Letter from New Delhi – Kenya Indians Active in Wildlife Conservation

A small number of Kenyan Indians make a difference to stop poaching and protecting precious biodiversity

Despite the long prevalent image as traders, a few Kenyan Indians have ventured into wildlife conservation. When 110 tons of poached ivory was set afire by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on 30 April 2016, a Kenyan TV anchor Smriti Vidyarthi, covered the event.

A few Kenya Indians have been helping to save and protect the country’s precious biodiversity for decades. One of them, Harshad Patel, a printing press owner, was an avid photographer saddened by the rapidly declining numbers of elephants, he photographed them to publish a coffee table book, ‘Vanishing Herds’, in 1973 with a foreword by the Duke of Edinburgh.

The world famous news photographer, the late Mohamed Amin, clicked thousands of photos of wild life and produced a coffee table books, the first one, ‘A Journey Through Kenya’, was released in 1982. Later, he published dozens of coffee table books on travel and wildlife. His photo agency, now run by his son Salim, continues to supply these pictures worldwide.

Two Kenya born world famous wildlife photographers, Anup and Manoj Shah, spent many hours in the Nairobi National Park while growing up. Watching animals in their natural habitat, they started to photograph them. After completing their university education in England, the brothers returned to Kenya to develop their interest in wildlife photography, and have since made an impact worldwide.

Their photographs have been displayed in numerous exhibitions across Europe and USA. These have been regularly published in many prestigious publications, including BBC Wildlife and National Geographic. They have won multiple photographic awards, including many in both Nature’s Best International Photography competition, and the prestigious BBC/BG Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. They have published several wildlife books, including, among others, ‘Sauvage Afrique’, ‘Savane’, ‘A Circle of Life: Wildlife on the African Savannah and African Odyssey’; ‘The Great Rift Valley of East Africa’ is their latest.

Rupi Mangat is a committed eco-journalist who has been writing since 1998 in The Nation, Kenya’s biggest newspaper and the weekly, East African. In 1991, she started helping Wildlife Clubs of Kenya to revive ‘Komba’ (bushbaby in Kiswahili), the high school magazine on wildlife and conservation. In 2013, she was voted the ‘Ecotourism Journalist of the Year’ by Ecotourism Society of Kenya. She says, “I’m passionate about the environment, about saving species and looking after Mama Earth with respect.”

Smriti Vidyarthi launched a weekly TV show, NTV Wild, which presents top conservationists like Richard Leakey talking about the challenges of saving wildlife. She roughs it out to the bush to shoot this program in game reserves and national parks to provide an authentic environment. She is bound to come up with an award winning documentary as she is so dedicated to conservation.

After qualifying as vets, a couple of Indians have worked full time for the Kenya Wildlife Society and similar NGOs. This is a long way from 1977 when big game hunting was banned in Kenya. Before that, a number of Indians were professional hunters who escorted their rich clients on hunting safaris. A colourful, portly hunter, the late Mohammed Iqbal, had plenty of tales to tell about his clients and the hunts. Another was a tight lipped, light weight Sabby Fernandes who was very courteous. After the hunting ban due to fast depleting wildlife, all these hunters faded away. And hunting got seriously underway only with a camera.

Every year, tens of thousands of African elephants are brutally killed for their ivory. Between 2008 and 2013, the estimated death toll ranged between 30,000 and 50,000 elephants per year. The slaughter is horrifying; ivory dealers employ and arm poachers, who target entire elephant herds, shooting them with automatic weapons and hacking off their tusks with axes and chainsaws while these animals still alive! The poachers carry the tusks to their handlers who smuggle them to the Far East, Europe and USA where these fetch high prices.

In the 1970s, 1900 elephants were killed in Kenya for their ivory tusks, increasing to 8,300 elephants in the 1980s. In 1989, as a dramatic gesture to persuade the world to halt the ivory trade, the then Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi torched twelve tons of elephant tusks. Ivory seizures rose dramatically since 2006. So these were set ablaze again on 30 April 2016.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

* Published in print edition on 20 May 2016

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