SETH ONYANGO, BIRD
HUMANISING wild animals would help mobilise funds towards the wildlife kitty, create awareness about conservation at a time when most animals are becoming endangered, is the thinking behind a new wildlife initiative.
This has been done before. The catch is that this time, it’s not a baby rhino or cute baby lion or elephant. The naming rights will apply to hyenas, according to Kenya’s Tourism Secretary.
“Anyone who wants hyena named after them will have to pay 2 million shillings in exchange for the hyena-naming bragging rights,” Kenya’s Tourism secretary Najib Balala said, at the just concluded Magical Kenya Tembo Naming Festival.
To be fair, the naming initiative did in fact begin with more popular animals, but not because they are cute. Environmentalists are using the initiative to focus attention on ecosystems that are crucial to the survival of endangered animals.
“Any animal can be named, but we opted to start with the elephants because they are the ones who are most endangered.”
The naming of hyenas is also expected to strike a chord with wildlife enthusiasts and tourists the world over who recognise the key role played by hyenas in their natural habitat and who would be happy to put their names to the ravenous scavengers – and potentially boosting international tourist arrivals to the region, in the process.
Kenya’s tourism ministry has in the past couple of months tried several initiatives to shore up tourists’ numbers.
In August, the East African country’s tourism board announced a partnership with the short-form video platform TikTok during the annual Mara migration, as the Kenyan government leads Africa in retooling traditional marketing strategies to raise its tourism appeal.
“Together with TikTok, we can engage the world with content and experiences from any part of the country and drive more awareness of our country and wildlife, especially during this time when travel is limited with the aim of curbing the spread of the virus,” said Betty Radier, Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Tourism Board.
Balala argued that while hyena numbers remain healthy, for now, naming them after humans could rake in extra funds for conservation, helping the more endangered species.
The initiative comes as scientists have begun to see an increase in the number of elephants in Kenya, with initiatives such as “adoption” by tourists cited as one of the contributing factors.
Having an elephant named after you currently costs between 500 and 5,000 US dollars with at least 30 elephants having been named so far. Kenya has 36,000 elephants.
“It is not easy to look after the increasing numbers and also protect the community from human-wildlife conflicts. So far, we have been able to raise 15 million shillings (15,000 US dollars), and we are targeting 100 million shillings (1 million US dollars) in the next year,” Balala said.
From the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Kenyan government has paid nearly 10 million US dollars to community ranches in wildlife conservancies and the equivalent amount to recruit 5,500 new scouts to support the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
“Conservation of our wildlife resources remains key for us to ensure that future generations enjoy our country’s heritage, natural resources and the incredible species that live within it,” KWS said in a statement.