By Sharon Atieno
Though wildlife remains a key economic sector for the country, challenges remain in securing migratory corridors and wildlife dispersal areas.
A 2017 report on Wildlife corridors and dispersal areas identified 52 migratory routes or corridors in the northern Kenya rangelands and coastal terrestrial ecosystems and 58 migratory routes and corridors in the southern Kenya rangeland ecosystems.
However, the report finds that almost all the wildlife dispersal areas and migratory corridors in Kenyan rangelands have been interfered with by human activities to an extent; some are highly threatened or have been completely blocked.
Speaking during a webinar convened by Earth Journalism Network on Why wildlife migratory corridors matter, Dr. Paula Kahumbu, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Wildlife Direct, said that linear infrastructure such as roads and railways, and fencing by new landowners along migratory routes and corridors is posing a great challenge to wildlife.
“As a result of these developments what we are seeing is a fragmented landscape that animals cannot navigate. Land is further degraded by the structures themselves. It affects the soil as well as water and water flow,” she said.
“Many of these migratory animals are being threatened by these developments. We tend to think of animals which are walking on land. But also animals of the air are affected by lights because they use light in order to navigate. Their movements are affected by too much light. We see animals moving towards rubbish dumps for example, marabou stocks in Nairobi.”
Dr. Kahumbu added that they are also threats to animals that live in and along water ways. Dams in particular, which are being erected at a high speed across the continent with an aim of improving access to water, power generation or irrigation are actually interfering with the migration of fish. We are losing our diversity of fish in the continent which is an important part of our livelihoods, she said.
According to Dickson Kaelo, CEO of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, majority of the wildlife being lost currently is not as a result of poaching, but due to the improved road and infrastructure network in Kenya including those penetrating in some of the critical wildlife spaces.
“What is worse, is that a lot of the animals dying on our roads are the very endangered species that tend to be nocturnal. The blinding lights of vehicles during the night and the careless drivers that are not sensitized to pay attention when a wild animal appears and they just drive and knock it over is an issue that needs to be alleviated,” he said.
“This includes also the number of wildlife that get trapped in fences. There are a lot of animals that try to cross fences and get entangled because lots of people are using different textiles of fences. Most of these go unreported and don’t get the attention they deserve yet if you look at the collective number over the years, you actually realize that perhaps these are the main drivers of biodiversity loss in the country.”
In her remarks, Elizabeth Gitari-Mitaru, Advocate for Conservation Alliance of Kenya, said “There is some modicum protection for migratory corridors of animals within the country and you’ll find it dispersed within the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA 99) and Wildlife Conservation Act but not as robustly as would be needed.”
She added that “there is no specific law which outlines the corridors and gives specific protection for them or states what somebody can and cannot do in a wildlife corridor.”
Gitari-Mitaru called for the need to strike a balance between the right of conserving and protecting the environment which is referred by the constitution as the national heritage for the citizens of Kenya vis a vis the property rights of the community.
Additionally, the management and conservation of wildlife migratory corridors is too broad, she said.
This includes the management of the wildlife itself and the management of the land the wildlife is migrating on, Gitari-Mitaru said, noting that land use planning and zoning is a function of the county government whereas the burden of the mandate for environmental governance and wildlife governance and management belongs to the national government.
“What is actually needed is a mechanism that links these two processes to ensure that at the end of the day biodiversity wins as well as communities which provide this public good by giving up their land for wildlife habitats,” she said.
Kaelo noted that conservation has always been pursued with the assumption that wildlife needs to be on its own and that protected areas are supposed to be places without people. On the other hand, human development has been pursued to be providing services and building an environment for people without wildlife.
“The failure of past models of conservation was to try and create a dichotomy between conservation and human development. There is need to begin addressing both in one space using a particular model,” he said,adding that conservancies are one of these models where coexistence is created between people and wildlife.
“Today, we have nearly six million hectares of land that is wildlife friendly, where wildlife is welcome and land use is not excluding wildlife.”
Both experts underscored the need for wildlife-friendly infrastructure, such as underpasses, overpasses and fencing where movement of wildlife is not restricted.