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Re-emergence of poaching is worrying

By | January 10th 2011

For many years, the undisputed foreign exchange earner for Kenya was tourism through tourists flocking coastal hotels, and bush safaris to view wild game. And Kenya had it all and the famed Big Five: the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo.

However, a combination of poaching, animal habitat encroachment, environmental degradation, insecurity and international terrorism conspired to relegate tourism below other sectors.

Highland areas and expansive savannah that once teemed with wildlife is now either bare or built-up by an ever-land hungry population. However, the most resilient threat to wildlife is poaching. Apart from strengthening the capacity of Kenya Wildlife Service, conservancies and animal orphanages have been allowed to raise, rehabilitate and restock certain species of endangered wild animals.

But last November, heavily armed poachers struck at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, killing a rhino and hacked off its horn, sending ripples through the community.

Attacks have increased and, each time, the poachers manage to get away with their ill-gotten booty intact. They have also been known to rise when nations such as Zimbabwe and Tanzania feel they can safely sell off stocks of ivory impounded from poachers or from culling burgeoning populations.


Painful ending

But Friday night’s arrest of poachers with 81 elephant tusks and several rhino horns was welcome news to an increasingly frustrated conservation lobby, and notably, renowned writer and conservationist Kuki Gallman. This translates in over 40 elephants dead for little more than their teeth.

The sophisticated guns and other night vision equipment they were nabbed with suggests a well organised syndicate that operates with military-style precision as they rob Kenya of her wildlife heritage.

The loss of any animal points to a very painful ending as the bloodied carcasses attest. Elephants touted as the largest living mammal on land, gentle giants with no known predator (except man) lives up to 80 years in the wild. They are, however, brought down by a rifle bullet in minutes to feed the demand, especially in Asia, for ivory and rhino horn as aphrodisiacs.

That is why Kenya must remain a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — the agreement bringing together more than 170 governments, to adhere to its protocols so that international trade in trophies from wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

One authoritative report stresses the need for this co-operation because "the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation".

A good case in point are the last two arrests of South Asian couriers intercepted at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with their ill-gotten bounty.

That every other day Africa loses a rhino to poaching is worrying. Statistics provided by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) show a remarkable and alarming increase in poaching has increased "dramatically over the last year-and-a-half, fuelled by demand for rhino horn from the Asian market. The numbers being tallied in South Africa are grim — more than 600 rhinos were poached across Africa in the last five years and South Africa alone has seen the loss of over 212 rhinos since 2009...There used to be hundreds of thousands of rhinos throughout Africa".

silenced weapons

It has reached a point where armed rangers have to accompany rhinos as they browse just to keep the animals alive.

Electronic tagging has helped keep herds visible and increased response times whenever animals are in danger.

And just like the Meru town arrests attested, confirmed findings by the Lowveld Project and WWF that "highly organised international poaching criminal syndicates deploy advanced technologies ranging from night vision scopes, silenced weapons, darting equipment and helicopters to carry out their mission".

More vigilance, better weapons for policing and education of communities remain the first-line of defence against the rape and slaughter of our wildlife. Perhaps, a return to the campaign of yesteryear is even more urgent now: Only elephants should wear ivory!

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