Sources say William Kiprono was not welcome at KWS after his controversial appointment
EARLY this month, 12 elephants belonging to one family were wiped out by a hail of bullets before their tusks were hacked out of the carcasses in the Tsavo East National Park.
More than 50 elephants were killed at the Tsavo conservation area last year, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service, with most of the killings recorded in December.
Most of the elephants were killed at the Galana and Taita ranches which border the park. This came only two months after the appointment of the current director William Kiprono.
Kiprono, sources say, was not welcome at KWS as his appointment had been controversial since he was picked two days after the KWS board led by David Mwiraria picked Peter Leitoro as an acting director in October last year.
"Most people are unhappy about his appointment," said a conservationist who sought anonymity. "His name was least expected. Not at all. Everybody was shocked... even the staff."
The source said the massive killings of jumbos in Tsavo and Samburu could be a plot to frustrate the director.
"He was on a 15 days off when the killings in Tsavo took place. It is like the attackers were well aware of what was going on," said a senior officer at KWS. "The killings seemed planned to frustrate the director because there is no way even baby elephants without tusks could be killed."
It is suspected that senior KWS officers colluded with the poachers. "KWS rangers were sent to the wrong direction in Tsavo before the elephants were butchered," said the officer.
This has been linked with the recent changes at KWS where there was a deployment of Senior Assistant Directors, Assistant Director and Field Operations Commanders.
Julius Kimani who is the senior assistant director - Intelligence was moved from headquarters to Tsavo Area while Wilson Korir, assistant director in Tsavo, was moved to Northern Area while Paul Gathitu who was assistant director Northern Area was recalled to Nairobi.
"This is aimed at enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery. The affected officers are required to handover their current responsibilities and report to their new offices immediately," KWS said in a statement in their website.
In an interview, Kiprono said he was not aware of any sabotage from his officers, adding that any officer found colluding with poachers will be taken as a criminal and will face disciplinary action.
"Yes, I was off duty when the killings in Tsavo took place," he said. "It is unfortunate we lost elephants in such a large number but we are going to intensify security in the regions."
"Poaching has escalated in the Tsavo conservation area this year following increased number of livestock and herders from other regions," he said. Kiprono blamed the poaching on illegal possession of arms by members of the public especially the herders.
"The problem of small arms in Kenya is a big challenge. We have managed to recover a number of guns since the operation to protect elephants was launched in March," Kiprono said. "A number of suspected poachers have been killed while two KWS rangers have been killed by poachers and their guns taken."
He said KWS has enhanced their security budget in an effort to reduce the increased poaching activities being witnessed in the country. "Some 384 elephants were lost last year, up from 289 that were killed in 2011. Close to 2,000 poachers were arrested last year alone and several illegal wildlife trophies and firearms recovered," he added.
The Kenya Elephant Forum, while throwing their weight behind the government's anti-poaching efforts, said elephant poaching in the country is driven by the demand for ivory in China and other countries in the Far East which have led to a massive rise in the price of ivory. KEF comprises over 50 Kenyan conservation organisations and individuals who are committed to elephant conservation.
"Poachers are responding to the promise of money. Therefore until the flow of ivory to these countries is stemmed, and the demand crushed, the poaching problem in Kenya is unlikely to improve significantly. Poachers are just getting smarter, and using better weapons and vehicles to move swiftly," the group said in a statement signed by Paula Kahumbu, CEO WildlifeDirect.
There has been a large seizure of ivory to China and Vietnam in the recent past with the latest being when the Kenya Revenue Authority officials seized a consignment of ivory estimated to be worth Sh100 million at the port of Mombasa.
A twenty feet container weighing two tonnes was disguised as decorative stones and was destined for Indonesia when it was intercepted. Gitau Gitua, head of KRA operations at the port of Mombasa, said the same clearing company has been linked with ivory trade in the country.