Kenya boasts of a diverse variety of wildlife that includes many animal and plant species. Wildlife watching attracted over 2 million tourists in Kenya in 2018, earning the country 158 billion shillings, according to the ministry of tourism. While wildlife is generally highly protected in Kenya through strict anti-poaching and anti-hunting policies, the human-wildlife conflict due to expanding land use and type of agriculture is often missed out despite being rather severe.
Data from the African Wildlife Poisoning Database confirms that mortalities from wildlife poisoning in Kenya have exceeded 7000 over the past 11 years. Unfortunately this number is just a tip of the iceberg because most poisoning incidents are never reported. Wildlife is poisoned for food and as a result of human-wildlife conflict. The Peregrine Fund’s Coexistence Co-op has been working on solutions in northern Kenya for the past two years and provides practical solutions to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
Additionally, the effects on wildlife are not always visible immediately. Pollution can harm wildlife indirectly. Especially unsustainable pesticide use can result in water and food contamination. Despite rivers like the Mara River being heavily impacted by agriculture, many wildlife species are dependent on it. However, due to the lack of monitoring, no one knows about the level of pesticide concentrations and other pollutants in the river although it is the driver of the annual spectacle of migration of thousand of animals. But wildlife can also be exposed to pesticides through contaminated food, like grass (e.g. zebras), insects (e.g. hyena, jackals, birds) or other animals (e.g. lions, vultures)
Lets take the example of the current locust control measures. Large scale spraying of thousands of litres of different insecticides like malathion, chlorpyrifos, fenitithrion and fipronil, some of them banned already in Europe, is the only current method to control the locust and the grasshopper. These pesticides are not very specific to the locust only. Despite from ending up on grassland, eaten by grazing wildlife and livestock, they also harm other organisms like insects, birds. Additionally, dead contaminated locusts can be eaten directly by birds and other animals like jackals. The contamination can be carried along the food web from insects to birds to predators like vultures or hyena and can remain in the food chain for a long time.
The locust invasion is serious, but we need to join hands to control them in a sustainable manner. Training the recently employed ground sprayers, removing dead locust regularly, not spraying sensitive areas, wildlife areas and water bodies and including biocontrol measures like the fungus Metarhizium acridum (trade name Green Muscle) should all be part of the control and management plan. M. acridum, which has been widely tested and used all over the world due to its effectiveness, safety to non-target organisms and lack of persistence, is not registered in Kenya.
To protect our wildlife, one of our beautiful assets, we need to create awareness about indirect effects of pollutants, especially pesticides. Not only poaching and hunting effects wildlife, so does pollution!