Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Hon. Najib Balala, was the chief guest during the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) second Honorary Wardens Conference held at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, July 27, 2022.
Addressing Honorary Wardens who attended the conference, Hon. Balala said this year’s theme was Wildlife Conservation Stewardship in the 21st Century. He congratulated them on their appointment, reiterating that the title came with great responsibility because to be an Honorary Warden is a prestige service to Kenya. Balala averred that the Kenya Government, through KWS, had opted to be more dynamic in the way it manages conservation areas, saying that such appointments were one of the tried-and-true methods to achieve greater conservation milestones.
The CS said the Government inherited its valuable parks over 50 years ago, and commended KWS for the strides the Service has taken to streamline wildlife and biodiversity conservation since its formation 30 years ago. “Our focus has been on anti-poaching programs, and I am proud of their success,” he noted, adding that it was a continuous war which we must never relent.
The CS said modern conservation involves the private sector and communities, which Honorary Wardens are part of, hence the Government’s support of the formation of almost 170 wildlife conservancies countrywide to create space for wildlife. He spoke about Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC), advising Honorary Wardens and KWS management to encourage a structured and projected work plan that can address issues in respective conservation areas.
“The biggest elephant in the room is climate change. This year we lost 179 elephants and 200 Somali giraffes to drought,” he said, disappointed at the irony which was saving elephants from poaching, only to have them die from lack of water. He urged the Honorary Wardens to continue to collaborate and thus ensure that there are no more fire outbreaks in Tsavo and Mount Kenya, thanking teams on the ground for their input and also Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) for providing air support to fight forest fires. He added that KDF has undertaken to desilt the Aruba Dam in Tsavo East, repair the bridges in Tsavo West and Lake Nakuru, as well as other projects in Hells Gate and Longonot. These massive undertakings explain why a new cadre of Honorary Wardens, called National Honorary Wardens, was introduced, with KDF falling under this category.
The CS said that differences of opinion were inescapable in any organization, adding that a burning passion for conservation was the common denominator between the Service, Honorary Wardens and his ministry. He advised the Honorary Wardens to resolve their issues, singling out Mountain Conservation Area, especially Mt. Kenya National Park, even as he said that his recent climb up Mt. Kenya mobilized KShs 10 million for conservation in the park – to improve its hiking infrastructure and for increased marketing of the park.
Balala reminded the Honorary Wardens that they had volunteered to be allies in conservation, adding that they were akin to Police Reserves. “The greed and profiteering will stop, when conservation becomes a priority,” he said, pledging maximum support to them even as he advised the Honorary Wardens to use their powers responsibly.
KWS Director General, Brigadier (Rtd.) John Waweru said that wildlife in Kenya is our national pride and heritage and thanked all the Honorary Wardens for volunteering their time and resources to ensure that our wildlife and spaces are conserved. “Wildlife conservation and management is broad, and requires concerted efforts from Honorary Wardens and KWS,” he said, adding that the conference was aligned to the three strategies of the Service’s Strategic Plan: Conservation, Collaboration and Enterprise. The DG said that KWS aspired to be a premier wildlife conservation agency through collaborating with partners to ensure financial stability.
Brigadier (Rtd) Waweru added that much has been achieved over the years through the support of Honorary Wardens, including the recent wildlife census, road-kill monitoring, sea turtle conservation, tree-planting and mangrove restoration, wildlife monitoring, increasing space for conservation, mountain rescue operations, capacity building, HWC management and de-snaring, amongst many others.
KWS Corporation Secretary and Director of Legal Division Doreen Mutung’a walked the Honorary Wardens through their roles and duties in conservation, which included deployment to Community Wildlife Service, tourism, security, Problem Animal Control (PAC), resource mobilization, research, veterinary services, ornithology, education, and aviation. She said that her office was available to answer any queries from Honorary Wardens, reminding them that they were required to prepare periodic reports of activities for transmission to the Area Warden to ensure accountability, in addition to undertaking an annual Performance Planning and Appraisal exercise.
Ms. Mutung’a advised the Honorary Wardens to report any criminal activities to the local warden and, in the absence of Service officers on the ground, to take immediate action in case of an emergency. An Honorary Warden has primary powers to carry out a citizen’s arrest on any person committing a wildlife crime, qualified within the Honorary Warden’s Charter. Any such arrests must immediately be reported to the Area Warden, and the arresting officer must accompany the said Warden to the Police Station to write a statement and produce evidence in court. Any trophies seized must be surrendered to the nearest KWS Station within 24 hours. Honorary Wardens are also permitted to use firearms for PAC.
Honorary Wardens from all eight KWS conservation areas attended the conference, including from Saiwa Swamp National Park, the smallest protected area in the world, measuring two (2) square kilometres. They raised concerns such as:
An attractive, brand new Honorary Warden’s uniform was unveiled to bring the conference to a grand finale.