Residents of Kwale County have been asked to support wildlife tourism by visiting game reserves in the region.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Senior Warden Jacob Orahle, says now that the government ended travel restrictions and curfews, it is time residents contributed to the survival of wildlife reserves.
Orahle noted that the coastal county’s economy which depends on wildlife tourism was hit at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He says the relaxation of the Covid-19 guidelines presents an opportunity for residents to contribute to the growth of the tourism economy.
Orahle said wildlife is a major contributor to the tourism sector which has created employment opportunities for the residents.
The county boasts to be the home of the Shimba Hills National Reserve, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, and Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park.
The senior KWS warden in the county says the state corporation undertakes conservation and management of wildlife resources across all protected ecosystems in collaboration with stakeholders such as the Kenya Forest Service.
Speaking to KNA in his office, Orahle said he expects the number of tourists visiting the reserves to increase after the government lifted some of the restriction measures in light of a drop in new Covid-19 cases.
Orahle added that in the past few weeks, more foreign and domestic tourists have been visiting the reserves, raising hopes for a turnaround of the economy.
“The situation is getting better day by day and we hope our economy improves in the coming months. We are glad that our parks are becoming busy,” Orahle said.
He said the situation in the wildlife reserves worsened when the country went into lockdown in March 2020 threatening wildlife sustainability.
He said following the restrictions, the reserves’ visitation dropped from 24,176 in the year 2019 to 10,580 in 2020.
He said the tourism high season beckons and the tallies are expected to shoot as the coastal region receives a lot of foreign and domestic tourists.
From July 2021, the national reserves in the county have witnessed a revival of sorts with tourist visitations offering a sigh of relief to many residents who depend on the natural resource for livelihood.
The senior warden noted that the wildlife centers in the coastal county have been a key employment ground for many youths.
He said conservancies create jobs besides providing wonderful experiences of wildlife viewing.
“Wildlife parks offer unique experiences for watching animals in their natural habitats,” he said.
He added that the economic stimulus strategy initiated by the government in February 2021 through KWS, has offered employment opportunities for hundreds of youths in the county.
Orahle said through the project, many households have been able to put food on the table.
The senior warden said KWS commissioned the release of Sh1.6 million for 131 ascertained cases in the county since 2018 where individuals lost their lives after being attacked by wild animals or property destroyed following an invasion by wild animals.
The compensated cases are among the numerous cases reported since 2014 after the government enacted the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013.
The Act provides for the establishment of the County Wildlife Conservation and Compensation Committee.
The committee comprises a Chairperson appointed by the Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary who is the County Commissioner, four persons who are not public servants nominated by the community, an officer from the service who is the secretary, and other relevant technical officers at the county government level.
However, Orahle said efforts to compensate the victims were delayed because most of the victims did not have National Identity cards.
“Let’s make sure we have national identity cards for us to get compensated. It’s very difficult to convince the government to cash someone whose identity is unknown,” Orahle added.
The county wildlife manager asked residents to conserve and protect wildlife as it forms an important pillar of the county’s economy.
By Raymond Zaka and Hussein Abdullahi