Wildlife in the Tsavo habitat in Kenya’s coastal region is under threat due to diminishing pasture caused by human encroachment.
The threats to the animals are compounded by laxity in enforcing the Kenya Wildlife Service Act 2013.
Daniel Kipkosgey, a KWS assistant warden and officer in charge of the Tsavo West National Park southern sector said herding in the park poses a threat to the ecosystem.
“Intrusion by livestock and poachers posing as herders, remains the biggest threat to the pasture,” said Mr Kipkosgey. “The transfer of diseases between livestock and wildlife is a big risk too; the livestock bring ticks to the park that end up affecting the wildebeest and buffaloes. The interaction sometimes brings about unexplainable deaths among the animals.”
According to the KWS Act 2013, any person who commits an offence in respect of an endangered or threatened species or in respect of any trophy of that endangered or threatened species is liable upon conviction to a fine of not less than Ksh20 million ($200,000 million) or imprisonment for life or both.
“Herding falls under encroachment, and those responsible are, therefore liable for prosecution, but this law remains on paper,” said Mr Kipkosgey.
Arresting and prosecuting offenders is a difficult task partly because livestock owners themselves never enter the parks, leaving the animals to children, some as young as 10 years old, Mr Kipkosgey said.
“This makes the implementation of best practices within Kenya’s protected areas a challenge,” he said.
In a bid to enforce the law, KWS has fenced off an area that holds livestock seized in the parks.
In the first week, 1,261 heads of livestock grazing in the park were impounded and two owners arrested. They have been charged in court and fined Ksh100,000 ($1,000) each or six months imprisonment. The offenders were also asked to pay the KWS Ksh298,000 ($2,980) operating fee within 14 days.
The communities bordering national parks do not, however, understand why their livestock must suffer when there is enough pasture inside the parks. During the dry season, finding feed and water for livestock is an uphill task that forces the herders to graze in the parks.
The wildlife reserve is split into Tsavo West and Tsavo East by the railway line from Mombasa to the interior of Kenya. It houses the largest elephant population in the country, estimated at 11,076 from over 45,000 in 1974 — a drop attributed to poaching, drought and natural deaths. Also, while the mortality rate stands at four per cent per annum, the growth rate is two per cent.
Tsavo also hosts rhinos, hippos, lions, cheetah, leopards, buffalos and diverse plant and bird species, including the threatened corncrake.
According to the deputy warden of Tsavo East National Park David Karanja, sometimes large herds of livestock invade the parks, making them look like ranches.
“Our visitors complain about paying a park fee to enjoy the wildlife yet all they see is livestock,” said Mr Karanja.
Jim Nyamu, the director of Elephant Neighbours Centre (ENC), a grassroots community-focused advocacy for natural resources management, in particular elephant welfare under the campaign slogan, “Ivory Belongs To Elephants,” said that there is a need for environmental education among communities surrounding the park.
“In particular, the surrounding communities need to understand the role they can play in sustainable conservation,” said Mr Nyamu.
In partnership with the KWS Tsavo West National Park, ENC has been offering communication training for national resource management.
This is premised on the understanding that local communities are best placed to govern the use of natural resources within their surroundings because they have the greatest understanding of their habitat.
Joyce Njagi, the assistant deputy county commissioner of Taveta sub-county reiterated the need for environmental education.
“It is incumbent upon those living around national parks to be aware of the importance of conservation, and understand the laws that govern protected areas,” said Ms Njagi.