On Consumptive Utilisation of Wildlife

A Note on Consumptive Wildlife Utilisation in Kenya: Been There, Didn’t Work

Harvey Croze July 2018

[NB: This note was turned into an op-ed in the Jan-Mar 2019 issue of Swara magazine. You can read it here: https://issuu.com/harveycroze/docs/consumptive_utilisation_hc3?fr=sNDQ0YzQ3Mzc2Nw]

   Consumptive utilisation of wildlife has been proposed and rejected at least three times historically in Kenya, due variously to a combination of biological, economic and social factors.

   In 1961 a wildlife cropping trial was unsuccessfully conducted on zebra and wildebeest in Narok District.  The East African Livestock Survey (FAO 1967) concluded that “the failure of past and present cropping schemes was due to unsolved problems of harvesting, processing and marketing.”

   Nonetheless, in 1966 the GoK assisted by UNDP/FAO had already embarked on a project called ‘Range Management in Kenya’ (RMK) with the dual objectives of “… increasing meat production from the range resources and maintaining the rangeland ecology in a state that will ensure the continued aesthetic and economic attributes afforded by Kenya’s wildlife population upon which the tourist industry is largely dependent.”

   The second project produced a series of methodological reports on the mechanics of wildlife stock estimation and cropping, but nothing substantive to demonstrate sustainable benefits of consumptive utilisation. In 1974, a review mission from UNDP/FAO (FAO 1974) concluded, “…that in terms of its specific objectives the [RMK] project followed wrong course due to an imbalance of project effort and activities which put an undue emphasis on game cropping.”

   In recognition of the GoK’s commitment in the Development Plan 1970-1974 to “…increase the economic return from wildlife resources…”, and in order to salvage whatever possible of the RMK project work and infrastructure, FAO/UNDP with the GoK Wildlife Management and Conservation Department (WCMD, as the old Game Department had come to be named) re-oriented and extended the second project into a third effort, the Kenya Wildlife Management Project (KWMP) that ran from 1975 to 1977.

   The KWMP was effectively RMK re-tooled with new staff, both international and national counterpart, with a redefined broad base of economic and ecological objectives that included considerations of integrated land use planning based on sound ecological science. The project examined a host of controlling and modifying factors such as soils, water, primary production, herbivore population dynamics, livestock disease, human-wildlife conflict, Maasai culture, game ranching, hunting offtake, in the context non-equilibrium seni-arid ecosystem functioning. The project focussed on the 20,000 km2 Kajiado District.

   The KWMP conclusions on cropping were wide-reaching, and mostly negative. The final report (FAO 1980) cautiously observes that cropping of medium-sized herbivores (wildebeest and kongoni) could be successful in theory, but in practice, there are too many negative, unknown or uncontrollable factors to make it workable, profitable and sustainable in practice. Following are some highlights of the conclusions.

Marketing. The experimental marketing of the animals (675 wildebeest, 33 Coke’s hartebeest, 28 gazelle and 12 impala) that were cropped in the RMK project “posed a problem” due, among other things, to failure of the KMC (the parastatal Kenya Meat Commission) to meet its commitments, disinterest amongst the Maasai in consuming protein other than from domestic stock, lack of chilling facilities, and the marked seasonality in supply of even the relatively small number of experimental carcasses. The report gives the impression that the only reason the wildlife products moved at all was because of a specialised high-end market within the catchment of an 80 km radius from Nairobi. Moreover, the report notes that the unpredictable nature of fluctuating semi-arid herbivore populations makes it very difficult if not impossible to establish a stable and predictable supply for market.

Economic Analysis. Analysis of the cropping experiment results indicated only small profit margins, despite the relatively low transportation costs of the operation close to the capital city. A cost-benefit model (Thresher, 1976) based on the experimental data predicted that “…in terms of income from meat and skins, it would not pay the Maasai group ranchers to replace the wild herbivore population with cattle” particularly if the value of subsistence milk production is included in the calculations. In addition, particularly in Kajiado, with its major protected areas, “… the viewing activity offers higher revenues from wildlife viewing than cropping.” Visitor capacity within the viewing areas was a prime parameter in the analysis.

Distribution of Benefits. Inequitable distribution of wildlife-generated revenues is a perennial problem. As a counterpoint to consumptive utilisation, the KWMP proposed a system of distributing benefits to landowners from a Wildlife Utilisation Fund (WUF) that would be fed by wildlife-viewing-generated revenues. Disbursements to landowners were to be apportioned based on calculation of opportunity costs for grazing forgone to wildlife as determined by monitoring of the spatial distribution of wildlife metabiomass densities over any one year. Despite a ready source of baseline data from DRSRS (Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing), the scheme was never implemented.

Population Dynamics. Given the extreme seasonality and year-to-year population fluctuations in the semiarid Kajiado ecosystems, ‘…it has not yet been proved that wild herbivore populations can tolerate the additional long-term mortality required to make a cropping scheme economic on a sustainable basis.”

Conflict with Other Land Use Sectors. The KWMP highlighted a number of areas that could be negatively impacted by wildlife cropping, namely:

  • Public relations and Kenya’s image (which 40 years ago was just beginning to achieve the heights it enjoys today)

   • Stock control: “A sustained yield from wildlife populations cannot be achieved if the vacuum is filled with domestic stock.”

   • Wildlife-viewing tourism (animals in the vicinity of cropping or hunting areas run away).

   • Maasai traditional respect for wildlife (many people at the time expressed discomfort at harvesting what had traditionally been a fall-back source of protein during extreme droughts).

   • Game ranching. Although not necessarily in direct conflict with cropping, the KWMP report observed, among other things, that so-called game ranching produces a high-priced product for a limited consumer market and has very narrow distribution of profits.

   The full report should be studied carefully by the Taskforce on Wildlife Utilisation. It can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/kf0plfj2f101t35/KWMP_Final_Report_1980_sm.pdf?dl=0


    Although several decades have passed since the above findings were tabled, few of the fundamental drivers – non-equilibrium ecosystem functioning, herbivore population dynamics, even perhaps market demands – have changed. What has changed drastically is the absolute level of herbivore populations that has been greatly reduced through poaching and habitat alienation by as much as 70% since the publication of the KWMP Terminal Report (Ogutu et al, 2016). Simply put, the resource base upon which cropping has been premised is today far diminished from that of nearly four decades ago when the sustainability of cropping was already highly questionable.

   In addition, the extreme global and regional climate events currently impacting on rainfall, temperature and primary production have pushed semi-arid ecosystems even closer to the edge of risk of collapse.  Such changes over time only increase the likelihood of commensurate failure of a sustainable consumptive utilisation scheme today. What is needed is comprehensive semi-arid ecosystem and wildlife rescue programme based on non-consumptive, community-based enterprises.


FAO (1967) East African Livestock Survey. Final Report (2 volumes). FAO/SF:21/REG. FAO:Rome

FAO (1974) Report of a UNDP/FAO Review Mission to Project KEN/71/526, Wildlife Management. FAO:Nairobi, Rome.

FAO (1980) Wildlife Management in Kenya: Project Findings and Recommendations. FO: DP/KEN/71/526 Terminal Report. Rome: FAO. 150pp.

Ogutu, J.O., H-P. Piepho, M.T. Said, G.O. Ojwang, L.W. Njiro & S.C. Kifugo (2016) Extreme wildlife declines and concurrent increase in livestock numbers in Kenya: What are the causes? PLoS ONE 1(9): e0163249

Thresher, P. (1976) Wildlife Viewing Cost/Benefit Simulation Model. KEN/71/526 Proj. Working Doc. No. 14 (Vol. 1 Main Text, Vol. 2, Appendices). WCMD/KWMP: Nairobi. 76+124pp

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