BY GILBERT KOECH

Wildlife lobbies have disputed the doomsday scenario fronted by the Ministry of Environment in opposing declaration of poaching as a national disaster.

In a report presented to a parliamentary committee last week, the ministry’s top brass said the move will bring Kenya’s tourism industry tumbling down.

But several activists and conservationists are currently lobbying the committee on Environment and Natural Resources to reject the report.

The report also claims Vision 2030 will be rendered useless if tourism fails.

“This will be equivalent to declaring the protected areas as insecure and this will result to a halt in all operations wildlife tourism,” says the report.

Environment Principal Secretary Dr Richard Lesiyampe said if parks are no longer accessible to tourists, current trade investments such as hotels, lodges and campsites will ultimately collapse with proposed and planned investments crippling.

“Declaring it (poaching) a national disaster would not be in the best interest of Kenya considering the message we will be sending to tourists who visit Kenya,” Lesiyampe. “Yes there are a few gaps but we are doing our best to fight it.”

The country has lost about 59 rhinos and 111 elephants to poachers this year, although the incidence of killings has considerably reduced after Kenya Wildlife Service took drastic measures.

The ministry’s report says such a declaration will mean that Kenya’s national parks will no longer be accessible to tourists but remain highly protected areas under heavy security surveillance, “the equivalent of closing down Kenya’s parks and reserves”.

However, WildlifeDirect executive Paula Kahumbu, said the failure to declare poaching a national disaster will not save tourism.

“The government needs to be prepared as the collapse in tourism sector in the country due to insecurity may escalate poaching, a crisis we must be prepared to tackle quickly,” she said.

Dr Kahumbu welcomed the ongoing discussions saying they will lead to securing of the country’s national parks and game reserves.

She said the various strategies being put in place by the government point to the fact that there is a serious problem.

“All the actions must be geared towards responding to the issues that were raised, KWS must be re-invented,” she said.

Other non-governmental organisations are said to be loddying Mps while a campaign group, Kenyans United Against Poaching, have gathered over 20,000 signatures pleading with President Uhuru Kenyatta to “declare poaching a national disaster.”

But Lesiyampe says non-governmental NGOs have been inflating poaching figures to solicit donor money.

“It is unfortunate that some NGOs dispute the figures we give. We have NGOs that use the inflated number to fund-raise towards the protection of rhinos and elephants. Unfortunately none of them has come forward to support KWS even after securing the funds,” he said.

KWS director William Kiprono asked for more clout saying KWS plays a critical role in promoting tourism and security.

He said declaring poaching a disaster would derail new tourism products such as sports tourism, cruise tourism, bird watching, and development of a hub for scientific research at the cradle of humankind area in Northern Kenya.

The project aims to promote the Lake Turkana Basin as the human origin internationally, while opening up the area for economic development.

“Kenya’s economy would drastically be hit as it would not be able to generate over 12 percent of its GDP that result in tourism, of which 70 percent is directly from wildlife tourism,” the report says.

The two, accompanied by Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu, asked Parliament to approve the funding of salaries of all KWS uniformed staff including recruitment of additional rangers.

KWS called for the harmonisation of rangers’ salaries to motivate them.

The parliamentary committee is scrutinising the report. It will make recommendations before submitting it to parliament.

The report shows that KWS rangers earns a minimum of Sh23,150 and a maximum of Sh 34,040.

Their counterparts in the Kenya Forest Service earn a minimum of Sh 24,900 and a maximum of Sh 38,600.

Police officers under the national police service commission earn a minimum of Sh30,000 and a maximum of Sh42,305.

KWS says the “rangers have paid the ultimate price as they patrol our national pride and world heritage”.

This year, one ranger has been killed while 19 poachers have been eliminated,according to the service compared to three killed in 2013.

Thirty nine firearms were recovered were recovered the same year from poachers with 540 bullets and 12 magazines.

The service requested Sh4,441,000 in 2014/15 financial year but was awarded Sh3,328,577 leaving a deficit of Sh1,112,423.

The service says many rangers operate in remote areas and while some have received accolades for work they have done, others live in obscurity and despite great work, no recognition has been given.

“To motivate rangers,field allowance has been increased to Sh 500 per day for those working in rhino areas and Sh 200 per day for those working in other areas,” part of the report says.

It urges parliament to approve recruitment of 50 community wildlife officers and 1,500 new rangers to boost security.

“In view of financial challenges, there is need for government to exempt KWS from paying VAT and corporate tax. Conservation NGOs must also account for funds raised for conservation,” report says.

Increased use of high tech equipment such as night vision goggles and riflescopes that enable poachers poach at night  as well as silent methods has contributed to high poaching in the country, it notes.

Dr Lesiyampe said the challenges in wildlife security operations were increasing daily as the demand for ivory and rhino horns increase, especially in the East.

“The threat into our protected areas and other wildlife habitats is perpetrated by well armed gangs who have superior firepower,” reads the report.

Courtesy of the-star.co.ke

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