Kenya uses wildlife as barter for UN seat

By Time of article published Nov 14, 2005

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Nairobi - For a country to negotiate a place on the United Nations Security Council by using gnus and zebras as negotiating chips is a bold and unusual idea.

But that is exactly what the Kenyan government has seen fit to do.

In the next few weeks, 175 wild animals including hippopotami, giraffes and warthogs will be sent on the 7 000km journey to Southeast Asia.

"We would be very grateful if Thailand supported our efforts to obtain a seat on the UN Security Council, Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki told the group of delegates from Thailand who had arrived here to close the deal.

The Kenyan government has tried to play down controversy over the trade.

"Zoos in Dubai and the US also have animals taken from Africa's savannah. Where do you think they came from? Kenya's foreign minister Ali Mwakwere asked animal rights activists who have protested against the trade.

South-east Asia's reputation as a transit point for the illegal trade in endangered animals has also thrown a shadow across the deal.

Recently four gorillas were discovered who had been poached from Cameroon destined for a zoo in Malaysia.

The animals from Kenya are due to be removed from the wild and sent to the Chiang Mai Night Safari Park, a pet project of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra aimed at boosting tourism in his home province of Chiang Mai.

Kenya's authorities hope visitors to the safari park in Thailand will want to see the animals in the wild and make the journey to Africa.

In response to criticism, Kenya's government says that contrary to rumours, no elephants, lions or other endangered species will be exported to Thailand.

Apart from Thailand's support for its unlikely bid to sit at the security council table it is unclear how Kenya, otherwise stands to benefit from the deal.

Questions directed at finding out what this could be have gone unanswered by Nairobi. However, reports in Kenya's newspapers suggest $500 000 has played a role.

The deal has been widely condemned by animal rights activists, who have called it a disgrace.

"The animals are part of the nation's heritage. The government cannot just give them away without asking the people, says Elizabeth Wamba of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "This sets a dangerous precedent. What should we do if we get more requests like this?," asked Wamba.

Richard Leakey, former head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, spoke of a sad day for Kenya.

"The trade stinks, he says. Leakey believes removing the animals from the wild and putting them in a zoo is abhorrent.

As the delegation from Thailand arrived here, Masai warriors dressed in traditional costume protested against the deal.

The delegation can count themselves lucky the warriors used only placards and slogans to protest instead of their traditional weapons. -

Sapa-dpa

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