Daily US Times: There has been a remarkable story of wildlife success in the verdant rolling Chyulu Hills of Kenya. The local lion population had almost been wiped out in 2003, but now they number 200 or more. But there are dangers approaching.
“When I first got here, there were lions everywhere,” the chief architect of this lion renaissance, ardent conservationist Richard Bonham said few years ago. “But the Masai were killing them as they always had done, spearing them in retribution when they attacked their livestock. And then they started to poison them. They would kill a whole pride at a time.”
Local numbers reduced to the point of near annihilation. Recognising the catastrophe that was about to happen, Richard said: “The aim was to get the Masai who own this land, to use wildlife as their prime source of income. When that happened, they began securing their habitat, looking after their animals as they would their own cattle.”
The scheme worked like magic, and the lion population has rebounded with dramatic effect. But now, another threat looms, not just to the lion prides but to all wildlife, and to communities throughout the country and the African continent.
Coronavirus has yet to take hold in Kenya, but its economic effects are already rampant, especially in the area of conservation. Richard told Al Jazeera this week: “Since mid-March, all tourist lodges in and outside the parks have been closed. From our perspective, the big hit here is a total loss of conservation and park entrance fees. These fees are essential to help pay for wildlife management and anti-poaching strategies.”
Richard said he did not think people will be travelling to places like Kenya until mid-2021 at the earliest, which means there will be no tourism revenue and the associated unemployment that went with that.
“This is a long time for wildlife areas to survive. Infrastructure will deteriorate, and so will wildlife itself if investment is not made to combat poaching and habitat destruction,” he said.
Poaching on the increase
Loss of tourism revenue means jobs are being lost on a big scale, said Kaddu Sebunya of the African Wildlife Foundation. Massive job vacant mean people are getting desperate, and poaching for game meat is increasing.
Kaddu explained: “People reliant on tourism have lost income in a very short space of time and need to find ways to feed their families.”
“Many are rangers, guides and experts who know wildlife and where it is. The temptation to poach will be extreme, and that includes endangered species,” he said.
Illegal wildlife trade
As intensifying coronavirus situation made the life stranded, there will be possibility of illegal wildlife trade. Because of reduced tourism, there will he a likely side effect will be an increase in the illegal wildlife trade due to reduced human eyes on poachers funded by criminal syndicates.
Kaddu Sebunya said: “The poachers are bound to get emboldened – it’s already happening in Botswana.”
“We’re hearing about increases of rhino poaching and more clashes between poachers and security officers, which have resulted in deaths.”
The bottom line is that rural communities urgently need funds to shield them from livelihood losses and hunger.
Richard Bonham also focuses on international help, which is also needed to keep wildlife security programmes afloat.
He said: “For us in the Chuyulu Hills, if we can’t keep funding going, the remarkable success we’ve had of getting lion numbers up from pretty much zero to 200 and more, will be simply and tragically reversed.”