Calvin been guiding in the African bush since he was fifteen years old, whether it be in vehicle or on foot travelling around the Masai Mara with him is as similar as walking through a child hood home and pointing out locations that hold never ending stories of memories. He has been voted on several separate occasions as the Best Guide in Africa and has been interviewed, by countless international reporters, travel writers, published authors, and conservationist enthusiasts. He has been a professional hunter, owned a wildlife management company and worked for the Kenya wildlife Service in the community development department, where he initiated five district wildlife associations and now does private guiding, is the owner of Cottar’s 1920’s Camp, works on the Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust, and develops and explores new safari destinations such as South Sudan. Through a life time of accumulated knowledge and experience, the highest KSPGA qualification (Gold) and his unparalleled passion for the wildlife makes any experience with him a memorable one, filled with knowledge, excitement, and deep enjoyment.
In this interactive interview Calvin answers questions put to him by Safaritalkers in this topic here.
It is often stated, amongst various conservationists, that the hunting ban in Kenya in 1977 played a pivotal role in the massive decline of the country's wildlife, since - as they say - once the hunters left, the poachers came in. Do you believe this being the case or the continuing presence of hunters would not have really deterred the huge wave of commercial poachers and shiftas in the 1980s? Would hunting - if continued - had some sort of real effect in containing encroachment of wilderness areas due to an ever-increasing and burgeoning human population?
The legal hunting industry was blamed, (and consequently shut down), for the poaching taking place at the time by the politically connected poaching cartels to get the eyes and ears of the hunters out of the bush where the poaching was happening. Once the hunters were out of the bush, poaching increased dramatically.
Let’s be clear, most legal hunters were not doing anything wrong, were not corrupt and were not poachers, but there were a few bad apples buying areas underhand and doubling quotas (see below). But this was a rarity.
I think that the poaching would have continued if the hunting had not been stopped at the time, as the poaching gangs were protected politically… They would have just shot at the legal hunters and closed it down that way… And indeed that did happen a few times. For sure the legal hunting industry was ultimately doomed to fail because it was based on Kenya' s 'state ownership of wildlife' policy where,
- The landowners where the hunting was being done had no financial stake whatsoever in any legal hunting industry and therefore had no support on any level and was perceived to be elitist for the benefit of a few and,
- Though the industry generated large revenues, the system where one government office gives out hunting areas, decides quotas and receives all payments from the industry could only lead to corruption and fraud, besides the fact that once it was put into the national treasury, all connection with the wildlife industry was dissipated if it was put to good use such as roads , hospitals and schools.
Another contributing factor to the poaching was that as the de facto landowners were so disenfranchised from any benefits of the legal industry that the killing off of wildlife became their main priority to clear land for alternative land uses, such as agriculture and livestock rearing and so they themselves - by the hundreds of thousands - became the main agent of wildlife loss in their areas in their drive to change land use. While it was easy to kill cats, (poison), and all the other smaller animals, (snares and fencing), it was not so easy to deal with the larger beasts like elephant and rhino, hence they became the main supporters of the professional poaching gangs that killed these animals specifically, often providing them with housing and logistical support for their activities… and the free meat was a bonus.
To answer the last part of your question whether hunting could stop the poaching in the future, yes of course, if it is based on landowners owning their wildlife, receiving the revenues without government interference, and deciding their own quotas, and if land owners themselves are driving the concession / conservancy negotiations with wildlife operators...much as Dr Ian Player explains.... was the key to white rhino conservation in SA from the 70's, (in his own words on the recent Safaritalk interview..).
An emphatic NO to your question if it is to be based on the current state ownership of wildlife policy in Kenya.
I think you have hunted in C.A.R when you were a professional hunter. I am a bit curious about your experience, since the Central African Republic fascinates me a lot and until not many years ago was blessed with an abundance of wildlife. (I read that still in 1980 it had the third largest black rhino population in Africa). What animals were you after? (Possibly Lord Derby's Eland, elephant and bongo in the forests?) How was the hunting conducted? Have you got any special recollection of those days?
C.A.R was hard hunting. I only ever hunted Lord Derby’s Eland and western bongo. The only way to hunt was by finding decent fresh tracks at mineral licks and following for hours using the locals hunters tracking skills, which were amazing. Very low success rates though… It’s an area that is very unpopulated as the French moved all the villages to the roads for ease of tax collection in the old days… amazing wilderness but lots of gallery forest interspersed between not so open savannah areas... big rivers, clear water, and the people had an edge to them somehow... glad to get back to East Africa after my 6 months there.
I have been to your camp so close to the Serengeti, what is your view of the Serengeti highway issue? How do you think this is going to end?
The Tz government will get both roads built in the end. They are too proud to be told what to do by the international community and animal welfare NGO's, and ultimately they have 3 million people to take care of in that corner of the country, (promises to keep), and its these votes that count for them. I think the migration is in peril should it ever be a tarmac road. It should be ok if it’s a gravel road though, no different from the one that goes through the Serengeti now. What to do about stopping the tarmac being laid down? Kenya needs to be particularly tough on the issue with the Tz govt as it will have a massive negative affect on the Mara and its brand value will be much devalued. The Mara is responsible for 40% of tourism receipts in the country in some form or another and it is therefore a strategic issue not only environmental.
I have read about the new Olderikesi conservancy. Having been to Mara North conservancy and especially Olare Orok , I am no expert but I like the idea of promoting these conservancies, being good both for the wildlife and the local communities in my view.Tell us more about the new Olderikesi, how big would it be? What kind of wildlife will sustain? How exactly local communities would benefit from it? Would they be allowed to take their herds for pasture?
In my view, conservancies are the only way forward while the wildlife policy remains as it is… but conservancies can only work in the long run if they are based on payments to the land owners that are of a similar or greater amount than can be earned from alternative land uses such as agriculture. The question is what is this magical 'per hectare' amount that will convince landowners to go the wildlife route? And will the tourism industry self adjust to be able to pay for this? And in the areas where there is no tourism, how is the money going to be raised for conservancies? This is where wildlife utilization and safari hunting are important, and if such commercial use of wildlife continues to be illegal in Kenya, then we need to find another source of funding for these more outlying conservancies… We all therefore need to look at carbon offset, redd + , the Kruger 'conservation brick' idea to stall the changing landuse, which will be hard to reverse once all the bush clearing and inputs for farming have been done. Regardless, conservancies must be based on direct payments to the landowners individually through the phone banking system that was pioneered here in Kenya... this will cut out the possibility of corruption as there will be no middlemen.
While I completely agree with you that Kenya needs a complete overhaul of its wildlife policy, I am concerned that the overhaul that you advocate for, (wildlife utilisation), has lots of room for abuse and comes at a time when other African countries are banning hunting.
Ok. So my questions are:
What measures would you propose to decrease the risk of abuse and super-high levels of corruption if Kenya was going to adopt a wildlife utilisation policy?
Simple. Cut out government from all revenue collection of a legal wildlife industry. Let them earn tax from successful enterprise after the fact and above the line. The hunting and utilization must be part of a conservancy management plan which either the owners do themselves or they put it out for tender to the wildlife operating companies for long term leasing. The money must paid by direct phone banking to every individual member if it’s a communal or collectively owned conservancy, and the agreements following on the same tried and tested conservancy model hitherto developed in the tourism only models we have in Kenya. The basic tenant of successful conservancies is that they have registered leases of land for wildlife easements at reasonable competitive rates. The govt should of course vet and regulate the wildlife management operators and it may be necessary to do a transition period for landowners to attain full ownership of wildlife to have compulsory membership of a district wildlife association where the possibility of collective liability by the govt for misdemeanors can have a powerful self governing effect.
Other than writing articles in The Star, what do you think is the best way to get across to,
- Those with the power to effect change, and
- The Kenyan public at large - most of whom have very little understanding of deeper wildlife issues and are vehemently against any form of utilisation.
Get landowners to vocalize and politicize their demand to change the wildlife policies so they can make more revenues from wildlife through wildlife utilization. To do this they need to start a lobby mechanism such as a Landowners Wildlife Association that brings their agenda to the front of political debate and into a re write of the wildlife policy. However, landowners will not invest this time and effort unless they know what revenue making potential they are missing out on. It may be necessary to start in pilot projects in different parts of the country to prove the case and get the interest up. The animal rights groups will fight it tooth and nail, but maybe this can be the silver lining… they should get out of their continual engineering of KWS leadership and policy writing and get into the leasing of land for conservancies, particularly where tourism is not viable, and in areas where they don't want hunting… let them put their money where their mouth is instead of being agents of poverty as they are now.
Kenyan urbanites are so skewed in their understanding of wildlife issues by the years of IFAW’s influence on KWS. The effect of animal rights lobby groups over years will make it a 50/50 whether we will ever get the political support from the top for change... but the new constitution gives me some hope because it allows for local changes at the county level. The National Wildlife Association needs to do education campaigns amongst the rural folk and to their leaders at the county level for change to be possible.
How much do you think the joint clout of some safari operators/camps in conservancies/reserve comes in the way of benefits reaching the community?
Here’s an interesting fact... all safari camp operators in Kenya give away up to 45% to agents and third parties as commissions for supplying business, (Kenya is a hard sell compared to other destinations), while the percentage of gross tourism revenues that go to the actual wildlife producers is about 5% in the form of entrance fees, (wildlife producers being the national parks, reserves and communal lands in wildlife dispersal areas). So operators have a hard time just surviving... they are not focused on denying locals revenues... rather they try to meet the lease agreement conditions and this involves sacrificing visiting the 'easy to see' wildlife in the reserve to find a way to pay the conservancy leases. We have to look at restructuring the entire tourism business model without upsetting the agents and providers, and this will take time and their buy in. At the current rates of $30 to $50 per ha being offered now for the conservancies, I think this is a fair value as much of the leased land can never be farmed such as hillsides, rocky valleys etc and it therefore averages out fairly. Dr Mike Norton Griffiths, a land economist working with the FAO and ILRI amongst others, thinks that tourism operators should be paying +$120 per ha in some high potential areas.
Do you see hunting or consumptive use of wildlife having the same benefits - for community, for conservation of habitats and protecting wildlife numbers - in a densely populated country as in countries where the population though growing, is a lot under control? Or at some point does the population pressure tips the balance against all the benefits?
There is tipping point of course, but wildlife policy drives this tipping point... I think the boffins put it at 15 people per sq km in Africa. But it must be made clear here that it is policy that frames how people behave and that will ultimately dictate this tipping point… policy has to allow human nature and the real needs and drives of the local people on the ground to make the right choices, and in Africa, where most people in rural areas live at the 'survival' level of Abraham Maslows 'hierarchy of needs', the policy should be written to satisfy their real needs... I am sure that in Africa, unless wildlife is entirely commercialized and its ownership localized, it cannot survive in competition with food production land uses.
If you had to list 3 reasons why a wildlife consumptive model would fail in Kenya in spite of best efforts and intentions, what would those reasons be?
- Animal rights organizations having huge budgets to lobby, cajole and do effective propaganda against it so it never gets started.
- Efforts by KWS and government, (as the owner of all wildlife), to capture the revenues from such an industry before it can get to the land owners.
- Will Kenya eat humble pie and ever admit that the preservation model we currently have was wrong after all, and risk losing its revered status as a conservation icon of the world, (despite the data showing we will have no wildlife left in 35 years)?
Greetings from India. Here are my questions....
What can the govt do to limit further addition of beds in the Mara? Will they do anything about it?
There is a Masai Mara Management Plan 2009 that I was personally involved in generating, (I was sitting on the tourism sub committee). It had all sorts of controls and prescriptions to secure the Mara including limiting camps and beds, but of course since the Mara was managed for years by the Narok County Council for local short term interests, (third party plots inside being sold to operators, grazing of NCC big wig cattle, etc), the plan was never signed as it would have stopped the collusion between the then councillors and big commercial players to build new large lodges in the core areas of the reserve, which of course they have succeeded to do. (Elewana for example is on the Sand River on the border of Tanzania and just waiting to open its doors to guests this year, and of course the famous case of Olkeju Rongai lodge which is fully operational now, amongst others). The MMMP has since been adapted undercover to include these and other newer lodges. I don't know if it will ever be signed into law.
(Matt's note: You can download a copy of the Managment plan here (PDF Doc): MMNR Management Plan Final Plan 11 July 2012.pdf 2.4MB 364 downloads)
What in your opinion will happen down the road regarding changes pertaining to the crowding of the main reserve? The Talek side is pretty congested and some of the drivers should not be driving at all...
Agreed. What is happening is newly subdivided land on the border of the Mara reserve is sold or leased to third parties who then build camps and fence them off, creating a hard edge border to the reserve with very bad effect on the wildlife, and particularly the migratory grazers. Additionally, although the conservancies are good over all, they are mostly set 3 or 4 kms from the reserve, and while the Maasai owners of these conservancies will mostly abide by the rules there, (not to graze cattle on their own conservancies), they of course graze them at night inside the Mara reserve instead… this has big consequences on all wildlife and the migration, and I am not surprised to see Frankfurt Zoological Society data showing 30% drop in wildebeest numbers entering the Mara over the last 10 years. Does our government understand the very bad implications for the national economy or the environment? It seems not… they should be enforcing building/developing regulations in this area to stop the urbanization of the border areas of the Mara.
Having read a lot of great things about your camp over the years, what additional information can you provide readers here on Safaritalk about Cottar's Camp; that is not normally found in brochures or in the marketing media?
Ha ha... we educate our guests a lot.. but I promise I don't try to convert them into hunters! Seriously though, Cottars provides the original essence of safari... the way I remember it when I was a young un. We spend time and get our guests to slow down to the pace and rhythm of the bush. We work hard to have privacy where you don't see other cars on a drive or walk, and we have the experienced guides and trackers from the old days so that guests can truly walk safely... I would say this is very hard for other operators to offer in Kenya because of the lack of hunting and training of guides in the country… Guides just cannot get real training experience with aggressive large animals. We have and we can. Also our camp is in a very special location, with a real and tangible human interest story to it… it has soul and spirit.
It seems to me from everything I read that wildlife numbers are sinking dramatically all over Africa - also, that these rates of decline seem to be almost the same in countries that allow hunting as those that do not allow hunting. That tells me that it is not wildlife consumption or non-consumption that may be driving these numbers, but other factors altogether.
Ultimately it’s land use change and human population growth. But I don't know where you are getting your data from because in SA, numbers went from 450,000 head of wildlife in 1976 to 20 million head of wildlife by 2010 and white rhino went from just under 500 in 1960's to 18,000 in 2010. How can that not be conservation success? In countries with no governance at all or centralized wildlife policies, the opposite population trends occurred... for example Kenya's wildlife numbers went from 5m head in 1977 to 1.5 m head today, and continuing to reduce… should we not be supporting and using the conservation model on the continent where it actually works, and applying it to the countries where policy is failing, and to encourage good governance?
What do you think are the main reasons for these dramatic declines in wildlife numbers all over Africa, especially Kenya?
Counterproductive wildlife policies, land use change, human population growth, unplanned development, protein hunger, deforestation, and all the arguments I give above.
And if you believe it is because Kenya has banned hunting, how do you explain the equally dramatic drop in neighboring TZ which does allow hunting and in fact, never stopped it even as Kenya went the other way?
Tanzania, as explained earlier, has a 'state ownership' policy for wildlife, essentially what they inherited from the Royal Game concept of the colonial days, (with some communist twists thrown in there as well just for good measure)... As a hunting operator in TZ you have to deal with a single office/govt agency in Dar to get your areas, get your quotas and pay the fees... money and power being funneled like this means it’s ripe for the picking, (corruption), and the monies never get back to the landowners or land users, who of course are entirely disenfranchised from the benefits, so they are busy clearing wildlife off their land as well. In TZ, it is normal to use ''resident permits' to collect game primarily for food, and these permits are cheap to buy.
Finally, like many others, I am concerned about corruption. Have heard horrible stories of unethical hunters, PHs, outfitters and govt officials - in other words, with a few notable exceptions, it seems that in some countries, the entire chain of trophy hunting, (in national reserves - not talking about private farms here), is tainted from top to bottom. Add to that the pressures from poaching, human-wildlife conflict and all the rest - and what chance of survival do these animals have? Have you thought of other alternative measures to turn this deeply worrisome situation around that does not involve hunting?
Hunting is corrupted rapidly when it is practiced on common land where there is no real owner who has to answer to shareholders or live off its finite resources. Govt owned property of any kind is run by people getting a guaranteed salary from HQ, so they have no interest in regards sustainability... hence corruption. On private land on the other hand, the situation is different, (as you say so yourself)… the landowner either does the hunting himself, or they monitor hunting operators and keep them in line because it’s his own resource base being hunted, misused or whatever. This makes all the difference. It all boils down to the landowner owning the wildlife.
I am not against hunting in protected areas, for, in my view, even parks and reserves will have a hard time justifying their existence in the future with our burgeoning population unless they don't become more financially viable for the local people living around them. It is true that most parks and reserves are 'opportunity lost' to local people living around them, and we will be seeing more and more politicians promising this land to be handed out for votes in the near future… De-gazetting a park is a stroke of a pen, and what we need is the political power to hold them together, which means we have to earn more from them, localise the revenues to the people in their area and limit the drain of resources to the HQ of the National Wildlife Authority. This may be where the animal rights brigade can step in and put their money where their mouth is... lease concessions within protected areas to secure their futures. If they can't or won't do this then open wildlife utilization concessions within these areas and I have no doubt that they will easily pay their way.
Matt, (Game warden)
Aside from the recent explosion in rhino poaching, how positive in your opinion is South Africa's model of wildlife conservation and management, what would need to happen in Kenya for such a model to be adopted there?
As above, the answer is simple:
- Sign into law that landowners can own their wildlife.
- That wildlife utilization is allowed including hunting.
- That 'value adding' trade and export will be permitted for wildlife products.
- Create district or county level landowner associations for collective liability to be applied by govt for this transition, for educating landowners and for self regulation and assistance between members, and for cooperative marketing of products and services offered.
- That KWS be much reduced in size and be split into 3 separate entities: 1) Wildlife Advisory, Regulation and Monitoring Unit, 2) land owner of parks to make the 7% of the country area under their care financially and environmentally viable, 3) para military unit for enforcement of laws.
How many cases of PAC, (problem animal control), occur throughout Kenya annually? What actually happens to the animal's carcass if shot, whether elephant, predator or other, including ivory? Instead of KWS controlling PAC animals, what about trophy hunters paying to work with KWS?
Approximately 400 elephant a year. in their own ele strategy available online, it shows that elephant killed by locals on 'ehc' runs in the thousands , much more than poaching. There is no data to show PAC by KWS for other species but as these species are so easy to eliminate using snares and poison, blades in fences and the like, and as it is perfectly legal for landowners to do this as long as there is no commercial use of products derived, KWS are rarely involved or informed. There is a 3.2% loss of general wildlife numbers in Kenya per year... even KWS’s own website say we are losing wildlife every year.
What do you think is the future for Kenya's wildlife outside of managed areas, ie nat parks and reserves?
Bleak, unless we can get the conservancy model to really compete in the 'revenues to people' department, especially in areas where there is no tourism. Very positive if we can liberalize our wildlife laws as I stated above.
How much of a concern is pressure on Maasai and other land owners from the lure of agricultural revenue, instead of wildlife/mixed use conservancies?
This is the biggest issue... I have explained this dynamic and its solutions above I believe... conservancy model, conservationists have to cough up the money to lease the land or allow the total liberalization of wildlife.
Why is it so difficult to go between the Mara and Serengeti since the closing of the Bologonja gate in Tanzania and Sand River gate in Kenya? Why is transit through these gates prohibited, and what is a workable alternative, or could be such?
The answer is TZ jealousy and fear of the Kenya tour operators controlling the tourism industry as happened in the 60's and 70's during the breakup of the East African community. The answer is simple - a one way visa. I don't mind the border closed because it keeps traffic low in the south east Mara area where we are...
How could the Masai Mara itself be better managed? Under what circumstances could you see KWS/govt taking control of it?
Absolutely not possible for KWS to take over the Mara… The Maasai would rather kill every animal and de-gazette it for wheat production. But I do see that an elevated legal status such as that given Ngorongoro could be accepted by the Maasai, and is perfectly legit, as the Mara is responsible for 40% of every tourist dollar spent on Kenya. This model involves having a management board comprised of all the vested interests in the Mara having a say, such as the tourism industry nationally and locally, conservancies adjoining, landowners, forest service, water ministry, etc.
How successful has the translocation of elephant populations from Narok North to the Masai Mara been and what pressure has that put the ecosystem under thanks to this undertaking?
In my view it’s a disaster to move elephants at great expense and not boma them at the destination... the eles end up bomb shelling and heading home and getting killed as a result far away from the cameras. There is a lot wrong with this program. To answer your question, I would be surprised if 10% of the animals moved are alive within one year of being moved. These are the hard questions that need to be asked of KWS. But remember, they also are constrained by the illogical and counter productive wildlife policies in Kenya, and they have to show results to their bosses and politicians on the one hand as well as to the shouting animal rights brigade and donors on the other… an impossible task.
Bearing in mind Safaritalk is sponsoring the cost of 2 female candidates attending the Koiyaki Guiding School, what percentage of your camp staff is female, and how many female guides do you have?
About 20% first question, none second… I have no objection to having female guides but haven't sought them or been approached... there are very few in Kenya, and they need years of experience... Send ‘em over if they are good though, we can try them out.
How can the local resident market be catered for in the Mara area? What percentage of lower to middle class Kenyans are interested in going on safari? What options are available to them and how can more be encouraged to appreciate their natural and national heritage?
To increase local market is about pricing. We all have resident rate structure in our pricing… Will resident business ever replace international in top end joints? No, not for many years… We operators and country brand managers have to continue to go for the west and east affluent market for top dollar tourism. Stanbic bank did a study showing Kenya realizes much less than other countries from each tourist, and this is to do with poor country brand marketing. We need a tourism board that does it right.
Hope this makes sense… too little time and space to answer comprehensively! Thanks for the questions, Calvin.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.