Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Najib Balala has called on all conservationists to work more closely with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to stop and reverse the alarming decline in giraffe populations that has been traced back to the 1970s.
Mr. Balala noted that wildlife numbers were steadily falling, and cited plains game and other ungulates which fall lower in the Food Chain. “For the longest time, the focus was on the once critically endangered elephant and rhino, but we have since seen the importance of conserving all species”, he said
“The biggest threats to our giraffe are snaring and a thriving bush meat trade, what are we doing about this?” he wondered.
The minister was speaking during the launch of The Recovery and Action Plan for Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) in Kenya (2018-2022) at Impala Observation Point located within Nairobi National Park. Pomp, technology and stakeholder collaboration meshed together, resulting in a colourful launch of an Action Plan which focuses on the conservation of the three subspecies (Maasai, Rothschild’s and reticulated) of giraffe found in Kenya.
The Chair of KWS Board of Trustees Dr. John Waithaka applauded the conglomeration of like-minded conservationists under one umbrella to protect our giraffe from the rains of extinction.
With 30 years of wildlife conservation under his belt and having witnessed impressive recovery in other species populations, Dr. Waithaka said his heart still grieves when he ponders on the fate of giraffes, “because we could have done better to prevent the situation from deteriorating to the point it is now”. He, however, noted that the individual focus on the giraffe subspecies was a positive move.
Dr. Waithaka noted there are approximately 120 NGOs in Kenya, mainly concentrated in Amboseli, Tsavos, Mara and Laikipia in Mt. Kenya area. “If we are truly concerned about conservation, we need to spread out to avoid stepping on each others’ toes while other species in neglected areas are suffering,” he advised.
He referred to a Paper authored by Dr. Western in 2008, which showed Kenya is losing approximately 40% wildlife population in her parks annually, which means there is something not doing done in the right way. He congratulated Dr. Western’s initiative, for it is during his tenure as KWS Director that the Species Conservation and Management department was born, for which Dr. Waithaka was head.
“Twenty years ago, there were around 150 sable antelopes in Shimba Hills; today we have 50. In Ruma National Park we had approximately 50 Roan antelope – now there are 17. We need to develop an Endangered and Species at Risk Act now,” he said.
He assured KWS Board of Trustees is committed to the Recovery and Action Plan. He stated some glaring failures: animals in Mwea Reserve are gravely affected by the tick menace, whose remedy is ‘prescribed burning.’ Lake Nakuru Park is teetering under a hyper-abundant buffalo population of over 5,000. The park can hold approximately 400. Attempts to apply control measures to mitigate these problems are met with hue and cry from some conservation NGOs.“Conservation should be guided by science and traditional knowledge,” he said.
The chairperson of the Conservation Alliance of Kenya Board of Trustees Lucy Waruingi, said that the National Recovery Plan recognizes habitat loss as a major threat to giraffes in Kenya. It also focuses on species’ recovery, by emphasizing research and information sharing.
Mr. Philip Muruthi of African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) said his organization recognizes the negative impact on giraffe populations occasioned by climate change. He spoke of a pilot study which studied the danger to giraffes posed by bush meat trade. Meat was purchased from several butcheries in different locations and tested in the laboratory. Giraffe meat made a disturbing proportion of the meat in butcheries, he said.
“AWF is highly optimistic that the implementation of the Report on Migratory Corridors will bring tremendous change in giraffe population recovery,” he said.
KWS acting Director General Professor Charles Musyoki lauded the participatory and consultative effort that led to the development of the elaborate, educative and articulate Action Plan.
“Implementation of this plan will make a significant dent in the way giraffes are treated in conservation,” he said.