This year, beyond its numerous challenges has seen the Kenyan government lead the tourism and conservation sector in many firsts; these including, the first of its kind elephant naming ceremony at the Amboseli National Park and the current 75th anniversary of Nairobi National Park.
These initiatives have evidently automatically attracted nationwide corporate support due to their unique and worthy nature. After the dark cloud that has been long overcast on the sector due to the significant impact occasioned by the pandemic, it has been exhilarating witnessing the government, private and conservation organisations coming together to celebrate the leaps and strides attained in the conservation movement.
The sudden widespread global pandemic in 2019 offered no grace period for businesses to stock up or make alternative arrangements and it was only a matter of weeks before economic collapse was imminent for most.
The pandemic has pushed practitioners to rethink how tourism — a mainstay of many African countries — interacts with our communities, various economic sectors, our biodiversity, and ecosystems; and the need to manage better and pursue sustainability across all spheres.
A report released by the East Africa Business Council revealed that the East African region alone may have lost international tourism receipts to the tune of USD 4.8 billion in 2020. This signifies that about 4.2 million foreign tourists were not able to travel to their preferred EAC destinations.
These numbers paint the obvious dependence of the sector on international travel and also reveal the enormous opportunities available to uplift domestic tourism, alongside similar innovative initiatives such as the newly launched elephant naming festival. With each challenge, comes opportunities on the possible novelties that will increase the much-needed resources within the industry and consequently propel wildlife conservation to higher heights.
Support community livelihoods
More often than not, we tend to focus entirely on the wildlife and forget the important role the communities living adjacent to wildlife areas, or even more importantly those who host wildlife on their land play in safeguarding the ecosystem. During the pandemic, while the wildlife thrived and roamed freely through the African plains, it is the communities whose livelihoods are mainly dependent on tourism who suffered the brunt of the economic strain.
For this reason, creative resource mobilisation ought to not only address species conservation, but also support community livelihoods. Communities are the last line of defence for wildlife which roam their land. Conservation related enterprises, which would ensure communities reap benefits from conservation, may provide long lasting solutions to conservation challenges at scale.
In such a difficult year from Covid-19, Kenya has a reason to celebrate. From the last national wildlife census, 2021 report, there is an increase in wildlife numbers. The report shows an increase in elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffe, Grévy’s zebra and hirola with a 12 per cent surge since 2014. Currently, Kenya is home to a total of 36,280 endangered elephants.
This increase while great, may give rise to significant rise in human wildlife conflict especially if habitat loss from land fragmentation persists. As the government and conservation partners finalize or implement various species action plans, such as the National Elephant Action plan, the need for proper land use planning, community engagement and an integrated approach to resource mobilisation to support community livelihoods cannot be gainsaid.
In order to curb these ever-present risks, we must increase the level of community engagement given their critical role in wildlife conservation as well as maintain eternal vigilance to ensure poaching is eliminated. Besides, there is untapped potential in the utilisation of technology and the internet to build a constituency of conservationists’ utilisation across the continent. It is our lives at risk, as nature-based economies. We need the young people to champion conservation efforts. We need all of us environmentally conscious — “woke” is what I am told they would refer to it these days.
Similarly, I encourage us to take up low budget domestic travel, including tours with KWS — “ZuruNaKWS” and “ZuruForLess” — especially as we join in the celebration of Nairobi National Park’s 75th Anniversary.
Congratulations on this amazing fete and let us all remember that nature is not a place we visit, nature is home.
We must acknowledge that the responsibility falls solely on us, and we are the generation that knows the impact of our actions or inactions, and probably the last ones that can do something about it.
Nancy Githaiga is the AWF Country Director, Kenya