First attempts to manage East African wilderness took place in Kenya soon after the establishment of the British East Africa Protectorate (1896). The first game reserves were set up by the colonial government to provide for the opportunity to conduct big game hunting safaris that were becoming fashionable among wealthy westerners. Following the 1945 National Parks Ordinance bill, the Aberdare Royal Park and the Mount Kenya Royal Park became established for the exclusive enjoyment of white hunters while local people were displaced. It was not until the independence days (early 1960s) that a stricter policy of wildlife preservation came into force, and all hunting activities were banned in 1977. Today, National Parks and Reserves are a major money-earner and a corner stone of the country’s economy. Next to them, a number of private game reserves and conservancies have arisen, often out of the interest demonstrated by landowners who see ecotourism as a profitable economic return. Despite national efforts and initiatives carried out by numerous foreign voluntary organizations devoted to saving East African wildlife, severe conservation problems persist.
The 1977 hunting ban, established to stop an escalating trend in trophy hunting, has been frequently contested in the public debate, because a total ban deprives rural communities from legally exploiting the provisional services represented by game meat and therefore hinders sustainable management options.
Enforcing the ban is, to say the least, problematic. Assessments conducted in single reserves confirm recent severe decreases in wildlife numbers throughout the country, including iconic sanctuaries such as the Maasai Mara National Reserve that could have lost as much as 2/3 of its original large mammals. Threats to elephants, in particular, have significantly increased due to the rising demand for ivory on the Chinese market and the increasing presence of Chinese companies and personnel in Kenya, as well as in other African countries.
Conservation is managed through the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act. (2013), enacted by the Kenya Wildlife Service, a state corporation established in 1990, which deploys trained armed patrols in National Parks and Reserves throughout the country.
Beside conservation actions implemented according to national laws and regulations, Kenya is also signatory to a number of international treaties, such as the Convention on biological diversity and the Ramsar convention.