Nairobi — The recently unveiled inter-agency anti-poaching unit comprising officers from specialised elements of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Administration Police and the General Service Unit will strengthen the fight against poaching.
KWS spokesperson Paul Muya told Capital FM News that setting up the agency demonstrates the government's commitment in ensuring that wildlife is safe.
He said that KWS was working with other conservation stakeholders to ensure that the war is won.
He revealed: "In 2012, the country lost 384 elephants and 29 rhinos to poaching. So far in 2013 we have lost 190 elephants and 34 rhinos. We are disturbed by rhino poaching which has reached a crisis situation given that we have only 1,025 rhinos in the country."
"The escalating poaching crisis has become both a national security issue as well as an economic one. Urgent and decisive actions need to be taken to reverse this trend," he noted.
Muya said with KWS managing approximately 8 percent of the total landmass of Kenya that consists of 22 national parks, 29 national reserves and four national sanctuaries including six marine national reserves and four marine national parks, it needs more resources.
"There are also 125 field stations scattered across the country for management of wildlife outside the protected area system," he added.
"This expansive sphere of operations has overstretched the capability of the current wildlife protection staff currently standing at 2,800 uniformed officers."
He noted that the number of active rangers has declined significantly due to natural attrition and retirement among other causes.
Muya says that the government has however made commitment during this financial year to support the recruitment and deployment of at least 1,000 new rangers, in phases, to boost KWS capacity to execute their mandate effectively.
The inter-agency Task Force that includes 121 officers will be advising and coordinating wildlife security management.
"They will first undergo a joint training at KWS Law Enforcement Academy (LEA) in Manyani before deployment at three designated hotspot field stations in Narok, Tsavo and Isiolo," he said.
"The elite rapid response units shall provide support to KWS officers, already deployed in these areas and elsewhere, on need to basis."
He also revealed that KWS shall continue to work with other law enforcement agencies, especially the National Intelligence Service, Customs, the police, Interpol, Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), Immigration Department and Kenya Airports Authority, among others, in ensuring that local and international laws on wildlife crimes are enforced.
"The government is keen on the speedy enactment of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill, 2013, which proposes stiffer and deterrent penalties."
The proposed Bill has since been published and tabled for enactment by the National Assembly.
There is also wildlife forensic and genetics laboratory being constructed at KWS headquarters set to be inaugurated later this year to support wildlife crime prosecution.
In efforts to curb poaching, Muya says six Rangers lost their lives in 2012 and two rangers have been lost this year in a recent attack in Lamu County.