The launch on Wednesday of Kenya’s wildlife migratory corridors and dispersal areas report by Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu sets a positive turning point for conservation. The report begins the planning of future landscapes to allow the nation to develop into an industrialised economy, while keeping our globally-important natural heritage intact.
Building upon this framework, the conservation fraternity will have a master plan to use as a basis for discussions with other economic sectors competing for the same land.
Before this, lands for conservation have often been viewed as “waste” or “idle” with little or no regard for the ecosystem and social services they provide such as clean air, water catchment, livestock grazing and worship areas.
There is also the 12 per cent contribution to the gross domestic product by the tourism sector, which is 75 per cent reliant on wildlife.
Wildlife corridors link preferred habitats such as parks, national reserves or dispersal areas.
They can be hills, swamps or riverine strips, but crucial for allowing wildlife and livestock access to food and water in dry seasons.
Development that is incompatible with conservation in these key routes has serious implications for wildlife and natural ecosystems.
Terrestrial parks and reserves constitute about eight per cent of Kenya’s land area, while marine parks and reserves comprise below five per cent of the coastal and marine areas.
The Convention on Biological Diversity recommends (in its Target 11) that each country set aside at least 17 per cent of its terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of its coastal and marine areas by 2020 for biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Kenya still has substantial wildlife-friendly areas outside parks and reserves in the form of community or private conservancies and marine areas.
Linking these lands through corridors and integrating them into a wider landscape and seascape could propel Kenya to attain international standards.
It could also help to mitigate the recent worrying revelation that we have lost more than two thirds of our wildlife in the past 40 years.
Cases of human-wildlife conflict are increasingly becoming challenging for compensation.
Long-term data at Save The Elephants, in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service on the monitoring of illegal killing of elephants, are beginning to show fewer killings for ivory, but increasing deaths due to conflicts with humans.
Other wildlife species are also being killed, reducing their numbers for similar reasons, yet are the main product in tourism.
These situations can be mitigated and brought to manageable levels through effective land-use planning that only allows conservation-friendly activities within wildlife corridors and dispersal areas.
Save The Elephants tracks 99 elephants across the country, with the KWS, providing data that helps to scientifically define these linkages.
Increasing needs for land as the population grows are a challenge. However, other countries had similar challenges but overcame them and have achieved international targets.
Japan, for example, is two thirds smaller than Kenya, but is home to three times more people. Because of effective land use planning they are able to conserve nearly 70 per cent of their land in forests for conservation and ecosystem services.
As we secure corridors and dispersal areas for animals, we need to recognise the people who share their land with wildlife.
The country is indebted to those who co-habit with wildlife in the vast dispersal areas.
Some have coexisted with wildlife for generations and are the reason Kenya has such rich wildlife resources.
Communities living with wildlife must take part in securing the corridors and dispersal areas.
They are often viewed as static, unchanging noble men, who need to be “made to understand” the new ways of the world.
Far from it! These communities are in flux, embracing modern veracities.
The national and county governments need to work together with communities and landowners to secure and conserve identified migratory corridors and dispersal areas as they are key for conservation.
We also need to understand the factors driving change in how land is used, and how to effectively meet the need for food while keeping natural ecosystems — our life-support systems — intact.
Dr Okita-Ouma is head of monitoring at Save The Elephants and co-editor of the Wildlife Migratory Corridors and Dispersal Areas Report and Ms Kantai-Duff, head of education and awareness at Save The Elephants, and ex-officio member of the secretariat of the Conservation Alliance of Kenya