KWS is been preparing for the celebration of Nairobi National Park’s 50th Anniversary throughout 1996. The approach of the anniversary year and the selection of its them, PARKS BEYOND PARKS, has provided our organization with a special opportunity to reflect upon the vision and resourcefulness that planted Kenya firmly on the path of conservation a half century ago and to contemplate with some urgency the direction KWS should take as it guides Kenyan conservation into the twenty-first century.
If we owe a great debt to the pioneers who 90 years ago established Kenya’s Game Department and, 40 years later, its first National Park, we owe as much if not more to those who strove to conserve wildlife after independence. Although the outside world predicted a wildlife massacre after uhuru, it didn’t happen. Kenya now boasts 59 parks and reserves ranging from coral reefs to deserts, forests and the snows of Mount Kenya. The Swahili word safari is internationally synonymous with our wildlife pageantry. The tourism industry, which accounts for 11% of our GDP and 18% of all wage employment, depends almost wholly on wildlife attractions. Finally, every Kenyan recognizes the value of our parks, and our national commitment to conservation is second to none.
In this Golden Jubilee year, we have every reason to celebrate our parks and our conservation successes. But as we do so, we must also take stock. Times have changed, and national parks, however vital, are not in themselves enough to save wildlife.
With more than 75% of Kenya’s wild animals residing outside the country’s protected areas, we can no longer ignore the tussle between ordinary people and wildlife. Our successes notwithstanding, we have yet to overcome the greatest challenge: that of living with animals rather than confining them to protected areas. Until such time as we do so – and as long as we continue to ignore the conflict – wildlife will never be truly secure in Kenya, no matter how many parks and reserves we have.