Nairobi — The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is installing alarm systems around wildlife sanctuaries and parks to deter the increasingly rampant poaching across the country.
KWS Director William Kibet Kiprono said the alarm systems will alert rangers by text message about intrusions into the parks.
"This system will be able to stem runaway poaching by at least by 90%," he told Sabahi. "We feel this is the long term solution to save our animals which are quickly being wiped out by poachers."
In the latest incidents of poaching, on January 5th, poachers slaughtered a family of 11 elephants and chopped off their tusks in Tsavo East National Park in what officials said was the country's worst such incident in the three decades. Ten days later, officials in Mombasa seized two tonnes of ivory, Kenya's largest haul on record.
The uptick in the number of poaching incidents in the region is due to demand from the thriving illegal ivory market in Asia.
The international trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.
"These animals are sliding into the endangered species group -- this trend is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated anymore," Kiprono said. "That is the reason we have to come up with more tactics to tackle this menace. Last year, we lost over 384 elephants and 19 rhinos; in 2011 we lost 289 elephants and 29 rhinos. This month alone, we have over 15 elephants and seven rhinos killed."
KWS to recruit more rangers
The alarms being connected to the park fences will sound when tampered with, as well as send a text message to the security switchboard.
"Tampering with the fences includes animals interfering with it and attempts by poachers to tear down the fence," he said. "The signal will show the exact location so our game rangers can act in a timely manner."
Kiprono said the KWS is looking to improve its capabilities by recruiting over 800 more rangers and teaching communities around national parks how to get involved in the war against poaching.
"We are also going to buy aircrafts, rifles and vehicles to equip and ease the movement of our officers," he said, denying claims that there is an orchestrated go-slow among KWS rangers that could exacerbate the poaching problem.
He said as part of its comprehensive plans, the agency commissioned in August the construction of the region's first wildlife forensic and genetics laboratory at KWS headquarters in Nairobi. When completed, the laboratory will support investigations to prosecute cases of wildlife-related crimes, track the genetic status of declining wildlife, and determine gene pools that require special protection.
On January 20th, Kenyan Head of Public Service Francis Kimemia said he had directed KWS to investigate allegations that former rangers had joined criminal gangs from Somalia and were involved in poaching.
"They are supposed to furnish the president with a report on how we continue losing such large number of wild animals -- our heritage -- and why it is rampant within private conservancies, who is behind it, and why they have failed to protect and preserve our conservancies," he said in a statement.
Kiprono told Sabahi that investigations have reached an advanced stage but declined to reveal details.
Poaching threatens tourism
Kenya Tourism Federation CEO Agatha Juma said her organisation is alarmed by the increasing incidents of poaching, which she said could kill tourism.
"The backbone of Kenya's tourism sector relies on the wild safaris, and if we allow all of our elephants and rhinos to be killed, then rest assured that no tourist will visit Kenya," she said.
While applauding the new surveillance plan by KWS, she also urged the agency to fully equip rangers with weapons to counter poachers who use sophisticated rifles.
Michael Mutua, a tour operator with Wildlife Sun Safaris, said dwindling numbers of elephant and rhinos in parks are already diminishing the appeal of game drives.
"In December, I took some tourists from Italy to Amboseli to see the big five -- lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos and rhinos. We spent the whole day searching for these animals to no avail, so they became disappointed and opted out," he told Sabahi. "They booked the next flight that day to finish their tour in South Africa."
He called on the government to invest in other technologies such as drones that can man the parks and deter poachers.
Previously, tour guides would need less than 30 minutes to sight the animals, but because of the rampant gunning down of elephants and rhinos, the animals hide from the motor vehicle pathways, Mutua said.