NAIROBI, Kenya


Hardly a week goes by without a confrontation between Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers and poachers in the country’s numerous national parks and reserves. In the past two weeks alone, poachers have killed two elephants in Tsavo West National Park and the Meru National Park. In both cases, the poachers were caught while removing the ivory from the dead elephants.

But perhaps what is worrying Kenyans even more is the kind of elephant ivory seizure that is made in foreign countries but traced as originating from Kenya. For instance on Tuesday, authorities in Bangkok, Thailand seized a half a tonne of ivory that was traced as having come from Kenya. This is a drop in the ocean compared to previous seizures.

The main pointer is that poaching may be going on a wider scale level than it is being reported, further threatening elephant species. Trading of elephant ivory was banned in 1989 through a global agreement after unprecedented drop in the number of elephants especially in Africa.

But demand for ivory and rhino horns is fuelling this illegal trade with poachers targeting the two animals in countries like Kenya and South Africa that enjoy rich wildlife diversity.

Despite improved surveillance of animals and increase in the number of forest rangers, the Kenyan case where ivory alleged to be from the country is intercepted abroad has raised prospects of foul play and disconnects within the wildlife management and security systems.

For instance, there are thousands of elephants and many rhinos that are under private and community conservancies that the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) may not be in direct control of.

As a measure to reduce this disconnect, KWS has started training community wildlife rangers from various parts of the country at its Law Enforcement Academy in Manyani, Tsavo West National Park.

According to the KWS communications office, the training is part of other support KWS provides to the more than 100 conservancies to enable them to manage wildlife in a better way.

“Previous community trainees had shown remarkable contribution to efforts to tackle human wildlife conflict, wildlife and visitor security as well as efforts to curb bush meat trade and poaching,” said Coast Conservation Area Assistant Director Simon Gitau.

The training is seen as crucial because Kenya is currently encouraging setting up of more conservancies where communities set aside part of their land to be used by the wild animals.

“Communities are key partners to the government as they provide additional space for wildlife conservation beyond national parks and reserves and we would like them to have the same standards as KWS rangers,” said a statement released by the KWS office.

Community wildlife rangers work jointly with KWS rangers in man operations, including problem animal control, intelligence sharing as well as visitor and wildlife security. KWS has so far trained 606 community rangers. Kenya is at a point where it cannot allow further poaching of wildlife because the animal numbers have been reducing at an alarming rate.

Most recent statistics from the KWS for instance indicate that the number of elephants for instance has reduced from a high of 160,000 in 1970s to the current 30,000. KWS said between the 1970s and 1980s Kenya lost over 80 per cent of her elephants, mainly due to intensive poaching of elephants for ivory.

Also affected are the Black Rhinos whose number declined from 20,000 in 1970 to current 577, putting it under the category of “critically endangered” animal.

Lion is also one of the most endangered animals not only in Kenya but across Africa. Kenya has an estimated 1,800 lions, down from 2,800 in 2002. The country had 30,000 lions in the 1960s, KWS data reveals.

There have been fears that the illegal trade for the wildlife parts has led their being priced high making them attractive to transnational criminals who mostly prefer dealing in high value commodities.

Bonaventure Ebayi, the director of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), a regional anti-poaching initiative operating from Kenya said in an earlier interview there is evidence that groups like Somalia terrorist group Al-Shabaab and insurgents in Democratic Republic of Congo are financing or staging poaching activities to obtain animal parts whose proceeds are used to finance their militant activities. (Xinhua)

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