Kenya's wildlife needs tourists to come back: U.N.
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Conservation projects to protect Kenya's rich wildlife, from its rhinos to whale sharks, are at risk if the country fails to attract tourists back after a post-election crisis, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
Kenya relies on its game parks to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. But, the sector has been badly damaged by a wave of cancellations following ethnic clashes triggered by President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election in December.
The violence that killed more than 1,000 people prompted European tour operators to cancel chartered flights to the east African country, dealing a heavy blow to its tourism industry -- the leading foreign exchange earner in Kenya.
Funding for conservation projects has shrunk as a result of the slump in tourist numbers, conservation officials say.
"If we can't regenerate tourism then many of these environmental investments ... will either be severely reduced or collapse," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), which is headquartered in Nairobi.
"Revenues to parks and reserves have plummeted putting at risk countless conservation initiatives carried out by the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and others," he told reporters.
The KWS had to shelve the purchase of 200 vehicles used in anti-poaching and other conservation activities due to revenue fall-offs, Steiner said.
Kenya's tourism sector raked in nearly $1 billion last year, but has seen massive drop-offs in profits and numbers since television footage showed images of bloody street protests, burning and looting in the wake of the December 27 vote.
(Reporting by Lisa Ntungacimpaye; Writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Stephen Weeks)
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