Tour operators in London say the shooting of renowned conservationist and author Kuki Gallmann has worsened an already bad situation in Laikipia County.
Experts in the United Kingdom said given that the county is fairly isolated, it is easy for tour companies to shift itineraries to other parks — such as the Maasai Mara — thereby denying the region tourism revenues.
Mr Adrian Dangar, who runs Wild & Exotic – a firm that offers holiday packages to Kenya – told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s about people’s perception. Laikipia has been an outstanding high-end tourist destination with an emphasis on the preservation of wildlife.”
Mr Dangar was also a friend of Mr Tristan Voorspuy, a rancher killed at the height of the ranch invasions in Laikipia by illegal herders last month.
“Obviously, we have this problem with people who are outside these ranches,” said Mr Dangar. “But that’s nothing to say that the rest of Kenya is not perfectly safe.
“The Mara is another world. The trouble is confined to the northern areas of Laikipia and you have to hope that people will not draw a black line through the whole country and will continue to visit.”
BIG RHINO RANCHES
Some tour operators said that while there might be some exceptions for the three big rhino ranches — Lewa, Ol Pejeta and Borana — as they have military protection and private security Laikipia, as a whole, will take years to recover from the high-profile international media perception that it is unsafe.
After the British High Commissioner to Kenya Nic Hailey’s visit to the area, where he met County Commissioner Onesmas Musyoki, the UK amended its travel advisory but stopped short of telling citizens not to visit the area.
“Laikipia has seen numerous invasions by cattle herders onto privately held ranches and conservancies, in some cases leading to violence and arson,” read the advisory. “The security forces are seeking to enforce private property rights. Check the latest situation at your destination ahead of travel to the region.”
At least 14 civilians are so far known to have been killed in the violence that has displaced hundreds of people.
Meanwhile, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has condemned the shooting of Mrs Gallmann. The agency’s director-general, Mr Kitili Mbathi, said in a press statement on Monday the unprovoked attack poses a security threat to residents and wildlife in Laikipia.
“The KWS rangers returned fire and were able to rescue her and return her to her house, where first aid was administered to her,” said Mr Mbathi.
The I Dreamed of Africa author was airlifted to nearby Nanyuki and then Nairobi for treatment.
Opposition politician Raila Odinga, the ODM party leader, is among leaders who condemned the shooting. He said ranchers contribute tremendously to the economy and deserve protection.
Kalonzo Musyoka-led Wiper party appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to take swift action to end the spate of attacks in pastoralist regions.
Additional reporting Dennis Odunga