When a friend asked me the other day what I like most about Kenyan wildlife, I was quick to answer. I love the fact that Kenya is home to extraordinary versions of ordinary animals. These include the spotless cheetah, the black leopards, the polka-dotted zebra, and of course the white giraffes of Hirola. Therefore, when I learnt about their death yesterday at the Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy, my heart shattered, knowing we had lost yet another priceless piece of heritage.
The reports claim that the giraffes went missing over four months ago. The locals noticed the giraffes’ absence and reported it to the relevant authorities who later discovered their supposed skeletons. The alleged perpetrators are poachers, but it does not make it any less tragic. The death of the white giraffes of Hirola is a massive blow to Kenya as a whole, and these are my thoughts on it:
Rare Animals need Special Security
It was not until black rhinos were on the brink of extinction that they got special attention from the Kenyan government. They were transferred to animal sanctuaries that had 24/7 security. I believe the same should apply to the few rare animals that Kenya has. Just as the late, President Moi did when we had the biggest tusker in the world. The unfortunate mentality that human beings have about rare things makes them a daily target.
People in the black market believe that these rare animals possess unique traits. For example that they can perhaps treat illnesses, or bring good luck. For some, wearing something made out of the skin or fur of a rare animal is a fashion statement. I understand that it is important to let these unique creatures live in the wild with their kind, but when it comes down to choosing between their comfort and safety, I strongly suggest the latter.
Safeguard the location of Rare Animals
It all trickles down to security. In an age driven by technology, it only takes the click of a button to spread the word to billions of people in a matter of seconds. While this is great, we should also appreciate its darker side. When we share the exact location of these rare gems without a clear protection plan to safeguard them when the big bad wolf in the form of poachers comes huffing and puffing, then we put them at great risk. Perhaps, if we shared photos of the white giraffes of Hirola or the black leopard of Laikipia from a heavily protected animal sanctuary, we would not have to worry about losing them so suddenly and harshly.
Kenya needs to be more Pragmatic about its Poaching Laws
In theory, there are very many laws against poaching in Kenya. However, rhinos, hippos and elephants still die because of their ivory. Illegal traders still trap and kill thousands of birds for their meat and feathers. The story is the same for most of the animals in our forests and savannah plains. Our unfortunate belief in the animals’ abilities to reproduce fast does more harm than good. It is when extinction threatens that we begin to panic. Maybe if we acted sooner, we would have healthier and more vibrant wildlife and no worries about their continued flourish.
We need to be more Patriotic as Kenyans
Another sad but true weakness of most Kenyans is individualism. We do not complain about things that do not affect us directly. When the prices of tomatoes and other foods go high, we will riot. However, when the white giraffes of Hirola suffer the tragic fate of poachers, we shake our heads in feigned sadness and go about our daily lives.
Consequently, when the poachers discover that we do not do much to find and punish them, they get bolder in their despicable ways. It is no wonder that it took us four months to realise the white giraffes had died. We need to be more patriotic about every aspect of Kenya and not just the economy and politics. Did you know that if we entirely erased our wildlife, Kenya’s economy would suffer irreparable damage? Wildlife is the major reason tourism is a USD 6 billion market which contributes 8.8% to the country’s GDP. In fact, most tourists come to Kenya for the wildlife first, then the weather and culture in that order. Without these animals, trees, and natural sites such as lakes that we so quickly destroy and desert, we would not have a country to boast about.
Recommendations for a Better Future for Kenya’s Wildlife
Pointing out all the mistakes we make as Kenyans regarding our wildlife is futile if I do not at least try to give some solutions. Some of the ways to improve the safety and health of our flora, fauna and natural resources at large include:
- Enacting and implementing strict and severe laws against poaching of any form.
- Enhancing the security of rare and endangered animals in Kenya.
- Providing community education and empowerment so that the locals know how to respond to poachers before the authorities arrive.
- Limiting the spread of information about rare animals in Kenya or at least doing it responsibly.
- Intentionally and constantly caring and attending to wildlife and natural resources.
The death of the white giraffes of Hirola profoundly saddens me. I hope we can learn how lucky we were to have had them in our custody and how unfortunate it is to now lose them. Animal lives are as important as our own. We are all living on borrowed time and space. I leave you to ponder on the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.