The Kenyan government killed The Great White Hunter today.
In an effort to save what has been called "the last great reservoir of wildlife on earth," the government banned all hunting throughout this East African nation whose safaris had been glamorized by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark.
Effective immediately, companies and persons holding hunting concessions were ordered to turn their hunting trips into photographic safaris. Mathews Ogutu, minister for tourism and wildlife, said all licenses, for hunting guns would be canceled and no one would be allowed to enter Kenya with firearms or other hunting weapons.
The decision came after months of controversy and reports of wholesale destruction of some of Africa's last great herds of wild animals.
Officials of Ogutu's ministry have been accused of leading and profiting from large poaching rackets that have decunated the country's herds of elephants, zebras, leopards, rhinoceroses and other rare and spectacular mammals. Members of Parliament and others have demanded Ogutou's resignation.
The dwindling wildlife attracts much of this country's annual $80 million tourist business.
The ban is expected to cost the Kenyan treasury millions of dollars a year in fees for hunting licenses and for game killed. Hunters had been allowed to take my kind of big game, from elephants to lions, but had to pay a fee for the animals shot.
Even since Teddy Roosevelt described the endless herds he stalked, the country's majestic animal kingdom attracted the Hemingways and Ruarks, European royalty, film stars and other rich shooters who could afford the expensive safaris.
But more recently it has attracted the attention of conservationist, who have probably paid more attention to Kenya than to any other developing country.
Today those conservationists applauded the ban and said it is a step in the right direction.
"It is an electrifying and bold move", said David Munro, special advisor to the United Nations Environment Program, whose governing council is meeting in Nairobi. "The millions of people who are interested in the future of East African wildlife will be greatly encouraged by this step."
But both conservationists and hunters said the ban would not strike at a major affliction of Kenya's wildlife - poaching.
In Kenya's largest game park, Tsavo East, for example, the elephant population has dropped for 35,000 in 1974 to about 20,000 last summer. In one six-month period, poachers, some armed with machine guns, were reported responsible for killing 1040 elephants, 235 rhinos, and 20 leopards in their quest for ivory and skins.
One of the chief poaching areas is along the Somalia border where organized bands of Somalians cross the borders and slaughter elephants and other game and leave their carcasses to rot in the sun.
There was disagreement form Ogutu today that poaching had hit the country's wildlife the hardest.
He said that two-thirds of the animals that have died over the past five years have fallen victim to drought. He claimed the ban would allow wildlife, refreshed by recent heavy, rains, to multiply unhindered.
Although in the short run the hunting companies will lose money, they have been preparing for this day for years and have been deemphasizing hunting in favor of photographic safaris.
Because hunting has been abanned in Tanzania for four years and Uganda is virtually closed to foreigners, only selected areas of the southern Sudan remain open for hunting in East Africa.