News Article | April 23, 2017
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Gunmen wounded Italian-born conservationist Kuki Gallmann at her conservation park on Sunday in the latest of a string of attacks during land invasions in drought-stricken northern Kenya, which residents say are intensifying as August polls approach. The 73-year-old author of the memoir "I Dreamed of Africa" was shot in the stomach after the vehicle she was driving in was ambushed by a group of gunmen, a family friend said. Gallmann, who was played by Kim Basinger in the 2000 film of her book, was going to inspect fresh damage to her property after invaders burned down a retreat there on Saturday. A luxury hotel there had already been burnt down last month. She was ambushed when she was forced to stop by a tree laid across the track, the friend said. The gunmen shot her, but Gallmann was saved when rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service intervened and fought off the attackers. Gallmann was first flown to a hospital in the nearby town of Nanyuki to be stabilized. British military medics accompanied her on another helicopter to receive surgery at a hospital in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, the friend said. Her daughter -- who herself was shot at in an incident in March -- said that her mother was able to speak, the friend said. The Gallmann family own the 100,000-acre (400 square km) Laikipia Nature Conservancy and employ 250 Kenyans on the luxury lodges, ranch, and other businesses on the land. They also run the Gallmann Africa Conservancy and Gallmann Memorial Foundation, conservation groups focusing on bringing people and wildlife together sustainably. A wave of violence has hit Kenya's drought-stricken Laikipia region in recent months as armed cattle-herders searching for scarce grazing land have driven tens of thousands of cattle onto private farms and ranches from poor quality communal land. Many residents of the area accuse local politicians of inciting the violence ahead of the August elections. They say the men are trying to drive out voters who might oppose them and win votes by promising supporters access to private land. National police spokesman George Kinoti said a local politician was already facing court charges for inciting violence and arson in the area. "We also wish to caution certain politicians to refrain from making statements that amount to encouraging ranch invasion," he said in a statement. At least 14 civilians have been killed, including local resident Duncan Murimi, who was shot in the stomach by militias and who died three days ago on a neighboring property. Another Kenyan, Ethaju Eloto, was killed 10 days ago in the same area. Last month, Tristan Voorspuy, a British military veteran who ran a safari company in Kenya, was shot dead at a private ranch in Laikipia after he went to inspect the remains of a friend's home that had been burnt down. Laikipia county police commander Ezekial Chepkwony said four policeman had also been killed in a week in the area. Martin Evans, head of the Laikipia Farmers' Association, condemned the attack on Gallmann and said "dozens of people have been killed or wounded and subjected to robbery and vandalism of their property. Kuki is a world famous author and conservationist -- but the LFA urges sympathy for all." Raila Odinga, the country's veteran opposition leader, also condemned the attack and said "we have watched in bewilderment as hooligans take advantage of the drought to subject these ranchers to unwarranted attacks ... the government is clearly unable or unwilling to bring these attacks to a stop."
News Article | April 23, 2017
In this image from a video footage taken on May 3, 2000 in New York, the Italian-born author and conservationist Kuki Gallmann speaks during an interview. Gallmann was shot at her Kenyan ranch and airlifted for treatment after herders invaded in search of pasture to save their animals from drought, officials said Sunday, April 23, 2017. (AP Photo) NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The Italian-born author and conservationist Kuki Gallmann was shot at her Kenyan ranch and airlifted for treatment after herders invaded in search of pasture to save their animals from drought, officials said Sunday. Gallmann, known for her bestselling book "I Dreamed of Africa," which became a movie by the same name starring Kim Basinger, was patrolling the ranch in Laikipia when she was shot in the stomach, local police chief Ezekiel Chepkowny said. The 73-year-old Gallmann had been with rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service, assessing damage done to her property Saturday by arsonists who burned down buildings at one of Laikipia Nature Conservancy's tourism lodges, said Laikipia Farmers Association chairman Martin Evans. After the attack, the rangers transported her to a location where she could be airlifted to Nanyuki town, Evans said. British Army medics attended to her before she was airlifted to the capital, Nairobi, he said. On Sunday night, Evans said Gallmann was in stable condition after surgery but had serious injuries. He cited a family member. Richard Constant, the association's deputy chairman, said suspicion falls on herders from the Pokot community who have invaded Gallmann's ranch several times. Lodges belonging to Gallmann were burned by the herders last month. This East African nation is facing a drought that has affected half the country and has been declared a national disaster. Herders, whose livelihoods depend on their cattle, and large-scale farmers in parts of Kenya's Rift Valley have been desperately waiting for seasonal rains that were to start last month to ease the drought and conflicts over grazing land in which more than 30 people have died. Kenya's military and police have been working to disarm and drive the hundreds of herders and their animals out of ranches they've invaded, but their actions appear to have escalated the violence. When the military and police drive herders from one ranch they move into another, the farmers' association said. The association has accused politicians campaigning for the August elections of inciting the herders to invade the ranches, saying the owners' leases have come to an end and that herders can take over the land and distribute it among themselves. "The LFA is conscious that a small handful of inciters are driving this violence and that they have deployed militias to cause mayhem in parts of Laikipia. For months these criminals have been rampaging around with their illegal weapons, destroying lives and livelihood," Evans said. The land invasions started late last year. British national and ranch owner Tristan Voorspuy was killed last month when he went to inspect damage done by the herders on one of his lodges. Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga said ranch owners deserve protection under the law like all Kenyans. "Unfortunately, we have watched in bewilderment as hooligans take advantage of the drought to subject these ranchers to unwarranted attacks," Odinga said. "Even more depressing is the apparent helplessness of the government that is clearly unable or unwilling to bring these attacks to a stop." Many of the ranches, some of which double as wildlife conservancies, were acquired during the period of British colonial rule, some as early as 1900, according to a government report. Others were purchased after Kenya became independent in 1963. Many of the farmers' association's members are in the tourism business, Evans said. "Though times are very tough for those properties affected by the invasions, the extent of the troubles are restricted to parts of north and west Laikipia," he said. "These events do not affect other parts of Kenya which remain safe to visit."
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: SC5-06-2014 | Award Amount: 9.89M | Year: 2015
The direct dependence of humans on ecosystem services is by far strongest in developing regions where poverty restricts access to resources. This dependency also makes people in developing countries more sensitive to climate change than their developed counterparts. Increasing human populations deteriorates natural habitat, biodiversity and ecosystems services which spiral into poverty and low human welfare. This calls for innovative solutions that encompass the entire socio-ecological-economic system, as recognized on a global scale in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. However, innovative and practical solutions require downscaling to regional levels for identifying concrete sets of drivers of change. For Africa specifically, the interplay of human population growth, land use change, climate change and human well-being is a major challenge. This project focuses on the Serengeti-Maasai Mara Ecosystem and associated agricultural areas, a region in East Africa that encompasses parts of Kenya and Tanzania. The ecosystem is world-famous for key aspects of its biodiversity, such as the migration of 1.3 million wildebeest. This flagship ecosystem role will enhance the international interest in the project. In this project, internationally leading researchers from Norway, the Netherlands, Scotland, Denmark and Germany are teaming up with strong local partners in Tanzania and Kenya. The research will be organised in seven interlinked work packages: 1) assemble and integrate the so far separate Kenyan and Tanzanian relevant data on the region; 2) quantify the connections between human population growth, land use change, climate change and biodiversity change; 3) test how biodiversity change leads to changes in key ecosystem services; 4) quantify the dependence of human livelihoods on these ecosystem services. We will implement innovative ways for communication and dissemination of the results of continuous engagement by local stakeholders.
News Article | November 27, 2016
The future looks grim for the rhinoceros. Just 29,000 rhinos now exist in the wild, down from half a million at the beginning of the 20th century. Look closer, and the numbers become even more disheartening. The western black rhino was officially declared extinct in 2011. Three of the five remaining species aren't far behind: Just 58 to 61 Javan rhinos and fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos now live in the wild. Armed guards in Kenya constantly protect the last three northern white rhinos on the planet. The animals' most lethal predators are human, attracted to the big business of rhino horn. And it is big business. By most estimates, rhino horn can fetch as much as $60,000 per kilo, or about $27,000 a pound. That makes it more valuable by weight than gold or cocaine. The chief markets are in Asia, where traditional medicine has used the horn for centuries to treat everything from fevers and convulsions to rheumatism and food poisoning. But demand for the horn has skyrocketed in just the past 10 years, primarily in Vietnam. Now the world's biggest consumer of rhino horn, the country's swelling well-to-do class prizes it as a status symbol of wealth and power, and a miracle cure for cancer. As a result, poaching has surged to "unprecedented levels," Save the Rhino International (SRI) says on its website. In South Africa alone, poachers slaughtered almost 3,400 rhinos over three years -- a rate of one animal every eight hours -- according to SRI. If the pace continues, rhinos could be wiped from the wild within the next decade. That could have far-reaching consequences because the rhinoceros is what scientists call an umbrella species. Protect it, and you protect the other species sharing its habitat. Rhinoceros survival matters -- and conservationists are turning to science and technology to save it. Several companies, including Ceratotech, Rhinoceros Horn LLC and Pembient, believe they have the solution for stopping illegal rhino horn traffic: Give consumers lab-grown alternatives at a fraction of the price, crowding the real thing out of the market. Pembient is the most prominent company in this space. Its approach relies on 3D bioprinting -- basically adding rhino DNA to synthetic keratin, then creating a sort of keratin ink that can run through a 3D printer. The company says its bioprinted material is genetically identical to real horn. Co-founder and CEO Matthew Markus thinks Pembient can do more good by flooding the market with lab-grown horn than traditional conservation efforts can. "When you show up in a country and say you can't use tiger bone, rhinoceros horn, pangolin scales and so on, that's a tough sell," says Markus. "We like to say Pembient is founded on the belief that animals are precious and traditions are important. I see value in both, while it seems most conservationists don't." Conservationists don't just see things differently. Over the past two years, more than a dozen organizations have written articles, published position papers or filed petitions against the sale of synthetic horn. This past February, WildAid and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the US Department of the Interior to ban the import, export and sale of bioengineered horn. Nearly all say fakes will just make things worse -- stimulating demand for real horn and reinforcing the myth that it can cure cancer. "What Pembient does is validate the untruth that there's any medical value to rhino horn," says CeCe Sieffert, deputy director of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). "Having something created as a supplement or replacement says there is value." Thomas Snitch, previously executive officer of the UN Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System and professor at the University of Maryland's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, believes black marketers would just sell synthetic horn as the real thing. "The criminal syndicates would like to kill every rhino on the planet and control every rhino horn left in existence," he says. "Then a horn will have an infinite value. They will buy up the Pembient horn and sell it for tens of millions." This year, researchers with San Diego Zoo Global and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, in Berlin, revealed they're working on an absolute last-ditch effort -- building rhinoceroses from scratch using stem cell technology. Here's how it would work. A team from the San Diego Zoo would induce stem cells from the three remaining northern white rhinos -- which are too old to breed -- into sperm and egg cells. The team will also use frozen sperm and other cells taken from 10 other northern white rhinos before they died. The scientists will then use IVF to fertilize the egg and implant the resulting embryo in a surrogate southern white rhino. "Only two embryos have ever been created," says Sieffert. "One grew to two cells and one grew to three cells but weren't viable after that. A rhino's a lot more than three cells. The technology just isn't there." In 2015, the UK nonprofit organization Protect announced it would help save rhinos by installing cameras in their horns. This system, called RAPID (Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device), would comprise the camera, a GPS collar and a heart-rate monitor. A suddenly rapid heart rate would tell the system to switch on the camera, sound an alarm and dispatch an anti-poaching team. It sounds great in theory. It also raised quite a few questions: How long would the power last? What if the rhino damaged anything? Could poachers steal or destroy the camera? Protect seems to have backed away from the idea. At the time of this writing, the organization had removed any mention of RAPID from its website and YouTube channel. And its chief architect, Paul O'Donoghue of the University of Chester, in England, didn't respond to requests for comment. Snitch took a more feasible approach. Using GPS trackers, satellite imagery and analytics software, his team created models predicting the movements of rhinos, rangers and poachers in South Africa's Olifants West Reserve. "We now have 11 months of data on every patrol route, every animal seen, every anomaly the rangers spotted," says Snitch. "I now have an organic model of how the reserve breathes, how people and animals move, so I know when and where to target poachers." But not everything has to be state of the art. Simple trickery can work, too. "I put $12 fake CCTV cameras with motion and blinking lights up in a number of trees -- along with a couple of real cameras," says Snitch, now director of federal relations at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. "The poachers think I have the fence line covered. In the area we are currently operating, we have cut poaching by 87 percent." He's also using the nature to aid efforts to supply technology in the field, an ingenious combination that relies on a firm understanding of the way the local environment works. "I am working on building beehives in Zambia equipped with solar panels, radio repeaters and a video camera on a telescopic mast," he says. "Honey to sell, better crop pollination, power to charge cell phones and lights at night, better ranger communications and the elephants stay away from village gardens -- reducing animal/human conflict. Elephants are deathly afraid of bees. All for $600 a hive. No one is going to steal my beehive." Saving the rhinoceros involves more than stopping poachers before they kill. We also have to show local communities they can gain more from the rhino's survival than they can by killing it, says IRF's Sieffert. "That can happen with ecotourism, through hiring rangers, paying local communities," she says. "We have one group in Indonesia that we pay to gather food for the animals in the sanctuary. In Tanzania, communities can create what's called communal conservancies and then sell concessions to tourism companies. That community-based conservation is a critical link in wildlife conservation." Then there's the issue of combating the illegal traffic. Both Sieffert and Snitch praise sniffer dogs, like those trained by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), for their role in that. Over two months, the AWF's Conservation Canine Programme trains dogs and handlers to be sent to key export hubs, such as Tanzania's port of Dar es Salaam. Sniffer dogs can detect even the smallest amounts of rhino horn dust with a 90 percent accuracy rate, the AWF claims. The first training class of eight dogs and 14 handlers -- rangers from Tanzania's Wildlife Division and the Kenya Wildlife Service -- graduated last year. Time may be running out for the rhinoceros. Greed powered by uninformed demand could wipe out rhinos in the wild in the next 20 years. But that's not stopping people from trying to save them. Last-gasp moonshots, like reconstructing one rhino species from stem cells, may yield advances to save others. GPS trackers, cameras and motion sensors could catch poachers before they can kill. Cancer breakthroughs might quash demand for the horn. There's a good chance it won't be any one answer for saving the rhino, but a combination of many. "We are excited to work with technology companies, and we hope that we can find a solution to this confounding crisis," Sieffert says. "No idea is too crazy to just throw out there and see if it actually works." About 29,000 rhinos still live in the wild. Ideas, anyone? This story appears in the winter 2016 edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, click here.
News Article | January 26, 2016
"Kenya plans to use the occasion to torch as many as 120 tonnes of ivory, the largest stockpile of ivory ever destroyed by any country, as proof of our commitment to zero tolerance for poaching and illegal ivory trade," presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu told reporters. Kenya said "several" heads of state were expected to attend, along with Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman, and business tycoons George Soros, Paul Allen, Howard Buffet and Michael Bloomberg. Others Kenya expects to attend include conservation icon and BBC legend David Attenborough, British musician Elton John, as well as former basketball star Yao Ming, who has led campaigns in his homeland of China to raise awareness of the damage elephant poaching causes. President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire in March 2015 to a giant pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory, which conservationists said then was the largest ever burned in Africa, and pledged to destroy the rest by the end of that year. The promised destruction of the remaining stockpile is now slated for April 29 and 30. Veteran conservationist Richard Leakey, chairman of the government's Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), has championed the destruction of seized ivory. Leakey said the average weight of an elephant's pair of tusks was around 36 kilos, meaning the stockpile represents the death of around 4,000 animals. But other conservationists put a tusk's weight to be now far lower, meaning the stockpile could represent the deaths of even double that number. The ivory includes tusks seized from poachers and from animals who died naturally.
News Article | April 1, 2016
A stray male lion falls after it was shot by a Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger in the Isinya area of Kajiado county after it attacked and injured a local resident on outskirts of the capital Nairobi, Kenya in this March 30, 2016 file photo. A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger shoots to kill a stray male lion in the Isinya area of Kajiado county after it attacked and injured a local resident on outskirts of the capital Nairobi, Kenya in this March 30, 2016 file photo. Kenyan wildlife rangers shot dead a male lion named "Mohawk" on Wednesday after it strayed from Nairobi National Park and attacked and injured a resident. The next day rangers found the body of another lion outside the reserve, speared to death in a township south of Nairobi. Conservationists said construction work on the transport projects was affecting animal behavior and leading more big cats to try to escape in search of quieter hunting grounds. "Before construction started in the park, the lions were not escaping, so there are indications that the noise and blasting is affecting their movements," said Robert Ndetei, species conservation manager at World Wildlife Fund’s Nairobi office. "If you don’t plan properly, if you don’t do proper environmental-impact assessments, then you are doomed to fail, and at the Nairobi National Park this could lead to more lions and other animals coming into contact with a growing human presence," Ndetei told Reuters. Nairobi National Park is home to about 35 lions. There are about 2,000 left in the whole of Kenya. Kitili Mbathi, director general of Kenya Wildlife Service, agreed that the construction work was to blame for the increasing number of lions straying from the park. "Yes, it has been disruptive but we are trying and they (the contractors) are trying to minimize the disruption," he told Reuters by phone. He said the road was nearly complete, while the main construction work on the railway should be finished in June, restoring some calm. "We have a temporary fence in certain places there, so now we will be able to put in a permanent electric fence. Eventually, when all the construction is finished, from that side of the park, we don’t expect any more disruptions," he said. Mbathi said the wildlife service had increased patrols along the perimeter of the park. "A key concern is that the developer is not taking proper care to ensure there is less disturbance of the habitat while also not securing the perimeter fencing,” said Lucy Waruingi, acting secretary of the Conservation Alliance of Kenya. Human settlements and activity have long been encroaching on the Nairobi National Park, which was established in 1946 and gives visitors the chance to see lions, giraffes, zebras and other wildlife against a backdrop of high-rise buildings. The road under construction will link Nairobi airport with the city center, while the new railway line will connect the capital with port city Mombasa. Kenya's economy is expected to grow by 5.9 percent this year and by 6 percent in 2017, increasing pressure on the environment and exacerbating conflicts between humans and wildlife. Wildlife tourism is an essential foreign revenue earner for East Africa’s largest economy.
News Article | March 2, 2017
Growing up in a small town in Minnesota, Lieutenant Colonel Faye Cuevas said she never imagined she would end up spending her days tracking poachers in the Serengeti. It wasn't a straight shot from her hometown to Kenya, either: first she spent years serving as a counterterrorism intelligence expert in the US Air Force, fighting against Al Qaeda and Joseph Kony. Oh, and she also earned her law degree at the same time. "If, at the time, you would have said 'hey Faye, you're still going to be in the Air Force 20 years later,' I would have thought it was crazy," Cuevas told me. "There I was: a kind of rudderless poli-sci major, and then not too long after that I'm an intelligence officer, and then not too long after that I'm an intelligence officer with special operations command." Cuevas's years in the Air Force gave her valuable expertise in collecting intelligence on terrorists in order to improve our efforts to stop them. But in 2015, she made the leap to conservation, and is now using those skills to collect similar intelligence on poachers, in an effort to stop the decimation of elephants. "The way we collect, process, and deliver information to drive decisions in drone warfare is very much the same process we use in a counter-poaching context." "It is completely different and yet, in many respects, completely similar," Cuevas said. "The way we collect, process, and deliver information to drive decisions in drone warfare is very much the same process we use in a counter-poaching context. Because if there's anything the US military has gotten incredible adept at, it really is collecting information and data." Cuevas is the Chief of Staff for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), one of the largest conservation nonprofits in the world. She helms IFAW's anti-poaching program in Kenya—a partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) called tenBoma. In this role, she's emphasized the need to collect and analyze as much data as possible on poachers. In this context, there isn't a need for satellite imaging or telephone intercepts the way there is in counterterrorism, but the information the group collects—things as simple as when and where poaching tends to spike—is just as valuable. They use it to make real-time decisions about when, where, and how to send out anti-poaching officers. In part due to these efforts, the total number of elephants killed in Kenya dropped from 384 in 2012 to 96 in 2015 and the birth rate for elephants in East Africa currently outpaces the rate at which the animals are being killed. Cuevas started her career by enrolling in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) while a student at the University of St. Thomas. Cuevas said she wasn't sure what she wanted to do, but knew she wanted to go to law school and wanted to travel. When she saw an ad in her school paper for the ROTC, which would help her cover her tuition while also giving her a chance to travel. She signed up the next day. Cuevas told me she kind of fell into intelligence—it was the only program ROTC offered at her university—and ended up following her command officer into special operations. But she fell in love with the challenge of the job, and spent four years on active duty before heading back to school for her law degree. When Cuevas started law school, it was four weeks before September 11. "When September 11 happened, I made two phone calls: first my parents, and second to my reserve boss to let him know I volunteer to go, whenever he needed people to go," Cuevas told me. But she didn't put her degree on hold. For the next four years, every summer as soon as school let out, she deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and returned in the fall to continue her studies. Cuevas deployed three days after taking the bar exam. She passed. Cuevas told me her new role has allowed her to continue to push herself, and she said it's rewarding to see a direct impact from her effort. But she still looks at things through a military lens, and when it comes to the war on poaching, she said we can't afford to get complacent. "There are incredible efforts out there and initiatives in Africa and Asia, and people are doing a lot of incredible work," Cuevas said. "But I would also say we haven't won. There's still a lot to do."
News Article | November 26, 2016
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is harnessing sophisticated technology to catch nighttime poachers in Eastern Africa. Since the deployment of thermal imaging cameras and human detection software nine months ago, more than two dozen poachers have been arrested in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, the wildlife conservation organization announced this week. The technology has also been used to catch two other poachers at another undisclosed national park in Kenya. In March the WWF, working with the Mara Conservancy ranger unit and the Kenya Wildlife Service, installed technology from thermal imaging specialist FLIR Systems on a mobile wildlife ranger unit. The technology was also installed, with additional human detection software, in another Kenyan park. NEXT TIME YOU TAKE A SELFIE, THANK NASA “Wildlife rangers now have the help they’ve desperately needed,” said Colby Loucks, WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project lead, in a press release. “This groundbreaking technology allows them to search for poachers 24 hours a day, from up to a mile away, in pitch darkness.” Poaching poses a massive threat to African wildlife. Rhino poaching, for example, has hit a record level across the continent, and the number of savannah elephants is declining rapidly as a result of the ivory trade. “This technology is invaluable in our night surveillance work. The ability of our rangers to distinguish potential poachers from a large distance is nothing short of remarkable,” said Brian Heath, CEO and Director of the Mara Conservancy, in the press release. “The last three people our team arrested were flabbergasted as to how they were detected.” WWF and FLIR Systems are looking to broaden the use of thermal imaging and are working with African Parks, drone specialist UDS and Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd to install thermal imaging technology on drones. Anti-poaching drone test flights began last month in Malawi and Zimbabwe. WWF told FoxNews.com that it plans to use the technology in 20 additional sites in Africa and Asia. The Wildlife Crime Technology Project is supported by a $5 million grant from Google. See the original version of this article on BGR.com
News Article | October 25, 2016
The Kenyan Ministry of Transport has announced that it is moving forward with its plans to build a standard gauge railway (SGR), linking Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa, that will cut through Nairobi National Park. Nairobi is one of the world’s fastest growing cities. It is also unique in encompassing, within its precincts, a major national park that supports lions, rhinos, and other large wild animals. Despite its modest size, the biological diversity of Nairobi National Park is greater than that of some entire countries. It is also a sanctuary of global significance for some endangered species, notably the black rhinoceros. These wonders lie within easy reach of millions of Nairobi residents, as well as tourists and business visitors from all over the world. The co-existence, side by side, of bustling metropolis and natural wildlife paradise sets Nairobi apart from every other capital city on earth. The proposal to construct a railway through the park has led to a major conflict between conservation and development interests, and a heightened level of public concern about environmental compliance in the implementation of large-scale development projects. It has also divided the conservation community in Kenya. Most Kenyan conservationists are resolutely opposed to the proposal. However, one our most famous and respected colleagues, Richard Leakey, has been at the forefront in supporting the proposed project. In my many conversations with him, it is clear that he is convinced that, like it or not, Kenya will continue to develop and therefore change is inevitable, especially in one of Africa’s fastest growing cities. He thinks that the only way to save the park is to raise the railway on pillars like a viaduct 18 m above the park. He is convinced that this will not harm the wildlife, but may in fact become recognized as a wonder of technology, like the Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland, Cikurutug Bridge in Indonesia which soars above a rainforest, and the Landwasser Viaduct in Switzerland to name a few. Richard Leakey believes Africa should not be afraid to aspire to greatness in construction, but most of all, he is so confident that it will work in Nairobi Park that he believes it will be a model for other African countries facing similar challenges, such as the Tanzanian plan to put a road across the Serengeti. The Government of Kenya’s argument in favour of the route through the park is more straightforward: it is the cheapest and, technically, the easiest option available. But most conservationists in Kenya, and many people around the world, would say that it is madness to take a decision like this based purely on economic and technical criteria. New Yorkers would never fill their Central Park with more office buildings, even though they would generate tremendous profit. Central Park is the soul-restoring asset of New York City. Like Central Park, Nairobi National Park is irreplaceable. But it is quintessentially Kenyan, and immeasurably grander and greater than anything in New York City. Surely, this argument goes, the park is a priceless asset. No amount of money can buy the feeling of awe and wonder at meeting 4-metre tall giraffes for the first time, or the sound of the galloping hooves of thousands of zebras. No economic benefits are sufficient to compensate for the loss of the peace and tranquillity, the feeling of being at one with nature that the park provides. A further concern of environmental experts is that, if the railway crosses Nairobi Park, it will set a very dangerous precedent. National parks in Kenya face multiple threats, including from poaching, illegal grazing, mining, and unregulated urban and agricultural expansion. At root, all these threats arise from conflicts—real or perceived—between economic and environmental conservation goals. By allowing economic interests to trump environmental ones in this case, the government and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) will lose the moral authority to protect other parks facing comparable threats. This will damage Kenya’s reputation and, potentially, roll back decades of conservation successes. I appreciate all these arguments. To understand them better, I have spoken to engineers, land owners, communities, children, politicians, wildlife managers, and conservationists. I have visited the site of the massive new railway terminal under construction in Nairobi. I have been criticized by conservationists for considering all options and discussing the matter with the railway engineers themselves. But I needed to do this in order to understand the different issues and develop my own position. I have come to two conclusions. Firstly, we should apply the precautionary principle. Richard Leakey and Kenya Railways have assured President Kenyatta that the railway will not damage the park or the wildlife, a view he has repeated in speeches. They may be right, but hundreds of experts think otherwise, and we will not know who is right until it is done. In my view this is simply too risky an experiment for us to test. But secondly, I recognize that I have no right to expect that my opinion will prevail. There is a need for dialogue. By bringing as many people involved together to discuss the proposal, we may be able to mitigate some of the negative effects and reduce the uncertainty regarding its consequences. It could give democratic legitimacy—that is currently sorely lacking—to the final decision that is taken. Last but not least, it will provide the opportunity to initiate an ongoing national conversation around the wider issues raised by this case—issues that go to the heart of our vision for the future of Kenya and the African continent. Like many people in this largely Catholic country, I have been inspired by the wisdom of Pope Francis in his Encyclical on Nature, where he urgently appeals for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet: When I first mooted the idea of a dialogue a few weeks ago, I had no idea what the response would be. I have been heartened by the widespread and generous support the idea has received. This has enabled my organization WidlifeDirect, together with other conservation organizations, Kenya Railways, KWS and three research institutions to convene a meeting between government and other stakeholders that will take placin Nairobi on 27th October. Even though the Phase 2 of the railway was formally launched last week, our hope is that there is still time to achieve a negotiated consensus on the best outcome for conservation and development. If successful, this dialogue will not only help secure the future of Nairobi National Park. It can also be the start of a process, building bridges between politicians, planners, engineers and the conservationists to improve decision making for future development projects.
News Article | February 27, 2017
Five wildlife rangers and three other men working in wildlife protection have lost their lives in four separate countries in the past month, highlighting the numerous hazards rangers and their colleagues face in protecting the world’s wild lands and species. “It’s a tough week when we lose eight of our ranger family; some to poachers’ bullets and some to the other dangers that come with the territory,” said Sean Willmore, founder and director of the Thin Green Line Foundation, which supports widows and children of rangers killed in the line of duty. “We are becoming accustomed to this sad reality. But we need the world community’s support to help provide training and equipment to prevent deaths and to support families left behind.” On 17 February, a young ranger with the Kenyan Wildlife Service was shot dead by elephant poachers in Tsavo national park. The ranger and a colleague were out on a de-snaring patrol when they came upon the tracks of known elephant poachers. The poacher ambushed the pair, killing one – officials have not yet released his name. The other ranger pursued the poachers and reportedly killed one of them. These particular poachers have become well known in Tsavo, which has one of the largest populations of savannah elephants in the world. A week earlier, the same group had shot and wounded an elephant, but abandoned it when they realised community scouts were on their tail. The elephant eventually perished from its wounds. Park rangers removed the animal’s ivory and sent it to Nairobi to keep it out of the black market. The slain ranger was in his twenties and leaves behind a young wife. He had only recently graduated from the Kenya Wildlife Service Field Training school in Manyani. “The threats [to rangers] are escalating and with that there is a corresponding need for increased support, which in many cases does not materialise.” said Chris Galliers, the chair of the Game Rangers Association of Africa and the International Ranger Federation African representative. He added that rangers in Africa are working under difficult conditions with “reduced capacity, fatigue, and possibly the need for additional skills.” “It creates a situation where cracks will begin to appear,” he noted. Not all ranger fatalities are at the hands of poachers. Three rangers also died last week in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when their speed boat capsized in Virunga national park. According to chief park warden, Jean Pierre Jobogo Mirindi, nine rangers were patrolling Lake Edward when a heavy wind capsized the boat. Local fishermen rescued six of the rangers, but three of them drowned after foggy conditions complicated the rescue: Bwambale Nyamikenge, Katu Mumbere, and patrol chief, Kasereka Mwana Zaire. Virunga national park is home to a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. But militias and political instability have also made it one of the most dangerous parks in the world for rangers: 150 rangers have been killed in the park during the last ten years. On 24 January two men working for African Parks law enforcement team died in a helicopter crash in Central African Republic. The pilot of the helicopter was also killed. The pilot, Shaun Barendsen was from National Airways Corporation, while David Fine, head of law enforcement, and sous-lieutenant Mbenga-Nzongomblo Ponce Pilate, assistant law enforcement manager, were African Parks employees based in Chinko. In a statement African Parks said: “The helicopter we had chartered in Chinko, Central African Republic, to assist with our law enforcement work, crashed killing all three on board. The helicopter crashed on approaching the landing strip and we are trying to gain a better understanding of the cause of the accident. We are devastated by this tragic news, for the enormous loss of three committed and passionate individuals, and for the loved ones they leave behind, to whom we send our heartfelt condolences.” Finally, in India, a 28-year-old forest ranger passed out while trying to stamp down flames in Bandipur national park. Officials say Murigeppa Tammangol died from asphyxiation, burns and brain damage. Tammangol leaves behind a wife and a three-month-old baby. The local press blamed the fires on “miscreants” from nearby communities. But Bandipur national park is also in the midst of a drought, with two years of unusually dry conditions. Three other people were injured in the blaze and are recovering in the hospital. The Thin Green Line estimates that around 100 rangers are killed in the line of duty every year – approximately two per week.