By DANN OKOTH and DENNIS ONSARIGO
NAIROBI, KENYA: A top official enjoying State security with all the trappings of power could be behind rampant poaching in the country, it has emerged.
The official from Nyeri County has connections in Uganda, Tanzania and beyond, according intelligence details seen by The Standard and KTN television. KTN’s investigative piece by Dennis Onsarigo on the same premiered on the station last night.
The criminal runs a well-organised poaching cartel within and outside Kenya’s borders, using locals and foreigners and has links to serving and retired Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials who are at his beck and call.
At the snap of a finger, he can make officers who do not obey his orders to disappear or be dismissed from work.
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July 7, 2013, will remain etched in the minds of Kenyans forever. On this day, 12 elephants were butchered in a single day in bizarre circumstances at the Tsavo National Park. Nearly one year later, the killings remain largely unresolved, even as more animals are felled by each passing day.
The cartel, which has the efficiency of an army, is also said to be responsible, in the last couple of years, for the demise of thousands of rhinos – the species hunted for its precious horns used for medicinal and other purposes, especially in China.
For the price of not less than Sh2 million for every rhino horn, the commodity is in such high demand that poachers would pull out all the stops to lay their hands on a rhino horn.
It is estimated that Kenya has just 1,000 rhinos remaining from 24,000 three decades ago, which translates to the country losing some 800 rhinos every year. Some of the slaughter occurs in highly protected parks and animal sanctuaries – sometimes under the very noses of KWS officials – which goes a long way to demonstrate the boldness with which the cartels carry out their operations.
A case in point is the shooting of three rhinos in May, last year, at the Nairobi National Park, a few metres from KWS headquarters, only three days after another rhino was gunned down at a high security animal conservancy in Meru. Now senior KWS officials say poaching in the country will not stop as long as the Nyeri poaching kingpin, who, they say, has created the biggest rhino horn demand chain in the history of East and Central Africa is not stopped.
“He has infiltrated the KWS, the police force and the State security and no one seems able to stop him,” say the officials who cannot be named due to possible reprisals.
“He is so efficient he can carry out simultaneous poaching activities in different parks in a single night without security apparatus either getting wind of it or doing anything about it,” say the officials.
But how is it that an individual known to the authorities and who has detailed State security can ravage the country’s wildlife and one of its key tourists resource with such reckless abandon? Who are his pay masters? Who is protecting him?
The same documents prepared by investigators and now in the custody of several government security agencies identify a second kingpin, a retired government official who runs several businesses in the country, who is said to have created the second largest demand network for rhino horns, and who has connections to the lead kingpin. What is baffling is that the authorities appear to know serving and former employees of KWS and other State security agencies who are linked to the leading poaching kingpins yet have not taken action.
The group is organised in such a way that rogue elements in the service or those who have been dismissed disclose the exact location of a rhino for instance, a marksman enter the park, and gun down the animal. Most of the time they do not leave the park with their guns. A handler will be waiting with a motorbike to ferry the poachers to a particular location, having been paid in advance. The rhino horn will exchange hands with another middle-level handler, and using official and private vehicles, the poachers are able to beat Government security and intelligence networks.
Having beaten the State security and intelligence net, the rhino horn will be transported by road to Uganda before it leaves that country by air.
In the event the intelligent teams are in hot pursuit of the poachers, the rhino horns are ground into powder, packed as milk powder and effortlessly shipped out of the county.
The cartel has standby drivers, game rangers who supply them with night vision equipment, ammunition and exact location of rhinos. Despite intelligence agencies tracing the poachers to their masters, senior government officials have been reluctant to narrow down to the individuals sponsoring them.
The government, it appears, know about Chinese nationals directly involved in poaching, but deporting them and having a few slapped with small fines have not helped. Weak legislation against poaching has also exacerbated the situation.