Nairobi-January 6, 2017: WildlifeDirect express deep dismay at the decision by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) to grant approval for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to pass through the Nairobi National park, despite overwhelming public opposition. The government has promised that the railway will not impede wildlife migrations, and that funds will be made available to improve the status of this and other parks in the country, while protecting the people who live adjacent to parks.
On December 13, 2016, NEMA issued a license giving Kenya Railways the go-ahead to construct SGR Phase 2A that will pass through the middle of Nairobi National Park on an elevated bridge.
The Park is Kenya’s oldest protected natural area and the only National Park in the world located within a major city. It contains more biodiversity than many entire countries and is a sanctuary of global significance for some endangered species, notably the black rhinoceros. The Park is also a refuge from city life that provides incalculable benefits for millions of Nairobi residents, as well as for tourists and business visitors from all over the world.
On October 27, 2016 WildlifeDirect’s convened a forum bringing together stakeholders from many sectors, who were unanimous in calling on Kenya Railways to search for an alternative solution that would preserve the integrity of the Park. These efforts have fallen on deaf ears and the Park now faces an uncertain future.
The decision to route the railway through the Park not only goes against public opinion, but it also ignores the advice of numerous scientific experts who have warned of its irreversible consequences. Moreover it sets a very dangerous precedent for other Protected Areas in Kenya threatened by infrastructure projects, mining, and unregulated urban and agricultural expansion. It especially undermines the budding conservancy movement in which hundreds of Kenyans have invested their land in conservation.
To ensure that the railway has minimal impact, WildlifeDirect will be monitoring compliance on all the conditions of the license and laws of Kenya. Speaking on phone from London, Dr. Paula Kahumbu said, “While we acknowledge that infrastructure development is urgently required in Kenya, WildlifeDirect is concerned that it greatly amplifies threats to wildlife. We commit to supporting the efforts of the Government of Kenya and the Kenya Railways to ensure that they deliver in their promise of ensuring minimal environmental degradation impact of the Park, while improving the conservation status of wildlife across Kenya.”
In April 2016, Kenya’s conservation reputation received a boost when President Uhuru Kenyatta set aflame 105 tonnes of ivory. This historic event sent out a clear message that protecting our national heritage is more important than short-term economic gain. At this time of rapid economic growth for Africa, the challenge of protecting wildlife will increasingly require a well informed and engaged public, infrastructures that work, and the rule of law to be upheld. WildlifeDirect invites Kenyans from all walks of life to support environmentally friendly developments that protect our country’s unique natural heritage, and to report on any developments that are in violation of the country’s environmental policies.
For more information please contact: Patricia Sewe, Communications Manager
Today is the deadline for commenting on the environmental impact assessment of the proposal to route the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Phase II A through Nairobi National Park. I urge all citizens and people around the world who care about Nairobi Park to communicate their concerns to NEMA’s Director General Geoffrey Wahungu. Here’s why you should write now to demand that NEMA rejects Kenya Railways’ application to run a railway through Park:
Nairobi National Park is a priceless national asset: The new rail line will be boon for the economy. Opponents of the route through the Park all agree that it should be built. Nairobi Park is also a boon for the economy, but it is much more than that. It is a symbol of our national identity and Kenya’s leadership of wildlife conservation in Africa, a wildlife sanctuary of global significance, and a unique and irreplaceable resource for the health, well-being and education of our citizens.
We can’t take the risk: There are those who argue persuasively that the raised construction of railway will mitigate damage to the Park and safeguard its wildlife. But we simply can’t afford to take the risk—and we don’t have to, as there other viable routes available.
Kenya’s reputation is at stake: Just a few months ago, the eyes of the world were on Kenya as President Kenyatta set fire to our ivory stockpiles and declared that elephants are “worth more alive”. This courageous stand was inspired by the understanding that our national heritage is more important than short-term economic expediency. Taking the wrong decision now will significantly damage Kenya’s international reputation as a world leader in conservation, and the image and name of our President as Africa’s number one champion for wildlife.
It will set a dangerous precedent: This decision is about more than Nairobi Park, it is about our vision for the future of our continent. Allowing the railway to go through the Park will make it more difficult to defend all the other parks and reserves, forests and other areas of national heritage threatened by similar development projects. It will also set a precedent for the rest of Africa.
It’s our democratic right and duty: This is about process as well as outcomes. Kenya has procedures and laws in place to regulate decisions about development projects. But governments will only respect these procedures if we, as citizens, show that we care and exercise our democratic right to take part in the process to demand that they do so.
It’s for our grandchildren: As a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, Kenya is legally obliged to pursue forms of development that are compatible with environmental conservation. African nations have a duty to honour these commitments, in order to bequeath a healthy planet to future generations.
With the election of a climate change denier to the White House, it is clear that, in an increasingly uncertain world, Africans can no longer rely on others to fight our battles for us. It is our responsibility safeguard the future of the continent for our children and grandchildren. A courageous decision to adopt an alternative route will establish Kenya’s leadership of efforts to achieve sustainable development for Africa and its people, while protecting wildlife and the environment.
In the 70 years since the Park was gazetted, Nairobi residents have come to take it for granted, and it has been underused. But now and in the future it will be needed more than ever as a refuge from the frenetic pace and stress of city life. Now is not the time to cut the Park in two. We need a new plan for the Park that will transform it into a living resource for the benefit of all our citizens, as those who founded it intended it to be.
Today is the deadline for submitting comments to National Environment Management Authority – Kenya. Please write your note to [email protected] and cc [email protected] so that we can hand deliver a physical copy of your letter today (pls send before 2pm)
WildlifeDirect recently became aware of the scale of laundering of illegal ivory in the ivory markets of Japan through its contact with the Japanese NGO Tears of the African Elephant. Please see more about the interview we did on NTV Wild via this link:https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Cvsj21F_FI4 . We have joined forces with other conservation organizations in Africa and Japan to take the opportunity provided by the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) conference happening here in Nairobi, Kenya to publish a joint appeal to Japan to ban all trade in ivory trade, following the lead of China and the USA.
Japan is one of Africa’s most important development partners. They have made major contributions and commitments to support conservation. Now the conservation community call for 5 actions to be agreed at TICAD:
Japan to permanently close legal domestic markets of ivory, and aggressively close down online trading sites that deal in ivory, all to crush demand.
Japan to suspend ivory registration immediately, to prevent loopholes that allow fraudulent registration and laundering of illegal ivory.
Japan to support the Elephant Protection Initiative.
Japan to strengthen cooperation on elephant conservation initiatives and combating the trafficking of ivory to Japan through joint investigations and mutual legal assistance.
Japan’s Prime Minister and First Lady to jointly issue statements to discourage the selling and buying of ivory in Japan and to initiate an education and outreach campaign to Japanese citizens on the importance of saving elephants by stopping poaching and ending ivory trade.
We urge Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the head of the Giants Club of African presidents supporting elephant conservation, and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinz? Abe, to seize this unique opportunity at TICAD6 to discuss the issue as part of their duty towards the development agendas of Africa and Japan.
We also urge the H.E. the First Lady of Japan, Akie Abe, an ardent conservationist, to join H.E. the First Lady of Kenya, Margaret Kenyatta in raising awareness about elephants and their conservation needs.
WildlifeDirect supports the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) in the call to the world to help save African elephants.
As an organization that has been in the forefront calling for a total ban on all ivory trade, WildlifeDirect urges other African countries not represented at the meeting held in Montreux, Switzerland from 24 to 26 June 2016 to join AEC in this call to save the our iconic species that are in danger of extinction if nothing is done.
In a press release by AEC, 29 member states call on all governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations for their support, and calls on citizens around the world to ask their respective governments and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) representatives to support the five proposals and to help the Coalition in its mission to list all elephants in Appendix I.
The Coalition of 29 African member states submitted to CITES five proposals designed to reverse the poaching crisis facing elephants and to put an end to the ivory trade to afford elephants the highest protection under international law.
AEC agreed to launch a social media campaign in a bid to gain support for the five proposals to the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of CITES in September-October in Johannesburg, South Africa. We invite you to use the hashtags #WorthMoreAlive, #EndIvoryTrade and #Vote4Elephants to support the campaign.
Speaking at the meeting in Montreux, Bourama Niagaté from Mali, a member of the Council of the Elders for the Coalition noted that there was need for all relevant stakeholders to pull together for the sake of Africa’s elephants.
Kenya, a member state of AEC has taken a zero tolerance approach to poaching and ivory trafficking.
In April this year, Kenya took a bold step in burning 105 tons of ivory and 1.5 tons of rhino horn. This is reportedly the world’s largest stockpile of elephant ivory and rhino horns ever to be burnt. The historic burn demonstrated Kenya’s commitment to seeking a total global ban of ivory and rhino horns.
Speaking at the burn, President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “by destroying ivory we declare once and for all that our national heritage is not for sale”. The only value that ivory has is tusks on a live elephant.
It is this commitment from the highest level of government and collaboration with conservationists and law enforcement that has seen Kenya achieve 80 percent reduction in deaths of elephants in the last three years.
Safari guide and wildlife photographer Geoff Mayes and Scottish born Jamie Mactavish successfully guided their SPV class V8 rally raid car to a top twenty overall position and third in class on the just finished KCB Safari Rally.
This years event saw crews face two and a half challenging days in the Great Rift Valley over terrain more suited to a Dakar event than a flat out motor rally. Attrition was high as cars succumbed to rocks, ruts, dust and even encounters with wild animals but through it all the Landrover continued. Mayes and Mactavish did have their own dramas, an unmarked ditch in the organisers notes saw the raid car flung into the trees at high speed, emerging with body damage but only minimal time loss.
Mayes, “this is our second safari finish and probably more fun. We had the perfect car for the weekend but not being able to recce meant we had to be more cautious. The car was faultless and full credit must go to my team. To my sponsors, Purdy Arms, Punda Milias and Que Pasa, an enormous thank you! We bashed the suspension a lot and it never broke, which is testimony to Team Magic. We hit a lot of rocks, some whilst very sideways, and didn’t get a single puncture so thank you Maxxis Tyres. And finally a huge thank you to my title sponsors Silverspread Team Meru, without whose support I would never have even made the start of this prestigious event!
This years KCB Safari Rally was won by reigning champions Jassi Chatthe and Gugu Panesar in a Mitsubishi Evo X. Only 21 cars finished from a start list of 42, with Mayes and Mactavish finishing 19th overall and 3rd in class.
A study by WildlifeDirect of wildlife trials in 18 courts between 2008 and 2013 concluded that Kenya was a safe haven for wildlife criminals because of major weaknesses in the legal chain. This second study examines progress made in the wildlife trials in Kenya in 2014 and 2015, after the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013 (WCMA 2013)
WildlifeDirect has partnered with Kenya Wildlife Service and NTV to bring you NTV Wild, a program that brings award winning documentaries on wildlife and also provides the platform for debate and discussion with experts on Kenya’s wildlife, its conservation and why it matters so much.
NTV Wild Talk S1 E1
“The mystery of Mzima”
Smriti Vidyarthi visits Mzima springs to bring a story about the spring that would be lifeless without hippos. A world class site that is amazing.
NTV Wild Talk S1 E2 “Kenya-US relations in protecting wildlife”
Smriti Vidyarthi engages US ambassador to Kenya Ambassador Robert F. Godec and the US Secretary – Interior Sally Jewell as #NTVWild talk focuses on US-Kenya relations in protecting our wildlife
TV Wild Talk S1 E4 “Saving Kenya’s big cats”
From the seventh wonder of the world, Maasai Mara is home to the largest population of lions. Smriti Vidyarthi share the incredible life stories of two cat families.
NTV Wild Talk S1 E5 “Safeguarding Karura Forest”
Smriti Vidyarthi takes a look at whether Karura forest is under threat or not. The show looks at the struggles to save Karura forest from land grabbers.
NTV Wild Talk S1 E6 “Wildlife Newbies & Champions”
Smriti Vidyarthi speaks to some of the new faces linked with protection of wildlife.
NTV Wild Talk, broadcast an interview with Richard Leakey about the past and the present for wildlife and heritage in Kenya. It aired on Tuesday March 15 on NTV at 10 pm.
I also want to draw attention to the new article in SWARA here in which he states
“Parks will only be sustainable if Kenyans want them to be sustainable. Middle class Kenyans who own TV sets watch international soccer, international vanity shows and news but none of them watch wildlife programmes because they’ve never been put on air in this country.”
This sentiment is the reason that we created NTV Wild. For those who have not been able to catch previous episodes, NTV Wild is a partnership between NTV, WildlifeDirect and KWS to broadcast wildlife documentaries made in Kenya and Africa on national Television for the first time in our history to inspire Kenyans to visit our parks and appreciate our spectacular wildlife heritage. The program airs on Saturdays and a discussion program on Tuesdays.
This is the list of all the NTV Wild documentaries so far on Saturday’s at 8 pm
1. Mzima Haunt of the River Horse – Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone
2. The Last Lions – Derek and Beverly Joubert
3. African Cats – DisneyNature
4. Here be Dragons – Alan Root
5. Battle For the Elephants – Nat Geo
6. The Queen of Trees – Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone
NTV Wild Talk on Tuesdays at 10 pm
Launching the series with Jonathan Scott
NTV Wild Talk S1 E1 “The mystery of Mzima”
NTV Wild Talk S1 E2 “Kenya-US relations in protecting wildlife”
NTV Wild Talk S1 E3 “Stopping wildlife trafficking through Kenya”
NTV Wild Talk S1 E4 “Saving Kenya’s big cats”
NTV Wild Talk S1 E5 “Safeguarding Karura Forest”
TV Wild Talk S1 E6 “Wildlife Newbies & Champions”
In this episode: Kitili Mbathi shares the challenges & successes at KWS, Lena Munge tells of how she hopes to transform the Masai Mara, Najib Balala explains why he jumped off a plane for conservation & 12 yr old Luca Berardi stresses the importance of wildlife for future generations.
Both the documentaries and the talk shows have been trending on twitter since we began 7 weeks ago and people are telling us that they are setting their alarm clocks to catch the programs. We are already on week 7 and we have 45 more to go! Enjoy
Africa’s unique wildlife heritage attracts millions of tourists to the continent and contributes enormously to the economy. It is a tragic irony that this wildlife remains unknown to the majority of Africans.
Recently I have been involved in an initiative that aims to change this state of affairs. Launched in January, the TV series “NTV Wild” is a collaboration between NTV, Kenya’s leading TV channel, my NGO WildlifeDirect, and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
NTV Wild will broadcast two hours of programmes on African wildlife on prime-time TV every week of this year. Screening of an hour-long documentary on NTV and its sister Kiswahili language channel QTV on Saturday night is followed on Tuesday evening at 10 pm by “NTV Wild Talk”: an extended in-depth discussion of the issues by leading film makers, conservationists, politicians and legal experts
The first eagerly awaited programmes attracted record numbers of viewers and provoked huge excitement on social media. Here are some of my favourite tweets:
Not all reactions were positive. Following screening of ‘Mzima – Haunt of the River Horse’, an Emmy award winning film by Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone about the secret lives of hippos (click here to watch a trailer ), one blogger complained that the film was 15 years old. This was stale stuff, he wrote: “You know, a lot can happen in 15 years … in the hippo calendar. Viewers were hooked, but also hoodwinked”.
It’s true that many of the films to be shown by NTV Wild are classics, years – or even decades – old. They are familiar to and loved by hundreds of millions of viewers across the world. So why haven’t Kenyans seen them before?
Economics has a lot to do with it. The sights and sounds of our wildlife are transformed by film makers into products that are simply too expensive for African TV channels to buy – and therefore beyond the reach of most ordinary Africans.
But that’s not the whole story. On last night’s NTV Wild Talk discussion, film maker Mark Deeble revealed that he had offered ‘Haunt of the River Horse’ free to Kenyan TV channels when it first came out. But they had refused, reflecting the widespread (but profoundly mistaken) prejudice that “Kenyans aren’t interested in that sort of thing.”
Whatever the reason, it is scandalous that, for decades, TV viewers in most African countries including Kenya have been denied access to these documentaries made about our own wildlife.
Most people that I speak to about the lack of access to wildlife documentaries in Kenya are aghast and astounded – and one person was even reduced to tears – by the fact that American and European children know the names of our lions in the Masai Mara, and our elephants in Amboseli and Samburu, while ours do not.
This also goes against the avowed intentions of many distributors of wildlife films. For example, National Geographic describes itself as:
… a global nonprofit membership organization driven by a passionate belief in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world. Working to inspire, illuminate and teach, National Geographic reaches more than 700 million people a month through its media platforms, products, events and experiences.
How can National Geographic fulfil this mission if its films are not seen in Africa, where they could be inspiring Africans to save their continent’s natural heritage?
In fact, I know that many producers and distributors would like to make their films available in Africa, but they are locked into a commercially-driven system that is very hard to change.
When I spoke to leading wildlife film makers when they met at last year’s Jackson Hole Film Festival, I discovered that many of them had been unhappy about this situation for years. A group of them, including Mark Deeble, Vicky Stone, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Lisa Samford and many others got together and agreed to make a concerted appeal to major distributors to make them more widely available in Africa on a non-commercial basis.
The breakthrough came last year, when National Geographic gave permission for one free broadcast of the recently released documentary “Warlords of Ivory” on Kenyan TV. (Click here to see my article about this hard-hitting film that provides direct evidence of links between elephant poaching and terrorism in Africa.) Within five minutes the show was trending on twitter in Kenya.
The experience of that broadcast persuaded NTV to partner with WildlifeDirect for a year to bring world-class award winning wildlife documentaries to Kenyan audiences on a regular basis. We knew then we had an audience, but we didn’t know how hard it would be to get the films.
When I first floated this idea to distributors on behalf of NTV, responses were not encouraging. The following was typical of the replies we received:
I picked up this request and contacted our Africa sales team to run this request by them but they are still exploiting these titles. They are tasked with generating as much profit as possible from content in the African territory so that we can return funding to the [the company] to enable them to make these programmes in the first place.
I’m sorry not to have a more positive response for you.
This provoked the following impassioned response from one of the programme hosts:
It beggars belief that Paula’s current initiative – with its sensitizing and educational rationale – would in any substantial way detract from the [the company’s] licensing agreements. Talk of ‘profit’ at this point is insulting to the very nature of what Paula is trying to do. It sends a very clear message – money rules.
I thinks these sentiments portray [us] in a very poor light and are contrary to my long held belief that [we are] not purely driven by commercial considerations – but educational and inspirational ones too. These are things people like Paula have dedicated their life to doing. I believe we have to find a way to support these kinds of initiatives. Is that not still possible?
Thankfully arguments like these are winning the day. Disney Nature and the BBC World Wide are among major companies that have already agreed to make their films available and we are optimistic that others can be persuaded that they had nothing to lose and much to gain from supporting our proposal. We have written to Discovery and National Geographic as well as smaller production houses.
My fingers are tightly crossed and I make wishes on every shooting star in the Kenyan night sky.
Putting wildlife programs on African TV is not a “nice to have”. It’s a globally important imperative, and change cannot come too soon. The future of African wildlife hangs in the balance, under the impact of multiple threats, including poaching, climate change, habitat loss and land degradation. One of the main reasons why African governments have failed to respond to this unfolding crisis is that few Africans even know or understand what we stand to lose.
Our critic was right that a lot can happen in 15 years. Last night’s “NTV Wild Talk”, shot on location at the iconic Mzima Springs in Tasvo West National Park, revealed how all the hippos in Mzima Springs died in the drought of 2009. The ecosystem collapsed and since then recovery has been very slow, with only a handful of hippos there today.
Moderator Smriti Vidyarti engaged panellists Mark Deeble, KWS Chairman Richard Leakey, and Regional Assistant Director Robert Obrein in an informed discussion of the complex causes of this collapse. They described how drought, fires, and the encroachment of cattle into the National Park had created a ‘perfect storm’ for Mzima’s hippos, and how the loss of the hippos had affected the entire ecosystem.
The panellists also explained how Mzima was also key to Kenya’s economic development as the principal source of water for the city of Mombasa, and the importance of forest conservation in the watershed to maintain continuity of supplies. They discussed threats to the area posed by urbanization and proposed infrastructure projects.
The three panellists did not pull their punches. Richard Leakey described corruption as the biggest threat to African wildlife. Robert O’Brein talked frankly about the problems involved in administering Tsavo’s national parks.
In short, viewers were treated to an informed and intelligent, but by no means pessimistic discussion of key issues for the future of Kenya and global biodiversity conservation – that topped the ratings on prime-time TV!
This is only the start. With the support of KWS and tour operators, the programmes shown on NTV Wild are linked to promotions to boost local tourism to Kenya’s national parks. WildlifeDirect is partnering with local schools to take more students into the wilderness and national parks to do science, art and other subjects (click here to read about our visit with Nairobi school children to Amboseli National Park).
We are also planning to produce our own wildlife reality show, bringing celebrities and Kenyan scientific experts together in an informative and entertaining exploration of our country’s astounding wildlife.
I am sure that initiatives like these can have transformational effect. They will inspire more Africans to go to the parks and witness our wildlife first hand, just as they have inspired tens of millions of international tourists. They will encourage the emergence– for the first time – of a new generation of African wildlife film makers.
Above all, Africans will be motivated to demand more of their leaders, and will possess the knowledge and confidence they need to do so.
Behind fun projects like school visits and reality game shows, our aims are deadly serious, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The wider aim is to mainstream wildlife at all level of Kenyan life and society: as headlines news and a political priority, as family entertainment, as part of the curriculum in schools and universities, in corporate social responsibility programmes, and in the worlds of sport, music and fashion.
The age-old aphorism states that “knowledge is power”. Only by giving Africans knowledge about our wildlife can we acquire the power to save it.
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