20 June 2014

Kenya: Satao Death Exposes Poachers' Dark Tactics

The brutal killing of one the world's largest elephants, Satao, brings to 97 the number of elephants killed in Kenya for their ivory this year.

News of Satao's death was broken last weekend amid an uproar by wildlife lovers calling for President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare poaching a national disaster.

The death also confirmed that poachers in the vast Tsavo National Park have resorted to using poisoned arrows the kill the animals.

Taita Taveta County Security team has also established poachers could be posing as herders in the vast park.

The iconic Satao, one of Tsavo's most loved elephants, was famous for his enormous tusks that attracted thousands of visitors to Tsavo East.

He is the latest victim of runaway poaching in Tsavo, to satisfy the soaring ivory market in Asia, and Europe, where some finished ivory products head.

An aerial elephant census carried out in Tsavo and Mkomanzi ecosystem in February this year revealed the elephant population reduced to 11,000 from the 12,573 recorded in the 2011 census.

The drop in elephant population has been attributed to poaching.

This month alone, Tsavo has lost two of its oldest elephants to poachers and their tusks hacked off.

Kenya Wildlife Services deputy spokesman Paul Muya says that Satao was named after the area in Tsavo where he used to roam freely.

Muya revealed that Satao had an average age of 45 years and was spotted dead on June 2 this year. He was so badly mutilated that it took nearly 10 days to confirm that it was indeed the beloved elephant.

The deputy spokesperson decried the rising cases of poaching in Tsavo where poachers have dropped the use of guns and now use poisoned arrows to silently kill wildlife.

"Another bull elephant was discovered dead at Murka area in Tsavo West on June 12 and the tusks hacked off. Both were killed using poisoned arrows. Poisoned arrows are now the most preferred poaching method because it is silent unlike gun shots that lead to immediate response when heard by our patrol teams," he said.

Muya says that KWS has intensified patrols in Taita ranches and Tsavo where a team of the recently formed Anti-poaching Unit has been deployed.

He says that the war against poaching will be won through the involvement of communities living in wildlife prone areas.

"The poachers originate from the communities and villages near the parks. We are working with them to deter poaching. We urge community members to report any people they suspect of undertaking poaching," he says.

Ranches around Taita Taveta area have also been blamed for harbouring livestock keepers from North Eastern Kenya, who are linked to poaching.

Governor John Mruttu last month issued an ultimatum to the livestock keepers to move out of the region because they do not have proper documentation from the authorities to graze in the ranches.

Mruttu says that the herders might spread diseases to livestock in Taita ranches contrary to the Animal Disease Control Act Cap. 364.

The county security team also says the illegal herders are a threat to both wildlife and locals.

"I am hereby giving notice of two weeks to these illegal herders to move out of the county in good faith and leave us in peace. Failure to do so will result in impounding the animals at the peril of the owners of the animals," said the governor.

Last month, six elephants were killed at Dawida ranch by poachers who have been posing as herders.

KWS director William Kiprono confirmed the government would deploy security personnel in Tsavo region and its environs to conduct a massive disarmament exercise.

Kiprono said the operation aims to recover hundreds of illegal firearms believed among the herders in the Taita ranches and Tsavo National park.

More than 56 elephants were poached in Tsavo Conservation Area by end of last month with 44 being slaughtered at the ranches.

The 32 ranches occupy more than 10,000 km square.

The county government has also mooted plans to recruit game scouts to help the rangers in patrolling the ranches.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Last week the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) released a new report that suggested elephant poaching in Africa might be leveling off to some degree, even as the number of large-scale ivory seizures on the continent increased and exceeded those in Asia.

According to the report, more than 20,000 elephants were estimated to have been killed by poachers in 2013, a lower estimate than in the previous two years.

"This is good news that the figures are declining, but the rate of poaching is still far too high and unsustainable," says African Wildlife Foundation's senior director of conservation science, Dr Philip Muruthi.

Concerning the death of Satao, Muruthi adds that, "The loss of one of Kenya's largest and most famous bull elephants to poachers this weekend are a stark reminder of this, and we must continue strengthening our efforts on the ground to ensure the figures continue their downward movement."

Large-scale seizures have increased overall, with seizures in Africa exceeding those in Asia for the first time, possibly as a result of stepped-up law enforcement efforts in Africa, according to the report.

Eighty percent of the seizures occurred in three countries: Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

"These large seizures in Africa mean less ivory is leaving our shores and ending up in storefronts or coffee tables in Asia," says Muruthi. "This ivory was grown in Africa and it should stay in Africa."


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