By Kiundu Waweru
They observe vice has reached unprecented level and should be declared a disaster to step up efforts to protect wildlife
Elephants, like human beings, mourn their dead. Indeed, many animal lovers consider elephants ‘gentle giants’ for the tender care to their young ones.
Kenya is one of the few countries that is home to the tusked animals. The giant animals attract thousands of tourists from different countries to Kenya.
Sadly, elephants, which are part of our prized heritage, are under siege as poachers kill them in droves. Dozens of elephants have been killed in the past months raising fears if measures are not taken, the animals may soon end up like dinosaurs.
Yesterday, conservationists and wildlife lovers hit the streets demanding that poaching be declared a national disaster.
The protest called by Kenyans United Against Poaching (Kuapo) was flagged off at Uhuru Garden. Protesters marched to Uhuru Park waving banners with diverse messages including “No Wildlife, No Tourism.”
At Uhuru Park, the protestors declared a National Elephant Mourning Day, followed by speeches where participants petitioned President Kibaki to declare poaching a national disaster.
“The kind of poaching we are seeing is a national disaster,” said Dr Manu Chandaria, industrialist and philanthropist. “We must take wildlife as part of us. Animals are our heritage.”
The activists called urged Kenyans to take care of elephants because of their economic and social value.
Elephants are one of the Big Five animals, which are a major tourist attraction. They contribute about 12 per cent to annual tourism income. Besides direct income, the animals, now threatened by poachers, help thousands of Kenyans earn a living in tourism.
Former Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director and Kenya Permanent Representative at Unep Nehemiah Rotich said tourism losses also affect five Kenyans not employed in the sector.
“Factor in other aspects like forex trade, mama mboga, who supplies vegetables to tourist hotels and you realise we must put our house in order,” he said.
Mr Rotich said Kenya’s elephants and rhinos are under great siege. The vice is fuelled by a multi-billion dollar ivory industry in Asia, with elephants and rhinos being killed in protected areas, including private conservancies.
Rotich said the price of ivory and rhino horns continues to rise. One kilogramme of ivory can cost from Sh35,000 to Sh75,000.
“This means one elephant felled can fetch up to Sh1 million,” he noted.
There are also claims that some rangers are colluding with armed gangs, some from neighbouring Somalia.
KWS says last year, Kenya lost 384 elephants and 19 rhinos to poaching compared to 289 elephants and 29 rhinos poached in 2011. Of all elephant poaching cases last year, 300 elephants, (78 per cent of poaching cases) were killed in wildlife dispersal areas outside parks while 22 per cent of the cases occurring in protected areas.
Home to the largest population of rhinos in East and Central Africa, Kenya remains the main target of poachers. Rhino population stands at 1,010 with 623 being black and 387 white. Last year, 12 rhinos were killed outside protected areas while seven rhinos in national parks.
The grim statistics, unprecedented since the banning of ivory trade by former President Moi in 1989, have got wildlife players worried.
Wildlife lovers have formed Kuapo to push for protection of animals. The organisation comprises civil society bodies, community organisations from 21 wildlife regions, artists and media personalities.
The activists also urged the international community led by the US and Britain to support total ban on ivory trade during the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting in March.
They also called for China and Thailand, the ivory markets, to join hands with Kenya and other African states in fighting international crime syndicates involved in poaching.
Mr Josphat Ngonyo of Africa Network for Animal Welfare warned the rate at which poaching is taking place, Kenya might not achieve Vision 2030.
But Vision 2030 CEO Mugo Kibati was reluctant to support declaring poaching a national disaster, though he reiterated that Kenya must stop the menace.
“I agree with you and I know in the next few weeks, the Government will take efforts to stop poaching,” he said.
Forestry and Wildlife PS Hyslop Ipu acknowledged that rangers are ill equipped.
“Most poaching happens during the night and the Government has released funds to buy night vision equipment, among other measures,” he said.