The National Assembly recently considered, and passed, recommendations to enhance the penalties for poaching in Kenya. Lovers of wild animals were ecstatic. They were wrong. Poaching will not come to an end simply because we propose to impose stiffer, harsher penalties on poachers. We seem to have adopted the inexplicable Western habit of infusing "property" with emotional and spiritual characteristics, and thereby equating them to humans in importance. In some instances, animal "rights" activists (when did animals acquire "rights?") demand that the inevitable "encroachment" of humans into wild-life "zones" be rolled back because of the adverse "impacts" of human activity on wild-life movement and survival.
This is not to argue that poachers should not face harsher penalties, especially now that Kenya's wildlife is being extinguished before our very eyes. But the penalties should reflect the national priorities which include ecological services which only wildlife can provide and the added foreign exchange from tourists that is guaranteed year in, year out, every time we sell the Big Five to myopic Wazungus who wiped out their wildlife generations ago. And we should not only campaign for the safety of the rhino, the elephant or the lion; but also of the rare birds, trees, flowers and enzymes to be found in our wild areas. These are our true source of wealth; the Mzungu knows it which is why he does all he can to keep our wildlife policy focussed on a few species with limited bio-technological potential while he enters into dodgy agreement with ill-managed agencies to loot our bio-inventory for all that it is worth.
Kenya's wildlife policy, if it continues to be managed with a laser-like focus on the Big five, will remain the sham it has been that has allowed thousands of lions, rhinos, elephants and leopards to be destroyed. The Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forestry Service are veritable armies; but unlike the much-adored Kenya Defence Forces or General Service Unit, they receive a pittance for what turns out to be a task that is crucial to our economic survival. Without a well-managed and protected wildlife, Kenya risks economic stagnation despite the lofty goals of the Kenya Vision 2030. "They" say that the worship of mammon has brought many societies low. But how many animist societies survive to this day? All have been wiped out by those that know how to protect their true wealth, which in our case lies in in our wildlife, all of it and not just the Big Five.
We risk going off the path to economic strength if we place too great an emphasis on the morality of the exploitation of wildlife or the infusing of "souls" into intrinsic objects such as animals and plants. What we need is a practical approach to conservation; one that eschews emotion and recognises the economic, and political, importance of our wildlife. We must be prepared to change policies when they do not work. We must adapt to a shifting environment. Emotion has no business at this level, unless it is anger: anger at how our wealth is being frittered away by inaction. By all means, execute poachers; but do so because they are economic saboteurs not because they "made the animals suffer."