East African Whale Shark Trust volunteer Steve Capone shares his opinions on the issue of keeping whale sharks in a sanctuary off the coast of Kenya. Click here to read the associated post and contribute to the discussion.
I am now living in Kenya since 2001 and been a volunteer with the EAWST since its inception. I’ve swam with many whale sharks over the years and it is always an incredible experience. I have also been to many zoos and aquariums; in fact my first summer job was at the Miami Seaquarium. I have a deep love and respect for wildlife of all kinds. Humans have an ancient genetic interest and fascination of animals. Countless millions, probably billions of people have visited zoos and aquariums over the many years and decades. I think its safe to say that the majority of those people were not against animals in captivity and in fact were enlightened and inspired after their visit to those facilities. Seeing live animals up close allows the individual to become more engaged with them, more emotionally attached to them. You have to see that level of attachment before you can motivate people to take the political action to save these creatures. – “We conserve what we love. We cannot love something to which we cannot relate. We cannot love something that is abstract, distant or hidden, or else we love the mere fact that it IS abstract, distant or hidden. For the sake of conservation and getting the public excited about loving and protecting sharks, these whale sharks and the like must be taken into captivity to let people see them. There is no better way to incite that desire to conserve!” – Andy , Shark Biologist
Here in Kenya we have vast wild areas where animals can roam freely and hundreds of thousands of people visit each year to view these animals in the wild. However, Kenya also has many captive animal parks, Zoos, which have been conveniently overlooked by the opponents in this debate. Examples are Safari Walk (a zoo operated by the Kenya Wildlife Service), Haller Park, Giraffe Manor, Mamba Village and countless snake / reptile parks.
There are also many fenced in conservation areas such as Aberdares Nat’l Park, Tsavo West Rhino Sanctuary, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary and countless private conservancies and ranches. These fenced in conservation areas inhibit ancient wildlife migration routes and disrupt their instinctive need for movement BUT the fencing is considered necessary for conservation efforts. How can our opponents criticize us when the precedent for fencing in wild free animals was set long ago worldwide and most notably in Kenya? How can someone argue that keeping a whale shark in the ocean in a seaquarium is not in its natural habitat? Is the rhino in his sanctuary in his natural habitat in the heart of the bush in Tsavo West? This argument defies any logical debate.
Also overlooked by our opposition are the benefits to the local community through revenue created from the project. These figures have been well documented, 50% of the proceeds will go into ongoing and new marine conservation initiatives and back to the community. Our opposition labels this as ‘false promises’ and justification for the project. We call it philanthropy and progressive, innovative thinking.
In my opinion the only reason that this issue has gotten this far is because of the aesthetic beauty of the whale shark. It is a majestic, mysterious, curious, beautiful awe- inspiring creature. However, if we were talking about making a stonefish sanctuary then I doubt any of the opponents would have uttered a word.
The Waa Whale Shark Sanctuary project is absolutely essential to the conservation of whale sharks in Kenya. This is because the threat of the Chinese who are coming to build the new port in Lamu will figure out that they can make big money by killing whale sharks for their fins. It is legal to kill a whale shark in Kenya, it only has to be reported to the fisheries dept. In fact if the local fishermen knew of this potential then the slaughter would be swift and relentless. A recent study (Norman ) valued a single whale shark fin at over $50,000! Look at the elephant and rhino poaching epidemic which is fuelled exclusively by demand from China and Asia. These animals are protected by thousands of armed rangers with millions of dollars in support. Who will protect the whale sharks…the EAWST! Through the lobbying of the EAWST the whale shark was included in the new wildlife bill to be protected, but no thanks or recognition of this has been acknowledged. This potential disaster of seeing our whale sharks murdered for rich
Asians to enjoy their shark fin soup will not happen in our backyard. The EAWST and Seaquarium Ltd. are the only groups to EVER address the welfare of whale sharks in Kenya and will continue to do so with more diligence than ever before. The minority of hardline, anti-captive animal activists will not succeed in their zealous, selfish and shortsighted campaign.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
To contribute to the whale shark enclosure discussion, click here!