Advances in Anthropology
2012. Vol.2, No.1, 31-38
Published Online February 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 31
The Future of Traditional Customary Uses of Wildlife in
Modern Africa: A Case Study of Kenya and Botswana
Nixon Sifuna
School of Law, Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya
Received October 26th, 2011; revised Nove mber 29th, 2011; accepted December 27th, 2011
This paper discusses the future of traditional customary uses of wildlife in Africa. The continent’s wildlife
is as old as humanity or perhaps even older. Indeed wildlife has through the ages remained a valuable re-
source for the African society; both in its traditional setting and in its modern form. While wildlife has
some conventional and universal uses to society, there are some uses that are anthropologically unique to
the African traditional way of life and therefore warrant special consideration. Such uses, for instance,
manifest the inextricable attachment of the African peoples to the continent’s wildlife. Indeed there is a
crucial link between wildlife and many traditional African cultural values and practices. One way in
which these values manifest themselves is through the traditional customary uses of wildlife by the people.
These uses are consumptive in nature and largely geared towards meeting the basic needs of humankind
such as food, health and clothing. Research for this study was conducted in the Laikipia region of Kenya
and the Okavango Delta region of Botswana. Information was obtained by the use of semistructured in-
terviews, self-administered questionnaires, focus group discussions, and literature survey. The respon-
dents included government officials, NGOs, experts as well as local communities. A total of 44 respon-
dents were interviewed from each country, comprising households from the local communities within
wildlife areas, senior ranking government officials, leaders of NGOs that actually work on wildlife issues,
experts in natural resource management as well as eminent scholars in environmental and natural re-
sources law and policy. The study established that these traditional uses continue to be either relegated by
modern (or rather Western) way of life especially Christianity or restricted by the laws that are fashioned
on American and European perceptions. This state of affairs has been largely engendered by western val-
ues as a result of colonialism, modern lifestyles as well as religious transformation from traditional Afri-
can religions to Islam, Christianity and other present day religions. Admittedly, traditional wildlife uses
are not necessarily undesirable and there is need for them to be recognized and promoted by the existing
policies and laws. The paper recommends that African governments should, through their policies and
laws, recognize and promote these traditional uses of wildlife. This is one way of ensuring that wildlife
contributes to the day to day life o f the people. It is only when this is a chieved tha t the people of this n eedy
continent of Africa will begin to appreciate the value of wildlife as a valuable resource to the present and
future generations. N otably, the value of wildlife in western societie s differs radically from it s value in the
traditional African context. While in western societies the importance of wildlife is perceived from its in-
trinsic value, in the traditional African context it is perceived from its direct uses—consumptive uses.
Keywords: Wildlife Values; Traditional Customary Wildlife Uses; Socio-Cultural Uses; Totems;
Traditional African Values
The African continent has an abundant and richly varied
wildlife endowment surpassing most places on earth. This en-
dowment is a natural heritage for the present and future genera-
tions, with several beneficial uses of the wildlife resources. It
has some animals that are rare and not found in many places in
the world. The Choice of Kenya and Botswana is appropriate.
First, it presents a comparison between a country in which
consumptive uses of wildlife are permitted (i.e. Botswana) and
a country in which only non-consumptive uses of wildlife are
Secondly, the respective land area of both these two coun-
tries is about the same; and both have some of the most abun-
dant and most diversified wildlife estates in Africa with many
species of wild animals. Admittedly, there is a historical rela-
tionship between the African people and wildlif e , a rela t i o n s hi p
that is resilient and one that has existed from time immemorial
and through the generations to the present and hopefully to
The Botswana Government in the Tenth National Develop-
ment Plan of 2010 lists the benefits derived from wildlife as
cultural, socio-economic and biological integrity; creation of
employment opportunities; enhancing environmental stability;
providing aesthetic, scientific, nutritional and educational value;
and promoting tourism. The plan further reports that “Bot-
swana’s tourism industry is currently overwhelmingly depend-
ent on wildlife.” The Kenya government in its Wildlife Policy
of 2007 states that “Kenya’s wildlife is one of the richest and
most diversified in Africa with several of its protected areas and
wetlands being internationally recognized and protected as
World Heritage Sites, Ramsar sites and Man and Biosphere
While wildlife has a wide array of benefits, economic bene-
fits in many cases are perhaps the most emphasized. Wildlife
plays a major role in the economy in more than one way. Prin-
cipally, wildlife is an economic sector in its own right in terms
of providing employment and contributing to the national in-
come through earnings from wildlife tourism. In terms of em-
ployment, the wildlife sector in Kenya and Botswana provides
employment to many who are employed either in state and
governmental agencies or in other wildlife support agencies
such as hotels, tour companies and beach resorts associated
with the sector. In Kenya, the tourist sector accounts for about
400,000 jobs in the formal sector and over nine percent of the
country’s total wage bill (GOK Official Website). In Botswana
it accounts for at least 10,000 jobs (GOB Official Website).
Notably, in both countries, the most notable economic benefit
of wildlife is its contribution to the economy in terms of earn-
ings from wildlife tourism. An appreciable part of tourism earn-
ings in these countries are attributable directly or indirectly to
Earnings from tourism usually run into billions in direct in-
come and foreign exchange, thereby contributing a large share
of the national income. Tourism earned Kenya 56.2 and 65.4
billion Kenya shillings in 2006 and 2007, respectively (GOK
Official Website). The Kenya Government in the Tenth Na-
tional Development Plan estimates that approximately 70 per-
cent of the total tourism earnings can be attributed directly to
wildlife. Tourism is also Botswana’s second largest foreign
exchange earner after diamonds, estimated to contribute about
BP 495 million which is approximately 4.5 per cent of the
country’s Gross Domestic Product (GOB Official Website).
The Government of Botswana in the Ninth and Tenth National
Development Plan notes that “Botswana’s tourism industry is
currently overwhelmingly dependent on wildlife.” Government
of Botswana in a report, (GOB, Wildlife Statistics, 2005), re-
ports that “wildlife tourists mostly come to the country for tro-
phy hunting, wildlife photography and viewing.” Wildlife tour-
ists are tourists who come to a country because of its wildlife.
Interestingly however, contrary to the fact that wildlife earns
these two countries millions of dollars through tourism, most of
the people in most villages attribute their poverty to wildlife
(Sifuna, 2009). This is largely because large tracts of land are
reserved to wild animals as wildlife protected areas. Secondly,
is the harm that wild animals cause to society when they attack
people or destroy their crops, livestock and other material
property. Thirdly, that government authorities tend to alienate
wildlife from the people and deny them the historical benefits
they have enjoyed from wildlife through the ages.
Apart from its economic value, wildlife has from time im-
memorial been a valuable natural resource in Africa, with sev-
eral other traditional beneficial uses to society. This does not in
any way mean that wildlife can only exist with reference to its
uses to human kind. Indeed it has a right to exist in itself with-
out such reference. Nevertheless, there are three major tradi-
tional uses of wild animals in Africa, namely, uses for socio-
cultural purposes, nutrition and folk medicine. These are what
are referred to in this paper as “traditional customary uses” of
the resource. With the advent of the modern society there has
been a paradigm shift from the traditional customary approach
that emphasizes use to a western approach that emphasizes
value. Accordingly the contemporary value of wildlife includes
economic value; ecological value; medicinal value; educational
and scientific value; and recreational value. This seems to rele-
gate to the backyard the traditional customary uses of wildlife,
which has largely upset the symbiotic relationship that has al-
ways existed between Africans and their wildlife.
Before the arrival of the colonialists, the indigenous African
communities co-existed with wild animals, utilizing them as
they needed, and in accordance only with African customary
practices and values (Muriuki, 1996). These communities hunted
wild animals for food and other uses such as clothing, bedding
and cultural purposes. Many ethnic groups, however, had totem
animals-animals bel ieved to be sacred and which were therefore
left unharmed or which could only be utilized for prayers or
medicinal purposes. Generally, there were traditional customs,
rules, taboos, beliefs and practices of the various ethnic groups
relating to wildlife (ODA, 1996). With the advent of imperial-
ism, things changed dramatically as all over a sudden the colo-
nial governments imposed stiff laws on wildlife utilization,
mainly on hunting and wildlife products. Takirambudde has
observed that colonialism in Africa created “a new legal order
to replace the traditional structures and ideology” (Tarakim-
budde, 1988).
The paper examines the traditional African customary uses of
wildlife, with Kenya and Botswana as the case studies. It is
divided into six parts. Part one is an introduction that introduces
the subject of this work as well as the major concepts and issues
involved. Part two discusses the traditional customary uses of
wildlife in Africa in terms of its uses for socio-cultural uses,
nutritional uses as well as its uses in folk medicine. This part is
meant to highlight how Africans have traditionally utilized their
wildlife resources as a way of setting the stage to compare these
uses with the contemporary uses of wildlife in the modern soci-
ety that has been influenced by western values as well as for-
eign religions. Part three discusses the uses of wildlife in the
latter context. Part four projects the future of African customary
uses of wildlife based on the existing trends and also makes
recommendations on how these uses can be preserved and
promoted in order to sustain the cultural link between the in-
digenous inhabitants of Africa and the continent’s wildlife re-
sources. It also makes conclusions that tie up the issues dis-
cussed in the paper.
Traditional African Customary Uses of Wildlife
Wildlife has always been a valuable resource for the African
society both in its traditional setting and in its modern form that
has been influenced by western traditional values as a result of
colonialism, modern lifestyles as well as religious transforma-
tion from traditiona l African re ligions to Islam, Christianity and
other present day religions. While wildlife has some conven-
tional and universal uses to society, there are some uses that are
anthropologically unique to the African traditional way of life
and therefore warrant special consideration. Such uses, for in-
stance, manifest the inextricable attachment of the African peo-
ples to the continent’s wildlife.
The African people have traditionally not been game-viewers,
hence in Africa, the traditional customary uses of wildlife have
been consumptive in nature (Sifuna, 2009). In effect, to the
Africans traditionally, the intrinsic value of wildlife is no value
at all, hence to them, only consumptive uses and benefits have
value. For instance, while watching wildlife will excite a white
tourist, it will traditionally not excite even the most adventur-
ous traditional African, leave alone the cultural jingoist. This is
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
because traditional African culture seems to prefer consumptive
benefits as opposed to intrinsic benefits. These traditional Afri-
can uses of wildlife are of three main categories, namely:
socio-cultural uses, nutritional uses and uses in folk medicine.
These are discussed in detail in the part below.
Socio-Cultural Uses
Wildlife in Kenya and Botswana has numerous socio-cultural
values and traditional uses, and is part of the socio-cultural life
of many ethnic communities in these countries. Notably, some
wild animals as discussed below are so revered in some com-
munities that their totemic (sacred), ritualistic and symbolic val-
ues are enhanced through a combination of songs, dances, my-
thology, artistic drawings, paintings, sculpture, carvings, as well
as religion. Virtually all ethnic communities in both countries
have a long-standing historical association with wildlife and
traditionally have some cultural attachment to certain wild ani-
mals (Ipara, 2004). This is manifested in many traditional folk-
lore and folktales over the years. Ipara cites, for instance, folk-
lore and folktales about “the cunning hare”, “t he beautiful guinea
fowl”, “the slow tortoise”, “the mighty lion”, “the stealthily
leopard” and the “majestic elephant.” The proverbial use of
wild animals in songs and stories acts as a reservoir for soci-
ety’s knowledge on wildlife, enhances the stylistic attributes of
folklore and folktales, and in some cases symbolizes the cul-
tural significance of certain animals in the community con-
cerned as will be discussed below.
Besides, some wild animals are totems in certain communi-
ties, where they are perceived to be sacred. Totemism is “the
designation of a particular animal as a sacred emblem, not to be
interfered with” (Kameri-Mbote, 2002). There are communities
in Africa which believe that the spirits of their dead members
reside in certain animal species. These species are “emblem” or
totem for such communities and cannot be killed except for
cultural rites or in defence against an attack by it, in the belief
that a misfortune could befall the killer or his family (Ipara Ibid,
Sifuna 2009). Research for this study established that to this
day there are tribes in Kenya and Botswana with their own
tribal totem animals. In Botswana, it was evident among four
tribes namely, the BaKwena tribe (the crocodile), among the
BaFurushe tribe (the baboon), among the BaRolong tribe (the
wildebeest), and among the Bakgatla tribe (the monkey) (Tsi-
ako, 2004). In Kenya, there are many tribes having tribal totem
animals, for instance the Kikuyu of central Kenya; the Meru,
Akamba and Embu of Eastern Kenya; the Abagusii, Abakuria,
Abaluhya, Luo and Ateso of western Kenya; the Taita, Mi-
jikenda and Pokomo of the Kenyan Coast; the Kalenjin, Tur-
kana and Maasai of the Rift Valley region. Some of the totemic
wild animals include the leopard, monkey, fox, antelope, ele-
phant, buffalo, crocodile, tortoise and certain species of snakes
for instance the cobra, puff adder and python (Sifuna, 2009).
Some animals are believed, among certain communities, to
be a source of magical powers and/or strength, which powers
whether real or perceived make such animals to be of remark-
able socio-cultural significance in the concerned communities.
It is, for instance, believed in certain communities that “asso-
ciation between humans and wildlife believed to be mighty,
powerful and full of strength would in turn instill similar values
and attributes in such humans” (Ipara, 2004). Animals such as
the lion and leopard are in some communities still held as royal.
There are communities in Kenya where wild animals are also
used for worship and to appease the ancestral spirits. In those
communities there are people who turn to wildlife worship for
spiritual nourishment as others go to church for the same reason.
Besides, in many communities in both Kenya and Botswana,
people have names adapted from certain animals considered to
be totemic or royal (Kasere, 1996). In Botswana, these names
include Ndlovu (elephant), Dube (Zebra), Nyati (Buffalo), and
Lakwena (Crocodile) (Sifuna, 2009). In Kenya, the names in-
clude Simba (Lion), Kwach (Leopard), Nyang or Kwena
(Crocodile), Wakhisi (Antelope), Ngari (Leopard), Ndwiga
(Giraffe), Nguyo (Monkey), Mosonik (Baboon), Ngatia (Lion)
and Njogu (Elephant) (Sifuna, Ibid). Incidentally all these
names are male names, it would be good for there to be a study
seeking to establish the reason why women are not given names
of wild animals yet there are female wild animals.
In both countries wildlife and wildlife resources have several
traditional uses. The hides of buffalos and giraffes, for instance,
are used for making shields while that of the eland is used for
making belts and ropes. In both countries also, body parts of
certain wild animals are used for making clothing as well as
traditional ceremonial regalia. The Basarwa of Botswana use
the skins of monkey and antelopes to make clothing and bed-
ding; and hippo skin for making lashes and ropes. In Botswana,
certain rare species of wildlife provided clothing of traditional
chiefs and kings. In Kenya, Maasai morans still wear the lion’s
mane as a head dress in ceremonies. The Samburu of Kenya use
antelope horns to make tobacco containers. Some animals are
part of traditional passage rites in certain indigenous communi-
ties, for instance the Maasai of Kenya. Among the Maasai, an
important part of the rite of passage for young adult men or
“morans” (meaning a Maasai warrior) is the killing of a lion as
a demonstration of bravery (Kameri-Mbote, 2002). In the course
of an informal discussion with Mzee Ole Kipury a Maasai elder,
this author established that the “moran” is expected to return
home with the head of the lion as a symbol of bravery. On a
lighter note, the said elder stated an age-old joke among the
Maasai that a lion is likely to take to its heels if confronted by a
These traditional uses are increasingly being limited by the
existing policies and laws in both countries and especially in
Kenya where wildlife conservation is almost exclusively in the
hands of the state, with the local communities having little or
no say in its management. Colchester says that alienating wild-
life to the state annuls, limits and restricts traditional user rights
such as hunting (Cholchester, 1997). The national park status
for instance, usually extinguishes traditional user rights thereby
divesting local communities the true ownership of indigenous
resources and illegalizing any utilization activities by them. A
typical example is the Kenya government’s legal ban on hunt-
ing and all forms of consumptive use of wildlife, and retained
viewing and photography as the only lawful use of wildlife
resour ces in Keny a. This ban has, for example, made it imprac-
tical to lawfully procure body parts of wild animals for tradi-
tional uses. There is however, a variance between the law and
practice in that there are communities in Kenya which still util-
ize or kill wild animals for cultural purposes, for instance the
Another factor that has relegated traditional African wildlife
uses to the backyard is the modern way of life that has intro-
duced foreign ideologies, conservation practices, lifestyles and
religions such as Christianity. A UN report observes that most
of these foreign religions for instance ‘condemn African tradi-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 33
tional religions which, hitherto, acted to maintain an ecological
balance due to the society’s beliefs that their gods either were
the living species or at least they were manifest in these species
in a special way’ (UNEP et al., 1999). As a result many indige-
nous communities continue to loose cultural and traditional
user rights they have enjoyed over wildlife such as domestica-
tion and hunting. As traditional methods of wildlife utilization
continue to be overtaken by modern methods, restricted or even
extinguished by the law. In both countries, many traditional
practices and taboos continue loosing their role in the use of
wildlife, while tribal leaders continue loosing a say in wildlife
conservation and management. The situation is worse in Kenya
where wildlife management is almost exclusively a state affair.
In Botswana, the situation is not as critical because it seems to
be mitigated by the existence of a community-based conserva-
tion system in which the local people are routinely consulted
and allowed to participate in wildlife management, utilization
as well as revenue and benefit-sharing.
Nutritional Uses
Wild animals have for long been an important source of food
in many societies in the world, including Kenya and Botswana
where traditionally, many local communities in both countries
have from time immemorial relied on wild animals for food.
However not all wild animals are edible or eaten. Only edible
wild animals are eaten, and only in certain communities. Dur-
ing the “hunting and gathe ring” phase of hu man life for instance,
wildlife was a principal component of human diet as communi-
ties relied exclusively on game meat and wild plants for their
nutritional requirements (Dasman, 1964). Such communities
were classified as “hunter-gatherer” and they obtained their
food by hunting wild animals and game birds as well as col-
lecting the honey of wild bees, wild fruits and edible roots. In
many countries around the world including Kenya and Bot-
swana there are pockets of traditional communities that depend
primarily on game meat and wild plants for foods. These com-
munities are considered remnants of those classified as “hunter-
gatherers” who rely on hunting for meat and gathering fruits for
survival. These twentieth century hunter-gatherers are not only
remnants of prehistoric ages but pursue this form of life as an
adaptation to be able to exploit their rather hostile habitats.
Notably, their diet is basically determined by their habitats.
Examples of these peoples are the Ogiek (Ndorobo or Dorobo)
of Mau Forest in Kenya and the San (Basarwa) of the Kalahari
Desert in Botswana. Coincidentally, both the names “Ogiek”
and “Basarwa” in the local dialects mean “those who do not
have cattle or those who do not farm. The names “Ndorobo”
and “Dorobo” for instance, are a corruption of a Maasai term
“Torobo” meaning the poor folk who do not have cattle. Plog
et al. report that “humans and their immediate ancestors have
lived on earth for about 4 million years, and for more than 99
percent of their time they grew no food of their own. Instead,
they lived by hunting game animals and gathering of wild
plants that grew wild in their habitats, as well as harvesting the
honey of wild bees” (Plog et al., 19 8 0 ) .
In traditional societies, especially among the hunter-gatherer
peoples, game meat was a major source of food and wild ani-
mals played a significant role in nutrition by providing humans
with the body’s nutritional requirements, especially protein.
Meat contains about 25 percent protein, as well as minerals,
vitamins and fat (Caldecott, 1988). King and Burgess report
that meat is a source of complete protein, iron, zinc, vitamins
and fat (King & Burgess, 2000). Besides, meat is perhaps the
most popular of all animal products worldwide (Chardonnet
et al., 2002). As for game meat it “is generally higher in protein
and nutritional value than meat from domestic stock, which
gives game meat a higher nutritional advantage over domestic
meat” (Shaw, 1985). Hakimzumwami cites Central Africa
where he says people favour game meat to domestic meat
claiming that it has a better taste than the latter (Hakimzum-
wami, 2000). The word “game meat” is used to refer to meat
from wild animals. It is also sometimes referred to as “wild
meat” or “bush meat.” Indeed game meat can therefore be vital
for the nutritional requirements of the rural people because of
its role as a continuous supplement to livestock protein (Calde-
cott, supra). Besides, game meat, especially from culled and
shot problem animals, can act a cushion against the negative
values of wildlife for the rural population who comprise the
bulk of the people seriously afflicted by wildlife depredation
and predation. If properly managed, wild lands can yield a large
crop of game meat as well as numerous ancillary animal and
plant products. It is estimated that wild game can produce more
meat than can domestic stock using the same area (Dasman,
Moreover, today game meat is still a delicacy in many hotels
in both countries the main species on the menu being eland,
impala, and crocodile (Plog et al.). In third world economies
such as Kenya and Botswana which because of low per capita
income and rising levels of poverty are characterized by food
insecurity, famine, starvation and malnutrition, wildlife can
play an important role in alleviating the food problem. It is only
that in the modern society the dependence of humans on game
animals for food unlike that of their ancestors has progressively
been reducing as dependence on domestic animals increased.
Omondi 1994 reports that “there has always been an interest
especially by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in
the potential of game meat as a viable source of food for Af-
rica’s fast-growing population.” While it may be important for
Africa to exploit this potential, precautions should be taken to
ensure that any such exploitation is kept within the limits of
Uses in Folk Medicine
Apart from the nutritional aspects of health, some wild ani-
mals are of medicinal value with their body parts being used in
the cure of diseases and the manufacture of drugs. Besides,
many people in most rural areas in Kenya and Botswana rely on
traditional medicine for their health care. Krunk notes that sev-
eral wild animals are popular for their supposed medicinal
properties, with parts of some of them being used either in
witchcraft or traditional medicine (Krunk, 2002). Wildlife in
Kenya and Botswana has medical values in that parts of some
wild animals are used for witchcraft, folk-medicine, and even
modern medicine. In both countries certain wild animals, for
instance crocodile and rhinoceros, are popular for their sup-
posed medicinal properties. Among the Yeyi of Botswana,
burned ash of the rhino horn is sniffed to arrest nose-bleeding,
while crushed powder of the horn mixed with milk is swal-
lowed as a cure for asthma. In Kenya, rhino horn is exported to
Asia for use as an aphrodisiac while crocodile body fat is ap-
plied on the body to cure skin ailments.
In the Luhya community of western Kenya, meat of the pri-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
vate parts of a female crocodile cooked with any food is used as
a love portion for adulterous husbands. Gladys Mbone a
housewife in Nanyuki town of Kenya interviewed by this au-
thor during research for this work revealed that women among
the Luhya communities of western Kenya cook the private parts
of a female crocodile together with food and serve it to their
husbands. She claims that after a husband has eaten this con-
coction he will never admire any other woman apart from his
wife. Pharmaceutical companies could consider the use of
crocodile meat as a cure for adulterous behaviour generally.
Notably, the use of crocodile meat as a cure for adulterous be-
haviour among men is worth investigating and could be the
subject of an independent research all together. Perhaps the
most interesting revelation during the author’s fieldwork for
this paper was the use of the lion’s body fat among the Sam-
buru people of Kenya to keep away their creditors as it is be-
lieved that the scent evokes an aura of fear. Worth noting also
in both countries is the use of the elephant’s urine to cure
asthma, and its semen to cure impotence among the old men.
The other traditional use of wildlife parts in Botswana is the
use of the Bushbaby by traditional healers. Notably, 32 percent
of the traditional healers interviewed by this author mentioned
the animal. In an area believed to have sorcerers, the dried skin
of the Bushbaby is burnt near a child and the child made to
inhale the smoke. The smoke is believed to give protection to
the child against the evil powers of the sorcerers. A portion of
its dried meat cooked together with certain herbs and the soup
are given to an epileptic to drink over a prescribed period as a
cure for epilepsy. The therapeutic value of such animals in folk
me- dicine is especially important in Africa where most people
can not afford medicine manufactured by pharmaceutical com-
panies due to their high prices as compared to amounts charged
by traditional healers.
Research for this study revealed that traditional African cus-
tomary uses of wildlife are currently threatened and seriously
undermined by the modern way of life as well as government
policies and the laws. This has generally resulted in local
communities developing negative public attitudes towards
wildlife which they now perceive as a liability instead of a re-
source. In many local communities, especially in Kenya, the
people no longer see the importance of wildlife. With this kind
of perceptions the people are unlikely to support conservation.
Indeed for any conservation strategy to succeed, it requires the
support of the local communities because these are the people
who interact with wildlife on a daily basis and also the ones
who bear the burden of wildlife predation and depredation as
well as competition for scarce resources such as land, water,
pastures, and fiscal resources.
Modern Uses of Wildlife in Present Day Africa
The traditional customary uses of wildlife in the present Af-
rica not only continue to be overtaken by modern values as
influenced by western values and foreign religions, but in many
countries, including Kenya and Botswana, have also been and
continue to be remarkably undermined by the existing policies
and laws. The part below examines these modern uses of wild-
Recreational Uses
The recreational value of wildlife takes many different forms,
and arises in terms of the pleasure that humans derive from
non-consumptive wildlife utilization schemes (Green, 1992).
Wildlife has intrinsic beauty and is a source of recreation for
humans, with several wildlife-related recreation activities, es-
pecially aesthetic uses due to its aesthetic appeal (Giles, 1978).
Mungatana 1992, has identified game viewing, photography
and sport hunting as the major wildlife-related recreation ac-
tivities. For his part, however, Allen notes that “the greatest
significance of wild living things is aesthetic or environmental
rather than exploitative” (Allen,1978). Be that as it may, the
recreational values of wildlife are an important source of pleas-
ure and enjoyment for society and are as important as the other
consumptive uses discussed above. Indeed many tourists visit-
ing Kenya and Botswana come just to watch wild animals and
take pictures of the abundant wildlife treasure (See e.g GOB,
2005). Wildlife tourism is as a result of the aesthetic appeal of
wildlife as tourists come for the purpose of viewing and photo-
graphing wild flora and fauna in their natural environment, and
for sport hunting where permitted.
Notably, while sport hunting is allowed in Botswana, in
Kenya, the Government in 1977 slapped a general ban on hunt-
ing and all forms of consumptive utilization of wildlife (KWS,
1990). The ban remains in force to date despite the promulga-
tion of the New Constitution of 2010, which in its Preamble
asserts, inter alia, the Kenyan people’s pride in their ethnic,
cultural and religious diversity. It also states in Article 69 that
the environment and natural resources shall be utilized for the
benefit of the people. With the said ban still in force it means
that in Kenya unlike in Botswana, the only permitted wildlife
uses are through photography and game viewing. In Botswana,
sport hunting accounts for a large portion of the country’s wild-
life earnings. Lindsey 2010 reports that 81% of community
land for wildlife production is dependent on returns from con-
sumptive wildlife utilization. It is further estimated that trophy
hunting alone generates not less than 20 Million USD annually
in Botswana and more than 1000 jobs; with 6.7 Million USD
generated from trophy fees alone. Even where consumptive
uses are not permitted, as in the case of Kenya, wildlife is still a
worthy resource in simply being there. Dasman 1964, for in-
stance, notes: “[Even] if wildlife had no other value and were
an economic detriment, it would still be worth preserving for its
sheer beauty and appeal to the human spirit. Societies that
spend great sums to preserve historical monuments, works of
art, or scenic vistas also must be willing to preserve wildlife for
its historic, artistic, and scenic merit.”
Educational and Scientific Uses
These values are those that add to human knowledge, either
collectively or through research or individually through per-
sonal learning (Steinhoff, 1980). Wildlife has numerous educa-
tional values in terms of study and research. In terms of study,
for instance, there is wildlife education as a distinct branch of
study with its own curriculum and teachers. Both Kenya and
Botswana have wildlife colleges and departments of wildlife in
their institutions of higher learning. In Kenya, there is the
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Institute in Naivasha as well as
departments of wildlife and range management in three of the
public universities. There is also the KWS Field Training
School at Manyani in Taita-Taveta County. While the Institute
offers professional courses in wildlife-related courses, the Field
Training School offers paramilitary training for those involved
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 35
in wildlife protection. The paramilitary training is intended to
equip them with skills necessary in dealing with perpetrators of
illegal off-take or consumptive use of wildlife, otherwise
known as poachers. Botswana has the Botswana Wildlife train-
ing Institute and a department of environmental studies at the
University of Botswana, Today both countries have several
scholars with PhD qualifications having earned their degrees
from wildlife studies. Visits to wildlife educational centers by
schools and adult groups for learning are another important
form education. Both countries have various wildlife educa-
tional centers. Some of the leading centers in Kenya include the
Wildlife Clubs of Kenya in Nairobi, William Holden Wildlife
Educational Center in Mt. Kenya, and Mpala Wildlife Center in
Laikipia. In Botswana they include the Maun Wildlife Educa-
tional Park and Francistown Educational Park. Such centers
play an important role in public education and training in the
field of wildlife.
Wild animals are also useful for research in that most re-
searchers use them as specimens for carrying out tests. Dasman
1964 further reports that most advances in biological and
medical research have come through the studies of wild or for-
mer wild species of animals, and cites the example of studies on
rhesus monkeys which he says have revealed new facts about
human blood chemistry and the prevention of disease. Besides,
most experiments on new medicines and vaccines are tested on
wild animals (Sifuna, 2006). Semen from wild animals is for
instance used in research in genetics, reproductive health as
well as developing vaccines and drugs for certain ailments.
Uses in Modern Medicine
Wildlife not only contributes to traditional medicine but mo-
dern medicine as well, with some of their extracts being used
by pharmaceutical companies as raw material for the manufac-
ture of drugs (Sifuna, 2006). It is estimated that over 40 percent
of all prescriptions in the US for instance, contain one or more
drugs that originate from wild species (UNEP, 1995). Some
species may also be used in medical research.
The Future of Traditional Customary Uses
of Wildlife in Present Day Africa
As already noted in this paper, before the introduction of
western laws and policies by the colonialists into Africa, the
indigenous communities had their own customary laws and
practices on wildlife as well as traditional African wildlife val-
ues and uses. There were also traditional customary norms and
practices that ensured wildlife including many problematic
species co-existed with humans without much threat to each
other, for instance those norms and practices that totemized
certain animals or regulated their off-take. The introduction of
foreign concepts relegated these traditional practices and tradi-
tional wildlife values and uses to the backyard. Besides, wild-
life laws in most of Africa including Kenya and Botswana are
generally still insensitive to traditional African cultural prac-
Most government programmes and policies in modern Africa
are insensitive to the cultural values of the people. The neglect
for traditional customary values is well summarized by Miller
1982, in the following poetic words when commenting on the
Kenyan scenario: “The historic tragedy in Kenya is not the
slaughter of so many animals…Most of the species could still
rebuild their numbers. The tragedy is that African interests,
particularly farmers, were not taken into account when formu-
lating policies [and laws] governing wildlife management.
Herein lies the seed of wildlife destruction”. Besides, wildlife
laws in most of Africa including Kenya and Botswana are gen-
erally insensitive to traditional African cultural practices. For
instance, while the Maasai in their culture have to kill lions as
part of their rite of passage, there is no mention in the law of
such practices.
In developing countries especially in the rural African con-
text such as Kenya’s and Botswana’s, wildlife conservation
should be understood in terms of alleviating poverty and help-
ing the people to meet their basic needs. In developed countries
it is usually perceived in terms of wildlife’s aesthetic value.
This is because while developed countries due to their com-
paratively higher incomes per capita and associated affluence
require wildlife for its natural beauty and recreation and not for
their survival as it is the case in developing countries. Akama
1995, observes that developing countries are preoccupied with
alleviating social-economic problems arising from underdevel-
opment and poverty “as manifested in increasing poverty levels
among the rural populations, landlessness, famine, starvation
and malnutrition, and lack of clean water for domestic use.”
An examination of the traditional African customary uses of
wildlife show that they are consumptive in nature and largely
geared towards meeting the basic needs of humankind such as
food, health and clothing. In the sense that they enable humans
to derive direct benefits from the wildlife, they, for instance,
manifest the inextricable attachment of the African peoples to
the continent’s wildlife. There is need therefore for African
governments, through their policies and laws, to recognize and
promote these traditional uses of wildlife. This is one way of
ensuring that wildlife contributes to the day to day life of the
people. It is only when this is achieved that the people of this
needy continent of Africa will begin to appreciate the value of
wildlife as a valuable resource to the present and future genera-
The present laws and policies in modern day Africa with re-
gard to permitted uses of wildlife are generally undesirable.
They are largely out of context, for being either unsuitable or
irrelevant to local circumstances and for being generally unac-
ceptable to the predominantly indigenous African local com-
munities and their cultures. These factors have played out in
most countries, are evident in both our study countries Kenya
and Botswana, and particularly the former. For a law or policy
to be effective for the purpose for which it was promulgated
and apply smoothly, it has to be suitable and relevant to the
local circumstances of the jurisdiction or locality in which it is
applied and to its inhabitants (Sifuna, 2009). Laws and policies
which are out of context for being either irrele vant or unsuitable
seldom serve any useful purpose. Some of these laws were, for
instance, imported by the colonialists and have been retained by
the post-independence governments. Laws and policies of this
nature are often unsuitable because they are fashioned on west-
ern concepts, values and perceptions which are inappropriate to
the indigenous African circumstances.
Before the introduction of western laws and policies by the
colonialists, the indigenous communities in Kenya and Bot-
swana had their own customary laws and practices on wildlife
as well as traditional African wildlife values and uses. There
were also traditional customary norms and practices that en-
sured sustainable utilization wildlife species. There were, for
instance, prohibitions on the killing of certain species. In many
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
cultures there were prohibitions on the killing of pregnant ani-
mals, and even the sick or very young animals (Sifuna, 2009).
Indeed there exist across Africa norms and practices that to-
temized certain animals or regulated their off-take (Sifuna,
2009). The introduction of foreign concepts relegated these
traditional practices and traditional wildlife values and uses to
the backyard.
This has dramatically influenced wildlife laws and policies in
most of Africa including Kenya and Botswana; and made them
remain generally still insensitive to traditional African cultural
practices. Nevertheless, cultural orientation can at times be so
strong as to make people resist even the edicts of law despite
the presence of sanctions for violations (Sifuna & Mogere,
2002). In Africa, most government programmes and policies
have failed because of their being insensitive to the cultural
values of the people. This setback is compounded by the fact
that in most countries in Africa, including Kenya and Botswana,
African customary law is one of the sources of law. The neglect
for traditional customary values is well summarized by Miller
in the following poetic words when commenting on the Kenyan
scenario: “The historic tragedy in Kenya is not the slaughter of
so many animals. Most of the species could still rebuild their
numbers. The tragedy is that African interests, particularly
farmers, were not taken into account when formulating policies
[and laws] governing wildlife management. Herein lies the seed
of wildlife destruction”.
It is regrettable that law and policies applicable in a particu-
lar jurisdiction should be insensitive to traditional way of life of
the very people to whom it is supposed to apply. Such laws and
policies would usually not work well and neither would they
work for the general good of the people. For instance, while the
Maasai of Kenya in their culture have to kill lions as part of
their rite of passage, there is no mention in the law of such
practices. Yet, there is no day you see a Maasai Moran ar-
raigned in a Kenyan court on charges of poaching. Whereas the
reason is that in the Maasai context the killing of Lion by the
Moran as a rite of passage is without the criminal state of mind
(mens rea in legal verbiage), their non-prosecution is ironically
evidence that that law is generally inapplicable or totally unac-
ceptable to the Maasai people. For the Maasai Moran, this law
exists only in books and not in reality.
Studies have established that the unacceptability of such laws
and policies hamper their effectiveness and application (Sifuna,
2009). Undeniably, the public’s acceptance of laws and policies,
and their ability to comply with them are some of the most
crucial determinants of the effectiveness of any law or policy
(Bolen & Robinson, 1995). As a fact, for conservation efforts to
succeed, they require the support of the local communities.
Atiyah 1993 observes that “Unless the mass of the public feels
that there is some moral obligation to observe established law,
then the law may come to be unenforceable”. Draconian and
militaristic laws and policies, such as the ones that take away
established rights, established traditions or disregard human
welfare and livelihoods, fall in this category. Such laws and
policies as already noted above will be unacceptable to the local
communities and will therefore not operate smoothly. Admit-
tedly, despite the ban of consumptive uses of wildlife in Kenya
and the attendant legal and institutional framework, there is still
illegal off-take of wildlife in ways that are not criminally in-
tended, such as the said Maasai rite of passage for Morans.
Indeed, wildlife laws and policies fall in the province of pub-
lic law hence should incorporate certain subtle public values
such as participation, consultation as well as promotion of the
public interest. Public law, as the name suggests, is concerned
with public interest issues and public rights. Such a law should
shift from theory to values in order to institutionalize certain
societal values such as democracy, fairness, human rights and
livelihoods. It should, for instance, attempt to strike a balance
between wildlife conservation and competing human interests
as well as other forms of land use, and between the different
wildlife group interests such as the interests of conservationists
and the state on the one part, and those of the local communi-
ties on the other part.
This paper is developed from research the author conducted
in Kenya and Botswana for his doctoral work at the University
of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg South Africa. The author is
grateful to his supervisor Prof Vincent Nmehielle and to his
research assistants, the wildlife authorities as well as all the
respondents in both countries who either responded to his ques-
tionnaires or attended the interviews and focus group discus-
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