Tuesday, 26 May 2020

THE FOUNDERS OF CONSERVATION IN E.A.

The white population in colonial Kenya were the minority yet they were the only group allowed to hunt in the local traditional reserves they created and Africans were only allowed to use their traditional methods of hunting where they only killed wildlife for the pot , but the ‘ mzungu’ as the natives called them would hunt priced animals and sell or keep trophies because the game laws favored them and made life intolerable for Africans , so hunting of lions , elephants and the huge buffalo was the preserve of the few whites. The colonial government justified its repression by claiming that Africans would wipe out the game if given free licenses to hunt, but it is believed that the undercurrent of racism didn’t bubble over until Uhuru  “ independence “ gave Africans a chance to vent their feelings.

Things got really bad when a new brand of poachers from the mushrooming towns brought in commercial gains into the game war and they would bribe peasant farmers into killing game. There was a distinction between a traditional hunter and the new breed of commercial meat poachers who were mainly town folks in that traditional hunters had boundless knowledge of wildlife and they were undoubtedly part of the romance and mystiques of Africa as held by the white hunters as opposed to the new group who were led by greed and who used firearms to wantonly kill game for money.

Mervyn Hugh Cowie who was a retired army colonel had established himself as a strong believer in wildlife preservation and he had in many occasions suggested the formation of National Parks as the last safe havens for game but the local white population opposed his ideas because they feared that they would be cut off from their fun and ecstasy of trophy hunting, so as a last resort, he artfully planted a letter in the east Africa  standard newspaper siding with the farmers calling for all wild animals to be shot and for the so called Nairobi Commonage { current Nairobi national park} to be turned over as farm land  , and to hide his identity he signed as ‘ old settler’ .  It took a bit of time and plenty of talks amid international and public protests , before the ruse paid off and the government formed a committee to examine the matter and a national parks board was eventually established with Cowie as its chairman. The Nairobi National park was established in 1946 and there after other parks followed including Serengeti which was started in 1951. Mr. Cowie was made the first director of the Nairobi Park.

It must have been due to a reflection of his successes in balancing his needs to the preserve with the needs of the local population that he remained director of Parks after Kenya gained independence, and it was rumored that Cowie chased a wounded elephant away from princess Elizabeths party during her visit in 1952 to the Treetops hotel in Aberdare park.

The whites in colonial EA were apprehensive because by 1955 their government was contemplating handing over the reins of government to the Africans but they were not sure of the future of wildlife , and there could be no doubt that the dividing lines were being drawn, with the natives intent in killing off wildlife they had come to hate and the Europeans who thought of preserving them. It is obvious that conflict between humans and wild animals came into fore in EA when the natives came to realize that only the whites were allowed to kill game and the game department took days or never responded to the cries of the local farmers when wildlife destroyed their farms, but they would respond immediately when natives killed a problem animal in their farms. These was the only reason why Africans hated wild animals, which is why they aided poaching gangs that decimated wildlife for commercial gains.

Human wildlife conflict is an exam that we have failed to pass even today because we have not stopped the fight between man and wild animals . We have failed to spell out the legislation in support of utilization as inscribe in the constitution, yet we are the lead agency in the formulation and implementation of the policies related to wildlife utilization,  and we have decided to bury our heads in the sand hopping and wishing that the conflict will snooze off till we retire.  We are sure to be judged fairly by history, but i fear that history books will not remember us like the legendary Colonel Mervyn Hugh Cowie, for we failed in the commissions and omissions in the performance of our primary duties which is to restore harmony between man and wildlife.


I beg to be corrected.

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