'Illegal' decision puts Kenya's wildlife heritage in jeopardy

If they look closely enough, they may often see a young Masai boy in traditional dress, hiding from wardens as he grazes his family's goats within the boundaries of the park.

The 400sq km park cuts right through traditional Masai grazing grounds and in the dry season young goat- and cowherds surreptitiously bring their animals into the park to feed them. If the Kenya Wildlife Service wardens spot them, they drive them out and occasionally fine them.

But this month, the Kenyan government under President Mwai Kibaki decided to hand over management of the park to the local authorities, which the Masai run.

Predictably, this has caused uproar from environmentalists who fear the park's stock of big game will suffer.

It has also angered opponents of President Kibaki who suspect the park is being sacrificed for electoral purposes.

The government insists the move rights a historical wrong. The land was first allocated as a game reserve in 1906, when Kenya was a British colony. But for several decades, the Masai were still allowed to graze their animals there.

But as the 20th century progressed, environmentalists became more concerned with securing the environment for wild animals, perhaps, than for the local people.

In 1974, Amboseli was officially turned into a national park and the Masai lost all rights to graze or benefit from the land.

David Western, a former director of KWS, admits the Masai were not treated fairly. "The wildlife in Amboseli has flourished largely because of the protection afforded by the local community, not KWS rangers," he said. "The elephant population has grown from less than 500 in 1977 to around 1,400 today. Over two-thirds are outside - on community land protected by Masai scouts." But critics insists the move has nothing to do with ethics; there is a referendum coming on a new constitution for Kenya that - if it succeeds - would increase the powers of the President. They claim Mr Kibaki merely wants to buy Masai votes.

Either way, conservation groups, most of them based outside Kenya, are furious.

Will Travers, chief executive of the Born Free Foundation, which is leading the campaign to stop the action said: "I am fearful that Amboseli National Park, which is so important to Kenya and to Kenya's wildlife, is the victim of an arbitrary and illegal decision which puts the wildlife of this world-famous area at risk." It is easy to see why Amboseli raises such passions. The park hosts one of the largest and most important elephant populations in Africa, and has been featured in numerous wildlife documentaries.

But it is also home to lions, leopards, rhinos, cheetahs, and around 400 species of birds.

The park raises more than $3m worth of revenue annually, which the KWS uses to subsidise less lucrative parks elsewhere in the country.

Under Mr Kibaki's plans, these funds will go to the local Olkejuado county council. The Masai have long complained that the KWS and foreign environmentalists forget they have lived alongside wildlife for centuries and are their natural custodians. If they regain Amboseli, they will have the chance to prove they still are.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003