BY STEVE NJUMBI AND PAULA KAHUMBU, 13 MARCH 2014 On 31st January 2014 the Cabinet Secretary for Water, Environment and Natural Resources, Professor Judy Wakhungu appointed a 15 person task force on wildlife security chaired by Ambassador Nehemiah Rotich. The overall purpose of the task force is to identify the security threats to wildlife and their habitats, and examine the effectiveness of existing protection measures for wildlife across the country. The mandate of the team is to examine security arrangements, including human resources and capacity, equipment and facilities, and it extends beyond current threats to include emerging challenges. The team will not restrict their investigations to KWS operations, but will also look at other agencies involved in jointly managed areas including forests, ports and private conservancies. They will evaluate anti-poaching systems funding, morale, and even the public image of state agencies. By expanding the mandate to include such diverse factors, in effect what this team is doing is a detailed risk assessment for wildlife. After three months of research, data gathering, public hearings, and meetings, the team will compile a report with appropriate recommendations on strategies to strengthen the security management of wildlife and their habitats, including systems re-engineering. Importantly, the task force has the flexibility to gather information in whichever way it may find most appropriate to get this work done. Given the enormity of the crisis facing elephants and rhinos in Kenya, where rhino poaching has doubled in the last 12 months, and Kenya’s rise to become the world’s No. 1 country for transit of ivory, the importance of this investigation can hardly be overstated. Once renowned worldwide as the country where elephants were best protected, Kenya is now at the bottom of the bucket. Poachers are in control of vast landscapes, rangers are ill equipped, ill paid, and demoralized; those rangers who still go out on patrol risk being killed. Land from parks is being grabbed for highways, bridges and cities, while habitats in buffer zones and wildlife corridors are being destroyed. At the rate we are going, Kenya could see herself being sanctioned by CITES within the year, and by 2030 we will only have 2 of the big five remaining. We need to turn the situation around, and we need to do it now.
The announcement of this task of force is hugely welcomed by Kenyans from all walks of life. By our reading, the work is not limited to addressing the security operations of the KWS, but the safety of our wildlife and whatever affects it. The task is huge and feels almost impossible, but the opportunity is equally monumental. The findings of this task force could provide the key evidence that is required to effect strategic changes in KWS and transform the prospects of wildlife in Kenya. This is why we are volunteering to assist the team. Despite an atmosphere of threats and intimidation in the past, we will face the panels, share information and ideas, and be part of a process that transforms not only our wildlife but our country. We therefore encourage anyone who cares about the future of Kenya to volunteer information that can help the Task Force in their work. With objective pubic involvement, the task Force can inject into Kenyans legitimate ownership and responsibility to transform KWS into the organization that delivers this change. Bold structural and strategic reforms are badly needed for KWS to be able to meet it’s conservation mandate in the 21 st Century. If there ever was a moment in time to be patriotic it is now. It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, it’s also the right time to do it. We have a First Lady who speaks out, a supportive president who changes laws, an enthusiastic and competent Cabinet Secretary, a KWS that is willing to change, and a public who really do care. It is our belief that only Kenyans can turn around the fortunes of wildlife, and we are proud to be part of the team that will deliver that dream. By being fearless we hope to infect others with our courage and determination to make Kenya safe for wildlife the world’s No. 1 nature tourism destination. The views expressed are the writers’ own and do not reflect those of their organisations. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of WildlifeDirect while Steve Njumbi is the head of programmes, International Fund for Animal Welfare.
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