currently cannot sell game meat as one of the delicacies visitors can find in the country, letting the opportunity slip to South Africa, where game meat industry thrives.
Statistics indicate that South Africa has 11,000 private game ranches that supply to the game meat outlets across the country. Kenya has 17 private and group game ranches.
The ban has also affected ranchers like the Delamare, which supplied game meat outlets.
The trade offered them alternative income stream from culling the animals in their ranches.
Last week, Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa said that despite requests from game meat sellers, the ban will stay in place to check on poaching, a crime that has been rising in the country.
“I have said the ban will stay to safeguard the wildlife,” said the minister, without giving indications whether the lifting of the ban for game meaty sellers will be considered.
Game meat sellers urge that allowing controlled sale of the delicacy helps to put more value to animals in an addition to the value derived from tourism, as long as that animal is not classified as an endangered species.
Because more than 50 per cent of wildlife in Kenya live in unprotected areas, it is argued the policy of restricting consumption of game meat by the hosts —mostly farmers and pastoralists —worsens the human-wildlife conflict to the detriment of the animals.
Despite the ban on sale of game meat, trends of poaching in Kenya over the last three years have been rising, with the number of elephant deaths in that period growing by five times.
Data from various sources show that while 47 elephants died in 2007 due to poaching, the number rose to 145 in 2008 and to 216 in 2009.
Bonaventure Ebayi, the director of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), a regional anti-poaching initiative, said poachers are using technology to increase attacks against food and non-food wildlife.