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NAIROBI, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's First Lady Margaret Kenyatta on Wednesday called for sustainable wildlife conservation efforts across the world, saying the current global momentum to protect flora and fauna is unstoppable.

Speaking when she officially opened an international conference under the Global Wildlife Program in Nairobi, Kenyatta said the protection of natural heritage is becoming an increasingly prominent global issue, noting that the impetus should be sustained to enable conservation efforts gain full steam.

""In today's age, it is imperative that we find ways of effectively engaging local communities as equal partners and stakeholders in the conservation movement,"" she said.

African countries are currently fighting to protect their natural heritage, including wildlife, which has traditionally made an important social and economic contribution.

Kenya has a thriving tourism industry with over one million tourists visiting its game parks and wildlife sanctuaries, contributing close to 12 percent of Kenya's GDP and directly employing more than one million people.

The first lady said the success of wildlife protection lies in changing conservation strategies to involve all local communities who co-exist with the animals because they provide a valuable and the most important first line of defense.

""Because of the socio-economic investment the local communities have put in these animals, they are often able to innovate creative wildlife protection solutions,"" she added.

Kenyatta said past conservation strategies had failed and ended generating conflicts, resentment and apathy between rural communities and conservation agencies because they adopted a top-down approach.

The consequence of this approach, she said, is a rapidly declining animal population.

She said what is now needed is a more synergistic approach that harnesses the complimentary capabilities of diverse groups including policy makers, philanthropists, conservationists and local communities.

""The resolutions and action plans that we draw over the next three days will define just how successful we will be in finding sustainable conservation options to safeguard our wildlife and our communities,"" she added.

The three-day conference, whose theme is Engaging Local Communities in Wildlife Conservation in Kenya, is sponsored by the World Bank Group (WBG) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Besides the UNDP and the WBG, the conference also brings together other UN agencies, donors, Non Governmental Organizations, academic experts and conservationists.

The first lady's remarks came barely a month after Kenya burned 105 tonnes of ivory and 1.3 tonnes of rhino horns to make a statement that the world must stop the trade in wildlife trophies in order to protect its threatened heritage.

World Bank's Country Director Diarietou Gaye said the recent torching of elephant tusks and rhino horns by President Uhuru Kenyatta had sent the strongest statement that the animals were more valuable when alive than dead.


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