The Star (Nairobi)

29 January 2013

Kenya: Untouchable Lords of Poaching in Samburu

(Page 2 of 2)

Another trader suspected to be a ring leader is called Muthomi. He owns a wholesale shop at Archers Post. "We have heard people saying he is a smuggler but we have not managed to arrest him with any trophies," said Archers Post OCS George Naibei. "We urge members of the public to volunteer any information when they spot them with ivory."

"The police know their vehicles and they often pass checkpoints without inspection," said a KWS ranger based in Archers Post. "As rangers, our major work is inside the parks and we are not allowed to erect barriers or stop vehicles along the highway. That is the work of the police."

A barrier that used to be near the Archers Police post was removed and only operates at night.

A middl aged man, only known as Ngitoi, is a well known broker in the town. Last year, officers from KWS and Kenya Police called him through his cell phone number pretending to be buyers of ivory.

The man presented himself with four fresh tusks in an agreed place where he was arrested. He was later set free and has been intimidating security officers in the town that they can't take him anywhere.

The traders are saidd to be using their trucks which often collect goods in Isiolo and Nairobi to ferry the trophies. The ivory is cut in small pieces, is put in travelling bags and fuel tanks. Some are concealed in vehicle bonnets.

When the ivory reaches Isiolo, it is handed over to big dealers who then ferry it to Nairobi.

Robert Njiru, popularly known as 'Rasta', is a 36-year-old businessman who runs a timber yard in Isiolo town.

Police suspect that he is the main link between the dealers in Nairobi and middlemen in Archers Post and Isiolo.

When contacted by the Star, Njiru declined to be interviewed and asked who had given us his number.

Last year, Njiru came out strongly and accused the KWS of trying to isolate him after he was attacked on his way to his Kulamawe estate home in Isiolo. Police however suspected the attackers to be members of his gang who had differed with him over pay.

"Rasta is a wanted man," said Isiolo OCPD Daniel Kamanza. "He is in our list of wanted men. We are also zeroing in on the others (Muthomi and Musa) and soon we will be making arrests."

Another trader, locally known as Buko, is suspected to be a large scale dealer. He has a warehouse near the barrier in Isiolo in a place called Kampi Gabra.

His vehicles have been impounded more than once but he was released with no charges preferred.

In 2009, his white Toyota Land cruiser was nabbed with tusks and a weighing scale in Wamba.

Recently three people were arrested in connection with 345 pieces of ivory weighing 601kg intercepted at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by KWS Canine Unit, police and customs officials. They were being smuggled to Lagos, Nigeria on June 22 last year.

The ivory which was packed in six crates and sprayed with pepper to prevent dogs from sniffing it had been further covered with aluminum foil.

Samburu residents say several reports given to the police are never taken seriously.

"We make reports to the police and they do nothing," said Lengewa. "The OCS is not being sincere. I suspect the officers could be among the beneficiaries of this illegal business."

Residents suspect that by removing the security barrier, the officers were colluding with poachers and other criminals to pass with ease. The Isiolo-Merrille highway is also suspected to be a transit point for dealers from Ethiopia.

"I was ordered by my bosses to remove the road block," says Naibei. "We only have officers there at night. Nowadays we don't have a lot of crimes being committed at night because they (criminals) can pass unstopped during the day." He says he was not told why the barrier was removed. "We (police) follow commands of our seniors. I did not ask why," Naibei said.

When contacted, Wamba OCPD Samuel Muthamia said it is the local residents who had complained about the barrier.

"It was reported that police officers manning the barrier were corrupt and we had to remove it," Muthamia said. But a police officer who sought anonymity said they always receive calls from their superiors to let go of certain vehicles without being inspected.

"We are at times asked to remove the barrier or let a vehicle pass without being inspected. This clearly shows a clear cut network between security chiefs and the dealers," said the officer based in Archers Post.

In the second part of this story tomorrow, read about where the poachers get their military uniforms, sophisticated weapons and ammunition from.

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