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

 

 

ANDREW ENGLAND

ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

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 

wildlife.

 

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
hectares.

 

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 

the southwest.

 

_______________________________________

 

Barry Kent MacKay

Senior Program Coordinator: Canada

Animal Protection Institute 

www.api4animals.org <http://www.api4animals.org/>   

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