26 June 2018 by David Ward
Big Cat man and Wexas Honorary President Jonathan Scott lends his heartfelt support to his adopted country's people and wildlife
All images courtesy of Jonathan and Angie Scott ©
Kenya has been my home for forty years, my wife Angie and daughter Alia are citizens, our grandson Michael was born here and has made more safaris in his first year than many people will be privileged to do in a lifetime - and recently enjoyed his first holiday at the coast. Right now Michael is on safari in Amboseli with his mum and dad and his English grandmother. He celebrates his first birthday in a week's time.
Recently I was prompted to write an article that appeared in the travel section of the Saturday Telegraph telling people just how much Kenya needed tourism – that it was vital to our economy and to conservation. Without substantial revenue from tourism our wildlife will be even more vulnerable to poachers; setting aside wilderness areas for animals becomes even harder to justify to land-hungry humans. The article was circulated widely by the Kenya Tourist Board to encourage overseas guests to visit this wonderful country in the face of a barrage of travel advisories that have cast a long shadow over our tourism industry. If you look on a map you'll see it's a tiny part of Kenya that is prompting security concerns - yet the repercussions of recent events and the impact of travel advisories has been devastating and on a scale that in no way reflects the situation in the country as a whole.
It would be easy to feel despondent reading headlines telling the world of renewed loss of life on the Kenyan coast not far from the ancient city of Lamu, together with the killing of two mighty elephants Satao and Mountain Bull, slaughtered for their magnificent tusks. The bulls were in their mid- to late-40s and had lived through events both locally and internationally that have blighted Kenya's tourism industry in the past - the bombing of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi on New Year's Eve 1980/81; the Gulf War of 1990/91; the bombing of the American Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, and the political violence that erupted during the presidential elections of 1997 and 2007. Despite these setbacks the tourism industry has always shown a resilience that has enabled it to dust itself down and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But make no mistake these are difficult times. All the more reason then to redouble our commitment to Kenya, put our fears in to perspective and to "light a candle rather than curse the darkness."
Terrorism and poaching go hand in hand. They feed on fear and insecurity. The battle to save our planet's increasingly endangered wildlife might appear to be a lost cause, whether attempting to protect the last few thousand wild tigers in Asia or to stem the catastrophic epidemic of elephant and rhino poaching in Africa. Even the Masai Mara, where Angie and I continue to follow the lives of the Marsh Lions and other charismatic big cats, has seen an alarming upsurge in poaching in recent months with reports of 117 old and new elephant carcasses discovered during a census of wildlife in the reserve – minus their tusks. At times like these it is understandable to feel powerless and downhearted. But each individual can contribute in a meaningful way by simply holding up their hand and saying "NO" to the killing.
When I was working on a book on leopards in the 1970s it was estimated that 50,000 leopards were being trapped, shot and poisoned across Africa each year for their beautiful spotted coats. Then in the 1980s a brilliantly orchestrated advertising campaign on billboards and in cinemas across Europe and America turned the tide in the fight against fur with graphic images from photographer David Bailey showing a model dragging a blood-soaked fur coat above the words: "It takes up to 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat but only one to wear it." And in 1989, when Kenya set fire to 12 tons of ivory in Nairobi National Park it caught the imagination of the general public, helping to change people's perceptions and leading to a ban on the trade in ivory that same year. But as recent events have shown we must always be vigilant on behalf of wildlife - some people are wearing fur again, some never stopped. And until China bans ivory imports the killing of our elephants will continue apace.
We are not alone in our commitment to change. Kenya is loved around the world for the warmth of its people and the wonder of its great migration of wildebeest and zebra. Right now the animals are thundering in to the Mara in their tens of thousands. This is the time to witness the greatest wildlife show on earth, but tourist numbers are critically low. If my fellow Brits are pondering the wisdom of visiting Kenya they should consider that game reserves and other tourist areas are probably the safest places in the country. Let's not cede the terrorists more power by ignoring the finer detail of official travel advisories that apply only to very specific parts of Kenya.
Prince William is great friend of Kenya; he proposed to his wife Kate while on holiday in the country and, like his father Prince Charles, is passionate about wildlife. He recently launched United for Wildlife, bringing together a coalition of conservation groups committed to making a difference. Under the banner ‘Whose Side Are You On?' the campaign harnesses the power of international sports personalities such as David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton, Andy Murray, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Rahul Dravid, Francois Pienaar and China's basketball superstar Yao Ming, to spread its message to all corners of the earth. Imagine if we could engage Kenya's beautiful and talented Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o alongside our world-beating sportsmen to show solidarity with a campaign that will help protect our own wildlife? Knowing Kenyans, they will.
It's worth stating that it's not the disadvantaged and impoverished among us who are benefiting from the carnage of the wildlife trade. It is the rich and greedy – and seemingly untouchable – who are turning a vast profit from illegal trade worth up to US$20 billion a year. A friend recently sent me an artwork depicting The Earth's Land Mammals by Weight. It showed all too graphically just how much of our planet we humans and our livestock - cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses - already occupy. Wildlife is being squeezed out of the landscape like never before. Africa's 450,000 to 500,000 elephants are barely visible in the larger picture. So how will things look with another 2 billion people on this earth by 2050? We must act now.
When it comes to tourism, wildlife is Kenya's greatest asset. But with so many options for travellers these days, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Our tourism product has to be competitive in price and services if it is to keep topping up our foreign-exchange coffers so we can continue to conserve ‘world heritage' areas like the incomparable Masai Mara. That is why tourism is so vital to this country, along with the tens of thousands of jobs it helps to create.
The message we wish to send to our friends overseas is this: lend your collective voices to United for Wildlife's Whose Side Are You On? challenge. If you do that today we all stand to benefit – people and wildlife the world over.
It may be too late for Mountain Bull and Satao, but we can still honour their memory.