Police and Kenya Wildlife Service rangers have arrested 26 pupils for allegedly grazing livestock in Tsavo National Park and are contemplating charging them with trespassing.
The minors, aged between seven and 14, are said to have been grazing the livestock deep inside Tsavo West National Park for the past two months. The police, however, have not indicated whether their parents have been informed of their whereabouts since their arrest on Monday.
Taveta OCPD Samson Gababa and the Park Deputy Warden Rose Malenya yesterday said that the children are being detained at the police station waiting to be charged.
"We have questioned the school going children and confirmed that they were grazing animals under the instructions of their parents. The suspects will be arraigned in court once investigations are complete," said Ms Malenya.
She said parents are now using their children to graze animals in the protected area for fear of arrest. It was not immediately clear whether any action would be taken against the parents.
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Malenya said KWS had now embarked on air and ground operation to drive away thousands of livestock that have invaded Tsavo ecosystem from as far as Kajiado and from the neighbouring counties. Some of the animals were coming from as far as Tanzania. The Southern Sector is the worst hit in livestock incursion, she said.
Blono Duba, senior warder, said KWS has been tracking down illegal grazers for a while.
"We are always engaged in cat and mouse games with the children and their animals. When you think you have driven away the animals, you find them back within a day," said Mr Duba.
Malenya said there was need for all the relevant State agencies to join hands and help tackle illegal herding, which is threatening tourism and biodiversity conservation.
She said parents engaging minors in child labour at the expense of going to school should be arrested and prosecuted in line with the Children's Act 2006.
Taveta Sub-County Children Officer Mghadi Ndurya admitted that it was a major challenge to arrest the parents of children found grazing in the park.
"The parents of children arrested in the park always go underground. Some children are very adamant that they can never take you to their homes," he said.
Malenya said the herders have persistently been threatening to retaliate against the operation to drive the cattle out by killing elephants.
The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act has introduced hefty fines and sentences to people found trespassing in national parks and engaging wildlife crime. A person found guilty of hunting game meat will be fined Sh200,000 or will be imprisoned for a year or both.