31 January 2005

Kenya pressured to drop planned wildlife swap

Wildlife activists on Friday stepped up pressure on Kenya to drop controversial plans to send hundreds of wild animals to zoos in Thailand, appealing directly to President Mwai Kibaki to cancel the deal.

An umbrella group of African primate sanctuaries said it was reviewing plans to hold an annual conference in Kenya in light of the agreement while a leading conservation organisation warned Kibaki that his country's reputation as a wildlife champion was at risk.

And they reiterated dire predictions that the deal would adversely affect Kenyan tourism - a badly needed revenue source - rather than luring larger numbers of foreign visitors, the government justification for the project.

The British-based Born Free Foundation said the plan to send more than 300 animals - including elephants, hippos, lions and rhinos - from 30 different species to Thailand "could undermine Kenya's credibility as a positive global force for animal welfare and conservation".

"I urge and most sincerely and respectfully request the president of Kenya to reconsider this proposal, which I am sure was conceived with the best of intentions but is deeply flawed," foundation chief Will Travers said.

In a letter to the Kenyan Wildlife Service and the Ministry of Tourism, the Pan-African Sanctuaries Alliance (Pasa), which represents 16 primate refuges in 12 countries, said it was re-evaluating a decision to stage its 2005 management workshop in Kenya because of the plan.

Pasa is "shocked and dismayed" by the deal which "appears to display absolutely no understanding or knowledge of the current wildlife situation in Kenya, East Africa or Africa, and would be a terrible setback for Kenya wildlife", it said in the letter.

"We feel it is important that the Kenyan government understands that decisions involving wildlife can have serious consequences in other areas of Kenyan tourism, commerce and trade," Doug Cress of the group's secretariat said in an email message.


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