The tortoise eaters of Nakuru
19 February 2014, 14:42
Wildlife lovers condemn new trend as human rights activists blame the government for a failed economy that has made food prices skyrocket, David Amon reports
As the prices of food stuffs continue to rise under the reality of a struggling economy, crafty Kenyans are beginning to look for new ways of beating hunger. Many citizens indeed are changing their eating habits, shifting from their popular meals while substituting them with others that can easily or cheaply be acquired in a move to tame the falling economy.
This is exactly what is happening in parts Nakuru town as some residents resort to hunting down wild animals from bushes near their homes for meat.
At residential areas adjacent to the famous Hyrax Hill Pre-Historic site and Museum along the Nakuru-Nairobi and -Nyahururu highways, about 4kms from Nakuru town Central District, some residents have discovered that tortoise meat is a delicacy.
The residents, according to reliable sources, hunt for the reptiles that inhabit the jungles surrounding the pre-historic site before slaughtering them for food even as local wildlife lovers and natural resources activists petition the local law enforcers to take action.
According to the activists, the new trend is a threat to wildlife conservation in the region as is to the reptiles that have been classified as endangered species in the country and world over.
Recently, a group of young men at Teachers Estate numbering about ten stunned other residents when they openly slaughtered a tortoise and prepared a meal out of its flesh, arguing that the reptiles’ meat was both delicious and medicinal in value.
According to impeccable sources, the youths had been taming the animal for several days after collecting it from the forest adjacent to the Estate.
One of the men, Amos Mukwana aged 38, when contacted by the denied that they had illegally hunted down the animal but said they had bought it from an Asian at a posh estate near Teachers Estate who was reportedly re-locating.
Mukwana, who works as a carpenter in the Estate, said tortoise meat was a common delicacy in his ancestral Abakhayo village in Wanga, Kakamega County.
"We did not collect the animal from the bushes, we bought it from the Indian. I have been consuming tortoise meat since I was a small boy. So I see nothing strange in this case,” he said.
Nazani Chete, a local human rights activist who witnessed the bizarre incident however blames the government for the changing eating habits among Kenyans arguing that the government has failed to ratify efforts that will see the reduction of food prices in the country. He further argues that corruption in government has reduced majority of Kenyans to living like paupers thus a survival for the fittest syndrome was growing among many citizens.
“This government has failed to grow the economy due to rampant corruption among its senior officials and politicians and especially putting in place measures that will ensure food security,” says Chete adding that the government has also failed to provide a permanent solution to the issue of human-wildlife conflicts.
According to the activist, the government must address the issue of food prices and general food security as well as putting in place sustainable measures to control the rampant human-wildlife conflicts. He observes that the rampant illegal hunting of wild animals across the country was an economic survival tactic and that the government is to blame.
Antony Waweru, a local ecotourism consultant on the other hand attributes the massive human –wildlife conflicts to the increasing settlements and physical developments in hitherto natural environments rich in wildlife and potential tourism attraction sites.
He observes in particular that the area surrounding the Hyrax Hill Museum was a wildlife reserve area whose natural environment has over time been destroyed for development by land grabbers in Nakuru. Waweru adds that local law enforcers on the other hand have been reluctant to take action against illegal hunting of wild animals in the area.
“This area was part of the protected hill that accommodates the museum. Many wild animals inhabited these jungles but human settlements and development have destroyed the natural environment while security agents turn a blind eye to poachers,” he says.
Citing a stalled private development on a piece of land believed to have been curved off the protected area, the natural resources activist is petitioning the Jubilee government to reposes land that has been grabbed from the public institution.
The Public Relations Officer at the Museum, .Zakias Akwaro says the Museum has initiated a project that is intended to rescue endangered wildlife species in the area. He says already a tortoise farming project is being run by the museum while a snake park would be introduced soon.
The PRO says the museum management has a community outreach programme that educates the locals against harming wildlife and encourages them to surrender wild animals they capture back to the museum at a fee. He says the museum surrenders some of the recovered animals to the Kenya Wildlife Services department at the Lake Nakuru National Park.
“Some locals cooperate while others adamantly kill the animals for food and other economic benefits,” he says adding that the tortoise pit at the museum so far has more than 30 animals most of which were collected from the surrounding jungles while others have been bred at the pit. Akwaro says the pit attracts local and foreign tourists, researchers and animal lovers.
Although tortoise meat is commonly consumed as food by some ethnic communities in Kenya, just like in many other parts of Africa and across the world, Kenyan laws are against unlicensed hunting and consumption of game meat.
Apart from tortoises, other wild animals prone to illegal hunting by villagers in the jungles around the museum include; wild pig, antelope, guinea fowl, python and hare.
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