|Armed KWS officers patrol Lake Nakuru National Park with sniffer dogs searching for poachers who escaped after one was shot dead. They recovered assorted items, among them poisoned arrows. [PHOTO: BONIFACE THUKU/STANDARD]|
By Alex Kiprotich
Kenya: As the country grapples with the poaching menace, The Standard has learnt that Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials are involved in the vice.
Multiple sources interviewed by The Standard reveal poachers are working in cahoots with KWS personnel, from the top-most to the rangers, to send signals to poachers on the location of a targeted rhino.
And the process begins with the Management Staff Committee (MSC), which based at KWS headquarters and whose mandate is to promote, transfer and discipline staff.
Our sources said the MSC has been incriminated in the poaching spree that has puzzled the country. Furthermore, no action has been taken on senior wardens or assistant directors who preside over parks where killing of the animals is rampant.
The Standard found out a pattern especially in Lake Nakuru National Park where senior wardens have been transferred to other parks, mostly at the Coast, after a number of rhinos are killed in their areas.
“I have no doubt this committee, either by design or error of omission, is linked to poaching. They are the ones who identify who heads which park and when to transfer. Look at how the transfers in Nakuru, which has become a poaching field for rhinos, are effected and at what point,” the source said.
Our investigations indeed reveal a predictable pattern. Senior wardens are transferred on promotion after a number of rhinos are killed. Then, a replacement is brought only to be removed as soon as the next killings have taken place.
Despite Lake Nakuru National Park having had a constant change of senior wardens, the killing of rhinos whose pricey horns are worth the price of gold, has not stopped.
Between June 2011 and October 2011, three rhinos were killed under the watch of one official. And when he exited, another one took over between October 2011 and August 2013. Under his watch, more than 15 rhinos were killed before he was ultimately transferred to Malindi and his position taken by another official.
Since then, 16 rhinos have been killed. But even with the shocking killings, some executed in broad daylight, the MSC has now promoted one of the officials to the position of Deputy Assistant Director while sending another one for further training. Such training is offered to officers designated for promotion.
The promoted official had previously worked in Eastern where 50 elephants were wiped out during his tenure. He was transferred to KWS headquarters where he stayed for one year. “If the MSC was serious about wildlife conservation, would that happen?” posed our source.
The Rangers now say poaching inside the highly protected Lake Nakuru National Park, which was was established as a rhino sanctuary in 1984, has reduced rhinos to less than 100, and not 200 as stated by KWS bosses.
“If something is not done, we may not have any rhinos in the next few months,” said an officer. The 188 square-kilometre park is guarded by more than 70 rangers who are armed with sophisticated weapons. .
Rangers who spoke to us on condition of anonymity opened up after being assured that they would not be exposed. The rangers are living in fear, after reports started leaking to the media and their seniors started monitoring their calls.
And to avoid the calls, this writer had to deliver a phone and new number to four wardens who agreed to be interviewed. “We all know what is happening but if anyone speaks, you will be bumped off, especially after the disappearance of one of our own,” said one of the game rangers at Nakuru National Park.
Some of the rangers in the rhino squad are specifically there to monitor movements of rhinos and alert the ‘bosses’ who in turn alert the poachers. “We know the untouchables in our group. They always communicate on phone with our seniors,” said the source.
The source said the rangers colluding with senior staff have also taken advantage of KWS directors’ apparent lack of know-how on the animals in the parks.
The ranger said his colleagues who have been recruited in the poaching web have records of the whereabouts of the animals and when to strike. For every rhino killed, the killer is paid Sh50,000.
“This is equivalent to four months’ salary. We are paid Sh14,000 by KWS… do you expect someone to give me an offer of Sh50,000 then I turn it down?” posed the ranger.
But the picture became even grimmer when one senior officer in the rank of Assistant Director agreed to talk to this writer. “The committee in Nairobi perpetuates poaching. Have you seen any warden taken to court over the vice?” he asked. He said those who do not play ball are removed and moved to other parks in far-flung areas.
Evade an ambush
The officer confirmed what the wardens, all interviewed separately by The Standard said; that poachers act like guided missiles. “They are guided to where the animal is and how to evade any ambush laid down,” said the officer.
A warden told us how a group of poachers killed a rhino and as they were planning an ambush, an Assistant Director called off the operation. This was perhaps to let the poachers escape. And even after the poachers escaped the dragnet, the same official stopped the operation, claiming the sniffer dog was tired. “It was later discovered the tusks were metres away, in a house where the sniffer dog was leading the operation team to. It was evident the Assistant Director was monitoring our work to alert poachers on how to escape,” said the source. The source made a startling revelation that poachers were just “fictional characters” moulded by KWS personnel to conceal their actions. “It is the rogue personnel who are poachers. There is no one from outside – apart from the buyers and those who ferry the tusks,” said the officer.
KWS Director General William Kiprono said the service is taking seriously allegations and that the Cabinet task force chaired by former KWS Director Nehemiah Rotich is in place doing investigations.
“The task force is doing its work and once they are through, they should be able to address the issues,” he said.