13 October 2005

Kenya: Poachers Threaten Sandalwood's Future

Nairobi — The Kenya Ports Authority has been asked to help stop illegal exportation of chippings of a local tree species.

At the same time, the Environment and Natural Resources ministry wants the plant, Osyris lanceolata, accorded presidential protection to facilitate the prosecution of poachers.

The chief conservator of forests, Mr D. K. Mbugua, says forest officers were on alert throughout the country to discourage illegal harvesting of the plant, also known as East African Sandalwood, which is used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries abroad.

Mr Mbugua said that his department was seeking a freeze on the exploitation of sandalwood until a harvesting method that cared for its survival was found.

The official, who was speaking to the Nation on telephone, admitted that the sandalwood, locally known as Muthithi in Gikuyu or Mutero in Kimbeere, could face extinction if the current wanton exploitation of the species continued.

Mr Mbugua said he had already written to the managing director of the Kenya Ports Authority to impound any suspect consignment of sandalwood.

The Nation carried in its last Thursday Horizon magazine an article about the activities of foreign poachers who had invaded the country and had caused widespread havoc by harvesting whole plants of Osyris lanceolata and illegally exporting it to Tanzania.

Sandalwood has a pleasant smell and has a lucrative market in Germany, India, Indonesia and South Africa.

The plant has a high market value and if its exploitation is not checked, it could become extinct.

Extracts from the plant can cure certain diseases, including the killer Hepatitis B.

It was traditionally used by various Kenyan communities to preserve milk in gourds for long periods.

Mr Mbugua, who was hopeful President Kibaki would soon accord the plant presidential protection, added that the Environment ministry was also planning to have the plant included in Cites, an international protocol that protects endangered species.

He added that a task force comprising several departments had already been established to strategise on how Osyris lanceolata can be expolited with due regard for its future. Issues to be addressed are how best to grow, harvest and market the plant, he added.

Mr Mbugua said the worst point of the harvesting is that the whole tree was being uprooted, thereby, threatening the species with total extinction.

A confidential letter from the forestry department to the Eastern provincial commissioner John Nandasaba has exposed the tree's illegal harvesting and exportation of plant material in Mbeere District.

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