Kenya to Bring Back Hunting?
From a red hill in Hell's Gate National Park, an hour's drive north-west of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, you can see zebra, giraffe and buffalo grazing in the valley below. Flower farms on the edge of Lake Naivasha, growing roses for Europe, begin at the park gates. Beyond are fenced-in ranches. Lions still occasionally prowl nearby, but their numbers are dropping. There are no elephants any more. Wild animals are often killed illegally for bush meat. The shacks by the flower farms sell impala meat to the hard-pressed workers.
In Hell's Gate and across Kenya, wildlife is under threat as the frontier for development expands. Kenya may have lost one-third or more of its wildlife in the past 20 years, in contrast to southern Africa, where wildlife has bounced back with the creation of private game reserves and with state-controlled hunting.
Kenyans have been arguing over a possible change in the law to allow "sustainable use" of wildlife on private land. Animal-welfare groups call that a euphemism for trophy hunting, which Kenya banned in 1977.
Such groups are influential, not least for their gifts of equipment to the cash-strapped Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which runs Kenya's game reserves and parks. They oppose in principle the commercial exploitation of wild animals and vilify "canned hunting" in southern Africa, where lions and other game that is sometimes baited and even drugged have been lured into the sights of a rifle.
The animal-rights people miss the point, say their market-minded foes, who argue that wild animals need an economic value to survive the intense demands of economic and population growth; hunting under licence can bring in much-needed revenue without threatening the survival of any species. Gazelles, if well managed for meat, can be worth more than cattle. The marketeers detest the emotive campaigns of animal-rights groups, such as Born Free and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which they accuse of disinformation. Pro-hunting campaigners say that antelope and buffalo would be the main quarry. Elephants would definitely be excluded; poaching of them has begun to increase again, especially as China, which loves ivory, gets richer. Hunting on private ranches in the vast parts of Kenya where few tourists now venture would, say pro-hunters, secure biodiversity at no cost to the taxpayer.
Trophy-hunting schemes have worked in less populated bits of Namibia and Zimbabwe, but some doubt they would work in Kenya. Richard Leakey, a former KWS head who is one of Kenya's doughtiest campaigners for cleaner politics, is not against hunting in principle. "Market forces are essential for the long-term survival of species," he says. But he wonders how such forces could be controlled in Kenya, where public services are ropey and corruption rife. Who, for instance, would regulate a trade in bush meat?
Moreover, the argument arouses fierce political passions. Unless income from hunting is effectively distributed to locals, through local councils that have often squandered or filched their receipts from other types of tourism, populist politicians will castigate hunting, if it is brought back, as a return to "white man's Africa".