By Fredrick Nzwili
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, on a three-day visit to Kenya, announced May 10 that China will provide $10 million to support wildlife protection and conservation in Africa and help establish an African Ecological and Wildlife Centre in Nairobi.
During Li’s visit, Kenya and China signed a total of 17 agreements, which include a grant that will enable the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to acquire surveillance and night-vision equipment valued at about $530,000.
This will help KWS’s new anti-poaching initiative, known as Owning the Night, in parks and game reserves: “It is expected that rangers securing wildlife ranges in the country will now track suspected poachers day and night,” KWS noted on its website on May 13.
China will also provide “cooperation grants” that could be used to help Kenya fight hunger or disease, as well as interest-free and concessional loans and assistance for the construction of a new standard gauge railway.
The $3.8 billion passenger and freight railway line, which will replace one built by the British government in the 19th century, will run from the coastal city of Mombasa to the capital, Nairobi, and will branch into Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan, and Rwanda.
“This is Big”
Details of the conservation pledge remain scanty, although it is seen as boost for wildlife conservation in Africa, where poaching of elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns is on the rise.
“This is big, although we’re still waiting for the details,” Timothy Oloo, Kenya country director of the Born Free Foundation, a U.K.-based conservation charity, told National Geographic. “Anything that will help wildlife conservation and stop poaching is very welcome. We applaud it.”
The escalation of smuggling is blamed on the increased consumer demand for ivory and rhino horns in Asian black markets, including China and Vietnam. Corrupt officials, wars, and poverty in ivory source countries exacerbate the poaching epidemic.
Every year tens of thousands of elephants are brutally killed for their ivory, and conservationists warn that at that rate the African elephant could be wiped out in wild in the next decade or so, unless measures to protect the species aren’t enhanced. (So far this year, about 60 elephants and more than 20 rhinos have been killed.)
In Kenya, Li and his delegation toured Nairobi National Park, taking an evening game drive to view elephants and other wildlife. Later, at a state banquet, he described Kenya as one of the cradles of mankind, renowned for its time-honored history, culture, and enchanting landscape.
Good Faith Cooperation
While at the park, he visited a monument erected at the site where President Daniel Arap Moi in 1989, disgusted with poaching, set ablaze 25 tons of illegal ivory and hunting trophies.
Conservationists say the monument represents Kenya’s resolve to protect its wildlife heritage for the future.
And for the Chinese leader, a visit to the monument symbolized China’s commitment to help Kenya eliminate poaching and the smuggling of wildlife products to his country.
“Our visit shows that the two sides are cooperating in good faith to jointly combat poaching and ivory smuggling and protect wildlife,” said Li, who was on the final leg of an Africa tour that also took in Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Angola.
Addressing journalists at the monument, Li said that China, like many other signatories to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is concerned about the increase in global ivory smuggling and poaching.
His country, he said, had since come up with new laws to help counter smuggling. In April, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress clarified the laws on illegal wildlife trade, stipulating that anyone who eats an endangered animal or buys one for any purpose is punishable with up to ten years in jail.
China’s commitment to ending ivory smuggling and poaching was emphasized early this year, Li said, when China destroyed 6.1 tons of confiscated ivory ornaments and tusks.
President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledged the new Chinese support, saying that the two countries would jointly lead the fight against poaching under the auspices of the African Ecological and Wildlife Centre, which will coordinate wildlife protection and ecological preservation in Africa.
“We have committed ourselves to lead the fight against poaching,” said Kenyatta, adding that anticipated increases in the number of Chinese tourists in Kenya would help as those visitors carry home the message that wildlife preservation is important.