KWS warns of jail for unlicensed game farming

As interest in game farming rises driven by an emerging market for exotic meats and exotic pets, Kenya Wildlife Service has warned that anyone rearing wild animals without a game farming permit risks heavy penalties, including jail terms.

The market for animals normally found in the wild, such as chameleons, snails, frogs, snakes, guinea fowl, ostrich and pigeon, is now attracting many more farmers – often as a way of diversifying from conventional livestock farming. But based on their status as protected animals, and in order to prevent illegal trading, game farming requires an annual game farming permit from the Kenya Wildlife Services, through an application made to the Director KWS through the nearest KWS regional office.

Where farmers file the form satisfactorily, including information on where and how they intend to keep the animals, are visited by a team of KWS inspectors to verify the facts as filled in the form and establish that the farmer meet the requirements for the enterprise.

“Once the regional officers are satisfied, they then forward the application to KWS headquarters in Nairobi for approval by the director. Once approved, a licensing officer, usually a senior warden from the nearest KWS office, will issue the farmer with a license to practice game farming upon payment of Sh1000 to Sh2000 depending on the business,” said Ndegwa Muthamia an officer with the Kenya Wildlife Services.

To ensure the animals are kept in good shape, the officers perform periodic monitoring and inspection. “A breach of any of the laid down requirements, like starving animals, will lead to withdrawal of the license,” said Ndegwa.

However, a farmer can reapply and have their license reissued if farm visits later reveal that conditions have been met.

Farmers must also demonstrate rearing knowledge of the animal they want to keep. Take, for example, crocodile rearing. Anyone interested must prove they are conversant with reptile keeping or hire a specialist. They must also erect spacious structures. They must also prove they can handle the eggs of the reptile, especially for breeding, since the eggs are very sensitive. A slight shake in the egg will mean the birth of a deformed baby crocodile. Therefore, a farmer who cannot be trusted by KWS to collect and hatch the eggs with more than 95 per cent accuracy, is advised to buy young crocodiles from established farms.

KWS veterinary doctor Francis Gakuya says crocodiles in farms can also suffer from fungal, bacterial and viral infections, while congestion may also lead to skin injuries. "Apart from sufficient feeding, the reptiles should be de-wormed frequently," he said.

Large scale enterprises like ranches may also require an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) from the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) before licensing.

Other requirements are of an ordinary business nature. For example, KWS would want to know the name of the business, where it is located, whether there is enough land for the venture, that is has a trade license, and the contact details and nature of the business.

Many cases of KWS revoking animal licenses have been reported, with the most conspicuous being the 2004 case of an Embu crocodile farmer rearing 500 crocodiles, where KWS reported deteriorating rearing conditions. Although the tussle dragged on for months, the farm did raise its standards for crocodile rearing.

In terms of markets, few of the products from game farming are consumed by locals. A large proportion goes to tourists and for exports, with the distributors of these products needing a certificate from KWS before they can accept game products from a supplier.

KWS also conducts regular inspections of distributors to ensure compliance with the regulations. For game or game products for export another key body is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which tags the exported product to indicate its source.

Kirinyaga Eco Tourism Self Help Group, a community based organisation in Central Kenya, has been among those that has enjoyed a first class record with KWS since it started chameleon farming four years ago. The venture is now selling some 2000 chameleon a year to the local market.

“The majority of Kenyans have expressed interest in keeping the chameleons as pets and for beauty in their houses. It hasn’t been altogether easy, as we have been forced to deal with busting the dominant myths about chameleons, including that chameleon’s saliva is very poisonous and can kill you instantly. Luckily, the majority of these clients have responded to what we have told them and are now demanding more chameleons,” said Stephen Kabuthi, the secretary of the group.

“This kind of game farming is becoming very lucrative, but you have to be very meticulous when rearing them,”said Danny Too, a game farmer in Ruiru who keeps chameleon and frogs, mostly used for their ornamental value. According to Danny, a mature chameleon of the Jackson Species, which is common in Kenya, goes for Sh3500 to local upmarket clients who love to keep them as pets and beauty in their houses. Exported ones go for between Sh5000 and Sh7000 with the prime international markets being Japan and USA.