CRISIS MEETING AT KWS AS BACKLASH AGAINST BAN ORDER COMES BACK TO HAUNT THEM
(Posted 19th February 2020)
Information received from usually well informed sources close to KWS speak of alarm bells ringing through the corridors of top management, following the backlash in public opinion and growing unease over the unilateral and illegal ban order inflicted on Dr. Paula Kahumbu, one of Kenya’s most respected conservationists.
www.ATCNews.org yesterday broke the news just an hour after Dr. Paula Kahumbu was barred from entering the Nairobi National Park but to this moment is any official response from KWS lacking, as top management appears to have been thrown into panic mode over the fallout of their catastrophic decision.
Meanwhile has Dr. Paula Kahumbu responded to the thousands of messages of support and solidarity and wrote on her Facebook page just a short while ago:
Thank you everyone for your solidarity and support.
Having this conversation out on social media may seem assertive, but I want everyone to know that every letter to the authorities asking for a conversation, has gone unanswered. Hundreds of letters were sent by other organizations – none were answered except by NEMA who asked for detailed impact assessment and permits. I and the conservation community did speak to the Chairman of KWS before the event, and yesterday I went to the Director Generals Office as instructed but when I got there, they said he was not there.
I wish to answer a few questions raised by John Mbaria who supported my actions but wondered why I challenged Koroga and not other events.
Why didn’t I challenge the Safaricom Jazz Festival which was also held at Hell’s Gate? Because I was not aware of the Safaricom Jazz Festival. In fact the Koroga Festival was announced on Dec 26th and I would not have known if it wasn’t for others. I received numerous calls from young Kenyans in other sectors who asked me to intervene. I brought it up with the vulture community who have consistently raised the alarm about disturbance levels in Hell’s Gate. They believe the disappearance of 5 Vultures from Hell’s Gate are linked to disturbances including geothermal energy plants, Safaricom Jazz and the wheel barrow race. Koroga Festival was a particularly big problem as it is planned as an annual 48 hour loud music lights at night affair for 15-20,000 people. This would prevent nesting vultures and birds of prey from hunting for 48 hours. This would cause chicks to die and adults to abandon nests. The biology was lost on the lawyers for the event and KWS who literally said “they are just birds”.
The Koroga Festival was planned to be many times bigger than the wheel barrow race (about 1000 ppl on one day and during daytime) , and safaricom Jazz ( 5-8 pm with 200 pax). You can see the there is a massive difference in scale between these and Koroga. In my opinion all should be stopped to let Hells Gate recover.
The Koroga event was scaled back to 6pm – midnight for 2 nights though the numbers of 15-20,00 were expected on each night with loud booming music echoing off the cliffs, and bright lights shining into the sky. We needed experts, scientists or bird researchers to explain this to the organizers and the judge to explain how the disturbance from sound and light would affect birds. The relevant experts however were being intimidated, research permits withheld, access to hells Gate made difficult, one local scientist was called into the local KWS office to “explain himself”. He left shaking. Intimidation worked at keeping them out of court.
So please know that my denial of entry into one of my favorite places, the Nairobi park, was nothing compared to what they are doing to others to muzzle them. This intimidation of independent scientists is what we should all be outraged about.
People have asked if there was any impact of the festival on wildlife. Well, like the SGR, there was deliberate effort to ensure nobody could evaluate the impact. We could not form or photograph nests before, during or after the event. So there is no data. And apart from cleaning litter, and keeping the revellers behind a fence, no effort was made to limit the decibels or to stick to the times.
Regardless, parks are no place for music festivals no matter how much money they generate.
I’ve also been asked why I am not fighting to stop music events in the Conservancies like Lewa. Well, the parks belong to the people of Kenya and they are governed by clear legal frameworks . It’s my duty as a citizen to defend these landscapes first. If we can’t uphold the law on state property and show a good example, then we certainly have No right to stop similar events on private lands.
Paul Udoto questioned my failure to halt wildlife declines on community and private lands outside of parks. He is right -we have collectively failed. More, much more can be done when KWS engages private citizens in a proactive cooperative way. But let us not confuse our duties in National Patks- it is KWS duty to first and foremost defend the parks. If they are failing in achieving that then they have no argument against areas outside parks. Millions of citizens are ready to join hands and help from school kids who helped us remove invasive species in Nairobi park, to “Friends Of”organizations who do litter clean ups, and citizen scientists who are helping to collect data. Stopping Paula Kahumbu only strengthens and emboldens others.
I am humbled by the amount of public support and action that I have seen over the Koroga Festival debacle. No official information has been revealed on the numbers of attendees or the impact of the festival. Estimates of 3,000 attendees suggests it was not as well attended as they had hoped. The numbers do not matter to KWS as they got their money as a consolidated fee (regardless of numbers). One attendee told me that his estimate was 2/3 of participants wore wrist bands meaning they had received free access which matched another person who said they saw free passes being handed out at a local hotel, others saw them being issued through social media. So It’s clear that many people did boycott the event out of reverence for the wildlife. For this I am hugely grateful.
The campaign and court case also had an impact – The cleanup during the event was exceptional. Going by what we have seen at other Koroga Festivals, it would not have happened if we had not pushed for it., The noise levels were however deafening and far exceeded the decibel permit, and the event went beyond midnight (the permit that they showed in court was for 8 am to 5 pm.
We must continue to fight for our parks and our wildlife. What we are witnessing today is an unfortunate situation and perhaps Parliament can now hold the authorities to account. We must be vigilant that amendments to the Act are not slipped in quietly to legalize future events of this kind.
Conservation organizations, including mine are not trouble makers. We are not dissidents or a threat to state security. We are fighting for the preservation of our heritage, our economy, and we are fighting against corruption and impunity. I know, it might seem like we are against our authorities. We are not.
WildlifeDirect and others have been fighting for KWS over the years. We supported greater financial allocation to the wildlife authority over the years. We have attended functions celebrating conservation successes, contributed to state positions like at CITES, organized events like the Global March for Elephants. We have promoted park visitation, taken thousands of kids to parks each year. We held educational programs and produce a TV series to inspire Kenyans to care about wildlife and visit our protected areas. We are catalyzing an economy around wildlife film making which will bring income to community owned conservation lands at a time when authorities need to urgently find appropriate incentives to save buffer zones a wildlife dispersal areas. Our films screening across Africa, are sending a powerful message about Kenyas success in saving wildlife across the continent. We have trained dozens of conservationists. We track wildlife crime, train magistrates and judges – convictions are now at 95%. Our team of 12 staff and interns has made a significant contribution to conservation given our limited funding and space that we are able to operate in. Our impact has been enormous.
We didn’t take on Koroga Festival because we are fools, fickle, mean or small minded. No, we see a dangerous precedent that needs to be urgently and efficiently nipped in the bud if Kenya is to retain her position as a world super power in conservation.
But as I speak, studies are revealing that lions, cheetah, rhino, giraffe, Grevys zebra, Sable and Roan Antelope, Kongoni, hirola and Sitatunga, Bongo, Vultures, Eagles and many other species are in severe decline. Climate change, habitat loss, and rising human populations are exacerbating the problems.
The crisis facing wildlife in Kenya requires cooperation from all sectors. It cannot be solved through banning people access to parks, punishing those for from blowing the whistle, or using legal options to to save wildlife. On the contrary, the solution requires public engagement and support. Creating a generation of courageous Wildlife Warriors is not a threat but a massive opportunity for Kenya. We just need to open our eyes and minds.
Thank you to everyone who has spoken out and supported our efforts. We will not stop until we win.
Many people are asking how they can help. My message to you is GO TO THE PARKS ON MY BEHALF. Make your visit public, report on the good, and the challenges. Show KWS that you care. Know that you own the parks, and that you are willing to fight for them.
It goes to show that despite personal attacks against Dr. Paula Kahumbu she kept the moral high ground and, as before, responded with facts rather than taking the bait of her detractors who themselves engaged in mudslinging.
ATCNews again affirms the fullest support to Dr. Paula Kahumbu and encourages readers to share their own stories via the comment column of this and the previous article, to make Kenya’s powers that be understand that a red line has been crossed and all legal means will be used to have those responsible and those complicit answer and then resign from their posts.