20 February 2013

Kenya: Poachers in Samburu Change Tack After Star Expose

Photo: Amboseli Park
Increased poaching to render Elephant population extinct in the country.

After the recent investigation by the Star, poachers and ivory dealers in Samburu have changed their route in order to avoid arrests. "They are no longer using the Isiolo-Nairobi highway as before," said a source privy to the deals.

"Security checkups have been intensified on that route. The dealers are currently using the Archers Post to Wamba to Nyahururu road. It is long but it ensures they are not arrested."

He said tourist vans are now being used to ferry the ivory. "Police rarely stop tourist vans," he added.

The National Economic and Social Council wants the government to declare trading in ivory and rhino horns and the poaching of elephants and rhinos a national crisis.

This comes after reports that some 19 elephants were killed in the past week. According to conservationists, two elephants were gunned down in Galana, another two in Samburu and 15 in Loita.

This is happening just two weeks before a delegates conference to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meet in Bangkok, Thailand, to discuss the fate of elephants.

But KWS said they could only account for 10 elephant deaths. "In the past week, we recorded 10 elephant deaths," said KWS spokesman Paul Mbugua. "Six were poached while four died of natural causes."

The NESC asked the government to enhance the capacity of the Kenya Wildlife Service to ensure that poaching of endangered species is brought to an end.

The council wants the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act strengthened to support KWS.

"KWS enforcement capacity must be enhanced through the recruitment of more rangers and procurement of equipment," says a statement signed by Dr Julius Muia, secretary to the council.

The council wants the KWS budget augmented and a strong collaboration by amongst all law enforcement agencies in combating poaching.

"The fight against poaching cannot be won by actions of Kenyans alone," the council says.

It advises the government that a high-level inter-ministerial team be established to lobby for conservation of wildlife in major capitals and to engage in international negotiations.

"Kenya has a duty to secure our precious wildlife for posterity and continued economic well being of our beloved nation," said the statement from the council.

The NESC says that large scale poaching of elephants and rhinos and trafficking of ivory and rhino horn can only be done by organised armed criminal groups.

"It can be associated with terrorism and be related to general insecurity in the country," the council said.

The council recommends that a technical team of public, private and civil society experts be constituted by the office of the Prime Minister to prepare a comprehensive proposal on how to handle conservation and crisis management.

And speaking on Monday evening, British High Commissioner Christian Turner said poaching is one of the biggest threats facing Kenya.

He said illegal wildlife trade is the fifth largest illicit transnational activity and the profits from poaching could be used to fund terrorism.

Turner said poaching of ivory is not just a Kenyan or African problem but an international crisis. "Let us join hands and stop this illegal trade and insecurity," he said.

Two senior officers at Kenya Wildlife Service were sent on leave two weeks ago to facilitate investigations over the spate of elephant killings.

KWS director William Kiprono said the officers had taken leave pending investigations on the deaths of elephants in Tsavo and Samburu areas.

Peter Leitoro who was in charge of security and Benjamin Kavu, the deputy director, wildlife and community, took leave at the beginning of the month.

"Yes, it is true the two officers are on leave," said the director on the phone, "but we are not accusing them of anything.... there is nothing punitive. We have not interdicted anybody." Kiprono did not however say how long their leave will take.

This came after the Star exclusively reported the massive killing of elephants was linked to the sabotage of the new director of KWS as his appointment had been controversial. Kiprono was named two days after the KWS board led by David Mwiraria picked Peter Leitoro as an acting director last October.

Leitoro was serving as KWS deputy director in charge of security for seven years while Kavu has been in the civil service for 31 years, having started at the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and then transferred to KWS.

His notable achievement has been the formation and implementation of the Beach Management Programme in the North Coast of Mombasa, which brought order to the beach.

The KWS management reviewed the deployment of senior assistant directors, assistant director and field operations commanders and reshuffled them. This is aimed at enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery.

It is suspected that some of the KWS senior officers colluded with the poachers.

Julius Kimani who is the senior assistant director - Intelligence was moved from the headquarters to Tsavo Area while Wilson Korir, assistant director in Tsavo, was moved to Northern Area. Paul Gathitu who was assistant director Northern Area was recalled to Nairobi.

Joyce Poole of Elephant Voices called for a ban on ivory trade especially in Asia to bring poaching to an end.

"We are asking people to help us reach out to potential buyers of ivory who don't realise that elephants are dying in record-high numbers for trinkets and decorations. The only way to stop this wanton slaughter of elephants is to choke demand for ivory and stop the trade," Poole says.

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