The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is a State corporation whose mandate is to conserve and manage the country’s wildlife. In addition to maintaining stewardship of Kenya’s national parks and reserves, KWS undertakes conservation and management of wildlife resources outside protected areas, in collaboration with stakeholders.
The community wildlife programme of KWS encourages biodiversity conservation by communities living on land essential to wildlife, such as wildlife corridors and dispersal lands outside parks and reserves KWS employs a multi-pronged approach and strategies and engages different interest groups, stakeholders and partners. The idea is that “if people benefit from wildlife and other natural resources, then they will take care of these resources”. The year 2011 saw a subtle but important shift in the articulation of the KWS mission.
The organisation realigned its Strategic Plan away from aspiring to be a world leader in wildlife – a task that its management felt had largely been accomplished – towards ‘saving the last great species and spaces on earth for humanity’. This puts greater emphasis on the urgency of protecting Kenya’s natural heritage from the threats of the growing population, climate change, wildlife crime and abuse of the environment. Although KWS continues to market Kenya’s wildlife heritage in its entirety both at home and abroad, it was keen to spread the financial risk and ecological burden arising from having too many tourists in some parks and not enough in others.
Currently, 80 per cent of all park visitors frequent just five of Kenya’s 65 protected areas – Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, the Tsavos and the Aberdares. To redress the balance, KWS structured Park fees and aligned its marketing to encourage visitors to Mount Kenya, the Nairobi National Park, Hell’s Gate, the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary and the Marine Parks on the coast. KWS also established a new rhino sanctuary in Ruma National Park in Nyanza Region. This is expected to bring more tourists to the Western circuit. KWS, in an effort to improve services and revenue collection, has introduced a new park entry system, the Safari Card, available at selected Equity Bank outlets.
A couple of landmark events in 2011 included the burning of illegally acquired ivory in Tsavo West National Park. This was presided over by the Head of State, and attended by eminent conservationists and parties to the Lusaka Agreement, a regional wildlife law enforcement agency, of which Kenya is a member. Another key achievement was the acquisition of Laikipia National Park, a 17,000 acre migratory corridor between Laikipia and Samburu that has hitherto been unprotected. One particularly innovative method of adapting land for wildlife is the notion of ‘voluntary land easement’, in which the landowner agrees to restrict its use to be compatible with wildlife conservation for an agreed period. This has been done with land adjacent toNairobi National Park, and KWS plans to extend this model to other wildlife areas in the country.
Wildlife conservation in Kenya is primarily financed by funds raised from park entry fees (conservation fees), accommodation facilities, rent and leases, government subventions, donors and fund raising events held in various national parks. The total revenue has consistently grown over the last 10 ten years. KWS started a number of bold initiatives to support the conservation and management of wildlife. Besides being a national pride and international heritage as well as the backbone of the tourism sector, Kenya’s wildlife is a vital component of the biological diversity essential for sustaining life and economic development.