The Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga presided over the seventh Kenya Wildlife Service annual Conservation Heroes’ Day at the KWS headquarters along Lang’ata Road in Nairobi on Friday.
Dr Mutunga also unveiled a ranger statue to remember, honour and celebrate the serving heroes for their commitment to the management and protection of Kenya’s precious wildlife.
The families of the departed heroes, friends, employees of KWS and other government agencies, conservationists and well-wishers, converged at a special monument erected in honour of 51 departed heroes.
Since last year’s similar ceremony, four new names were added on the Kenya Wildlife Service roll of honour to indicate those who died in the course of active duty while protecting wildlife. The new deaths were caused by a plane crash, bandit attack, animal injury and electrocution.
Today’s solemn ceremony was attended by conservationists from all walks of life, including former KWS directors, Nehemiah Rotich and Joseph Kioko, Rhino Ark chief executive Colin Church and Kuki Gallman. Others were Ali Kaka of IUCN, KTB Managing Director Muriithi Ndegwa and Dr John Waithaka from Parks Canada.
Speaking at the function, Dr Mutunga called on KWS rangers to honour their colleagues who died in the course of duty by dedicating themselves to the cause of conservation.
He called on Parliament to expedite the review of wildlife policy and law by separating the roles of policy, regulation and operations for greater efficiency in the industry.
Dr Mutunga noted that the review would enact stiffer penalties for wildlife crime as well as guide more involvement of communities in conservation.
KWS chairman of Board of Trustees, David Mwiraria, noted that challenges of conservation had increased with the rise in human population, exorbitant pricing of animal trophies on the black market, pressure on land use, diminishing space for wildlife, climate change, encroachment by invasive species and destruction of wildlife habitats.
“We must, therefore, continue to mobilise communities for more participation in conservation as well as improve our tourism product through re-branding and aggressive marketing,” Mwiraria said.
He pledged continued working with communities “so that they appreciate more the need to preserve our wildlife and co-exist in spite of the growing populations and competition for natural resources”.
The KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich thanked various organisations that had contributed to conservation. He mentioned Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Nature Conservancy for donating the 17,100 hectare land for the new Laikipia National Park.
Kipng’etich announced that on Wednesday next week, KWS would be signing an easement agreement with Hon John Keen and AWF for 300 hectares to expand Nairobi National Park.
The US government was supporting KWS in reforming the curriculum for and would focus on attitude and character.
Kipng’etich also announced that KWS would build a forensic and genetic lab to provide strong scientific evidence for prosecution of wildlife related crimes.
He congratulated five KWS employees who were awarded State honour by the President at this year’s Jamhuri Day celebrations.
Kipng’etich KWS would dedicate 2012 to Information and Technology to boost internal efficiency. This year, 2011, year was dedicated to working with communities as key stakeholders in conservation.