I fell in love with Africa the first time I set eyes on her. Beautiful landscapes set the backdrop for a kaleidoscope of cultures. But, what draws me back to her soils over and over is the bountiful wildlife. It was the wildlife that led me back to Africa, this time to visit Kenya and Tanzania. As I had just completed my Bachelor’s of Science in natural resource ecology and management I was keen to put my new degree to the test on this trip. I made detailed notes of the wildlife I was seeing as I traveled through the parks of these two countries. I quickly noticed some major differences between them and wanted to share my observations and conclusions with the readers of this page.

Grevy's Zebra in Lewa

Grevy’s Zebra in Lewa

Tanzania and Kenya have drastically different approaches when it comes to wildlife management. Kenya has been closed to big game hunting since 1977, whereas Tanzania is still one of the top countries for hunting safaris in Africa. These different approaches have allowed the wildlife of one country to thrive while the other has sharply declined. It may surprise some folks that Tanzania is the one that is actually thriving. For years I have heard and read accounts of how Tanzania’s wildlife is booming while Kenya’s wildlife has declined by 70-80% since the late ’70s. Most of what I have learned about conservation and wildlife management at OSU would support this idea, but my scientific training I received there has also taught me to question everything especially if I cannot find a source without obvious bias. After all, most reports of Tanzania’s success and Kenya’s decline come from pro-hunting sources. Likewise I have read many accounts of Kenya being the best, but these were published by openly anti-hunting organizations. With so much contradicting evidence and very few credible sources I set out to discover the truth for myself. So here is my personal evaluation of both countries:

My time in Kenya was amazing! I have never met friendlier people and it was an awesome experience to walk in the footsteps of some of my personal heroes such as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. I was in the heart of classic Africa and loving it. Which is why I was so disappointed when I realized that everything I had heard was true. I loved the people, landscapes, and history so much that by the end of my time in Kenya my own personal bias made me want to reject what I saw.

At the Watering Hole

The wildlife we saw in Kenya was abysmal compared to what I have seen in other parts of Africa. Tsavo, which I had greatly looked forward to, was almost barren of wildlife except for birds. The birding in Kenya was truly its saving grace, although bird levels were just as good in Tanzania. I can give an exact head count on every mammal species seen in Kenya, whereas in Tanzania the herds were so large I had to estimate numbers. I must admit that I was not able to coordinate a few days in Kenya’s Maasai Mara area, which is supposed to be its best park. However, this is the northern extension of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. For the purpose of removing this bias I can say it is easy to assume the wildlife levels in these parks are relatively the same throughout the year as most species migrate from one to the other. Even removing the Serengeti factor from my analysis the wildlife I observed in all four of Kenya’s parks i visited, including the Lewa Conservancy, combined did not match up with the variety and abundance of wildlife I saw in any of the other three parks I saw in Tanzania. By itself Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park with its small area and extremely thick vegetation, which greatly diminished visibility, surpassed the Kenyan parks.

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But why is this the case? Shouldn’t Kenya’s wildlife be thriving since there is no more hunting? In essence, no. Africa is a hot bed of poaching both for feeding the Asian black market and for feeding the people living near game reserves, bush meat. The main approaches to combat these problems are anti-poaching patrols and public outreach/ community involvement campaigns. Lewa and the surrounding reserves are good examples of community involvement/ outreach programs in Kenya, in fact the Lewa Conservancy will be the topic of my next post as it was the only successful system I witnessed in Kenya. But these methods require a lot of funding, funding which Tanzania has and Kenya does not due to taxes and fees on the hunting industry. A portion of every dollar raised through hunting goes back into conservation. This money pays for education, anti-poaching, habitat improvement, and community development. Not only does the wildlife benefit, the local people receive benefits as well for simply tolerating the wildlife. This is why hunting is such a powerful tool in conservation, it brings value to wildlife which would otherwise be a nuisance.

Poached rhino with  calf

Poached rhino with calf

Conservation, directly managing wildlife through sustainable use, has been superior to preservation, hands off and let nature take its course, throughout much of the history of wildlife management. With an ever expanding human population more and more efforts are needed to protect and conserve wildlife. This is where sustainable use methods of conservation, such as hunting, step in to pay the bills. Tanzania likely has such great wildlife populations today because they have kept this idea as the core of their wildlife management approach, while across the border Kenya has rejected it.

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