Poaching cartel kills decoys to cover tracks

By Dann Okoth and Dennis Onsarigo

Kenya: A cartel run by a top Government official from Nyeri uses innocent Kenyans as pawns in its dangerous game of poaching.

Several Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers, General Service Unit (GSU) officers and civilians have disappeared or died, apparently after being set up as poachers by the cartel.

On January 16, 2014, Njoroge Nderitu received a call from a colleague who wanted to meet him at the local bus park. Two days later, the police officer attached to Central Bank, Nyeri, was reported missing. A day later, his body was discovered at Nyeri provincial mortuary. He had been shot and killed 22 kilometres inside Solio Ranch.

The body of a Mr William Gichohi Kariuki was also booked alongside that of Nderitu.

The media had been told a day earlier that the two were notorious poachers who were gunned down as they tried to kill rhinos in the expansive sanctuary.

But it is the details of these killings and many others that have put the spotlight on the ranch and several of the county’s national parks.

Nderitu and Gichohi were gunned down not inside the rhino sanctuary, but outside it – just like all the other suspected poachers killed in the protected wildlife zone.

In fact, no suspected poacher has been killed inside the sanctuary where the rhinos are.

The family says the killing was suspect, a theory supported by an independent team of police investigators.

The Standard has obtained statements recorded by KWS rangers who took part in the killing of the suspected poachers. According to the statements, about nine KWS rangers were on patrol inside the rhino sanctuary.

Our investigations reveal the man who lured Nderitu to his death travelled to Nyeri a day before the officer was killed.

Nderitu met the man in the company of two others at the Nyeri bus terminus. He was then picked up by a vehicle registered under a parastatal.

The last place Nderitu was traced to was Gathare hills, several kilometres from Nyeri town at around 8pm. It was not until the following day that his body and that of Gichohi were found inside Solio Ranch.

An autopsy conducted on Nderitu’s body raises more questions than answers. It had rained the night the two were gunned down, yet Nderitu’s clothes were dry – suggesting the two might have been killed elsewhere and their bodies ferried to the ranch.

The family pathologist told The Standard that the pattern of bullet wounds on the chest were consistent with those of victims killed at point-blank range.

A statement by another KWS official on duty that night raises another red flag. He says he fired 15 rounds of ammunition, a second officer fired 14 rounds but only four spent cartridges were collected from the scene of the ambush.

Moreover, Nderitu was gunned down by a high-calibre firearm while a man he had never met in life was felled by a handgun. Did the two KWS rangers have all the time to select which man to kill with what weapon in a split second of an ambush?

There was no blood at the scene of the shooting. Their jackets had burns, which experts attribute to shooting at close range.

It is now emerging that among the men who lured Nderitu to his death was a former provincial administration official still working for the Government.

One of the two men has in the past been subjected to investigations over alleged links to poaching activities. Is there something that Nderitu and Gichohi knew that these men did not want revealed?

After this incident, there were two more killings of suspected poachers at the ranch.

The Standard has no conclusive evidence to exonerate the four people killed at Solio Ranch from poaching activities, but the mystery around their deaths and seemingly co-ordinated killing of rhinos across the country point to a much bigger plot.

It emerged senior directors at KWS and top ministry officials are a frustrated lot as the poaching cartels run riot. Their frustrations come from the lack of capacity and goodwill from the Government.