New Kenya Wildlife Service Director Out of IFAW

NAIROBI, Kenya, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - An animal conservationist with experience in both government and nonprofit sectors has been selected to fill the post of Director for the Kenya Wildlife Service vacated by retirement. Michael Wamithi worked for 14 years in the Service, before he took his present position as East Africa regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Wamithi

Michael Wamithi (Photo courtesy IFAW)
Wamithi established the IFAW East Africa Regional Office in Nairobi three years ago, and also influenced IFAW’s campaign against the ivory trade, the organization said today in a congratulatory statement.

IFAW president Fred O'Regan, said, “Michael is a world class leader in the conservation arena. All of us at IFAW are delighted for Michael and wish him every success in this new leadership position. We will miss him greatly but look forward to continuing our close collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service and its new director.”

In the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Wamithi rose from assistant warden to assistant director in charge of intelligence. He was responsible for identifying areas of security threat within Kenya's wildlife park and reserve system, and for the design and development of intelligence procedures and policies. He worked with international law enforcement agencies worldwide on issues relating to the illegal trade in wildlife, including elephant ivory, IFAW said.

"Since 1997, we have seen increased activity in the illegal market for ivory," he said at the meeting of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement in 2000 when he was still working for the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Not lacking in field experience, Wamithi served with KWS as warden of Nairobi National Park, Amboseli National Park, Wajir District, Mombasa, and assistant warden of Tsavo West National Park.

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Bull elephant in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, under Mt. Kilimanjaro (Photo by J. Ferguson-Mitchell/IFAW)
Animals like elephants might soon become extinct if poaching continues, Wamithi said in April. Speaking at the Aberdare Conservation Action Group in Nyeri on Earth Day, Wamithi said Africa's elephant population of 50,000 was threatened with depletion.

IFAW points out that Wamithi’s appointment comes at "a difficult time" when three African nations, South Africa Botswana, and Namibia, are preparing to sell 60,000 kilograms of elephant ivory.

Opposed by Kenya, the sale is part of a deal approved at the November meeting of the UN Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). Conservationists have warned that such ivory stockpile sales lead to elephant poaching to fuel the increased demand created for raw ivory.

The Kenya Wildlife Service oversees 17 national parks and reserves, and walks a fine line between "the need to protect the elephant on the one hand and the need to protect human life and property on the other."

When human-elephant conflicts arise, KWS works to reduce wildlife management related costs to the rural communities through conflict resolution guidelines that may involve translocation of problem animals.

The greatest challenge for KWS to deal with is the degradation of wildlife habitat through opening up savannah for agriculture, the Service says on its website. Also, "the receding of our wetlands due to human economic activities and the blockage of animal movement routes through settlements, agriculture and other areas of competing land use, are other challenges."

The outgoing director, Joseph Kioko, was a long serving assistant director who worked under the two former KWS directors, Dr. Richard Leakey and Dr. David Western. He instituted money saving measures at a time when morale in the wildlife body was reported to be at its lowest ebb due to financial constraints.

The Kenya Wildlife Service is online at: http://www.kenya-wildlife-service.org/