By PROTUS ONYANGO
Nairobi,KENYA: An elite anti-poaching squad has been formed to protect endangered species in Kenya.
The Environment ministry, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other arms of Government have partnered to form a special anti-poaching unit named the Elite Inter-Agency Anti-Poaching Unit, comprising security officers from KWS, Administration Police and the General Service Unit.
The special unit, which will be under the command of KWS, is undergoing joint training at the KWS Law Enforcement Academy at Manyani before deployment to poaching hotspot areas of Narok, Tsavo and Isiolo.
“The Government is committed to provide facilitation and equipment to support the Elite Inter-Agency Anti-Poaching Unit operations,” said Mulei Muia, the head of communications at the ministry of Environment.
He added: “In order to support the Unit, the Government has engaged partners, including the governments of United States, China and the United Kingdom for assistance. Plans are underway to recruit an additional 1,000 KWs rangers to effectively tackle poaching.”
The State will also deploy aerial surveillance support to enhance their capacity to deal with poaching. Already, the Government has established an Inter-Agency Task Force to advice and co-ordinate wildlife security management interventions across the country. KWS has also adopted a multi-faceted approach to eliminate the poaching vice. It has actively engaged communities living next to wildlife sanctuaries, through conservation education on the negative impacts of poaching. Consumers of illegal wildlife products, local and international are being sensitised on their indirect contribution to poaching by buying such products.
Muia also saidthe ministry gazetted the Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill, 2013 last month to tackle poaching of wildlife.
The Bill will broaden investment in the wildlife sector to support livelihoods of Kenyans, among others. In particular, the Bill will enhance the fight against poaching of endangered species by stiffening penalties meted on offenders. The Bill was developed by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.
Muia said the ministry is committed to fast-tracking of the Bill and calls on all stakeholders to support this initiative to conserve and protect the national heritage for posterity.
“Consultations so far point towards common understanding of the need to enhance the penalties – both sentences and fines – as stipulated currently in the Bill that is before Parliament,” Muia said. He added: “Section 79, offences relating to endangered and threatened species, states that ‘Any person who commits an offence in respect of an endangered or threatened species or in respect of any trophy of that endangered or threatened species shall be liable upon conviction to a fine of not less than Sh10 million or to imprisonment of not less than 15 years or to both such fine and imprisonment’.”
Stakeholders have advocated that the fine be raised to Sh20 million and the sentence enhanced to life imprisonment.
The Cabinet Secretary will develop and gazette Rules and Regulations as subsidiary legislation to support the implementation of the Bill within six months after enactment into law.
The trade in wildlife and its products poses a challenge in wildlife conservation. Elephants are killed for ivory, while the rhinos are killed for the horns.
The elephants and rhinos in Kenya, like in other African states are under severe and escalating levels of poaching, which is one of the greatest threats to wildlife conservation.
Poaching and wildlife trafficking has now become more organised, lucrative, and widespread than ever before. These challenges are undermining the anti-poaching and wildlife trafficking interventions by the Government and the international community over the last 25 years.