AR-News(KENYA) The Deadly Elephant Walk
Barry Kent MacKay
mimus at sympatico.ca
Sat Jun 21 12:21:51 EDT 2003
The deadly elephant walk
Elephants, people killed in clashes over farmland
Officials in Kenya struggle to control the carnage
MOUNT KENYA, KENYA-Three days after an elephant gored and trampled a farmer
to death, game wardens tracked down the huge bull and fired nine
.458-calibre bullets into his hulking frame.
The elephant and farmer Martin Kagwe were the latest victims of the spiral
of corruption and destruction in the forest that surrounds snow-capped
Mount Kenya in the centre of the East African country.
The elephant's crime was bursting onto one of the farms on the edge of the
forest with a half dozen others to feast on cabbages and corn, and then
charging at Kagwe and other farmers who were trying to drive the animals
away from their precious crops.
Illegal logging, farms spreading into the wilderness and corrupt management
have caused wholesale destruction of Mount Kenya's indigenous forest over
the past two decades. That has eaten away at the elephants' traditional
habitat and propelled them into conflict with humans in the fertile
foothills of Africa's second-highest mountain.
So far this year, Kenya Wildlife Service rangers have killed at least eight
elephants. Last year, they shot two, while farmers killed 11.
Mount Kenya National Forest Reserve covers 2,200 square kilometres around
the base of the 5,149-metre mountain and is home to some 2,000 elephants as
well as buffalo, waterbuck, bushbuck, wild pigs, rhinos, monkeys and other
Until three years ago, the reserve was managed by Kenya's Forest
Department, which environmentalists say was deliberately crippled under
former president Daniel arap Moi so the forest could be exploited
commercially. Moi became president in 1978 and for the next 20 years
swathes of indigenous trees were felled by logging companies, many of them
connected to high-powered politicians and their families.
The "shamba" system that was supposed to encourage farmers to plant trees
within the forest also became corrupt and ineffective, says Bongo Woodley,
the Wildlife Service's senior warden for Mount Kenya.
The system, introduced in 1910 by the British colonial administration,
allows farmers to cultivate small plots of forest land as long as they
plant tree seedlings among their crops. After three years, the farmer is
supposed to leave the shamba - a Kiswahili word meaning plot or garden -
and allow the trees to take over.
But because the Forest Department managed the system poorly, farmers stayed
on and took over large sections of the forest, burning wood for charcoal,
growing marijuana and snaring wildlife to sell as bush meat.
A 1999 Wildlife Service survey found no seedlings growing on 76 per cent of
the area under the shamba system, while marijuana plots covered 200
After a public outcry over the report, the Wildlife Service took over
Kenya's largest forest in July, 2000. Since then, game wardens have
arrested 1,200 people for illegal logging, charcoal-making and poaching.
All were farmers in the shamba system, Woodley says.
"You cannot protect wildlife and maintain the shamba system because we have
encroached so much on wildlife that we have made it impossible for them to
live in their natural habitat in peace," says Wangari Maathai, an activist
named assistant environment minister in the new Kenyan government.
Maathai was appointed by President Mwai Kibaki, who took office Dec. 30
after leading an opposition alliance to a historic election victory that
ended the 39-year rule of Moi's Kenya African National Union party.
Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition government has promised widespread
reform, including protecting the parks and forests that are vital sources
of income in a country that has few other natural resources.
Woodley says the only solution to the elephant problem is to fence areas
like the forest reserve, creating corridors for the animals to move to
other traditional feeding areas, such as the Aberdares, 40 kilometres to
Barry Kent MacKay
Senior Program Coordinator: Canada
Animal Protection Institute
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the AR-News