Friday, March 16, 2012

Red flag raised over elephant poaching

By JACOB NG'ETICH jngetich@ke.nationmedia.com

Two weeks ago, a game ranger stumbled upon two dead elephants while on a routine patrol at the Laikipia Nature Conservancy.

The mature elephants had been shot in broad daylight and their tusks removed, perhaps an indication of how daring poachers have become.

More elephants have been shot dead in the plains of Samburu, adding to the already worrying statistics of jumbos that have been poached so far this year.

According to wildlife experts and scientists, the number of elephants killed per day stands at between four and five.

Director of Wildlife Direct Paula Kahumbu said the situation was worsening by the day.

“We used to have between three to four per cent of the population poached every year but given the rapid rise, the percentage has risen to about eight,” she said.

Kenya Wildlife Service director Julius Kipng’etich told the Nation that despite the efforts to stop poaching, the number of elephants being killed per year has been increasing.

“There has been an upward trend in the poaching of elephants since 2007 where only 45 were killed and just last year the population shot to 278,” Dr Kipng’etich said.

The Head of Species at Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr Patrick Omondi, said in the last three years alone, more than eight tonnes of illegally acquired ivory had been seized in Kenya.

However, director of Eco-tourism Kenya Onesmus Kahindi said the number of the elephants poached is about ten times the figures given by KWS, adding that the situation was deteriorating.

“Elephants are dying every day and to say that over 2,000 elephants were killed last year, we’ll be on the right mark,” he said.

Samburu County leads the pack of regions where poaching is rampant followed by Masaai Mara and areas around Laikipia.

Conservationists have pointed an accusing finger at Chinese expatriates for steady decline elephant populations in Kenya.

According to an official at KWS, their records on poaching indicate that about 90 per cent of people who pass through Kenyan airports with illegal ivory are Chinese.

Whereas illegal trade in ivory and poaching have been linked to the Asian market, Ms kahumbi said the biggest poachers are Kenyans, with some in the positions of power.

Dr Kipng’etich noted that lucrative trade in illegal ivory, with a kilo now fetching up to 2,000 dollars, had catalysed poaching in Kenya and the entire continent.
He said the problem dates back to 2008 when China received the go-ahead from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to buy non-poached ivory from some African nations.

“The go-ahead which we opposed vehemently has eventually created a demand that now seems to be insatiable and threaten to significantly reduce the population of elephants,” he said.

The nine-year moratorium expires in 2017. Mr Kahindi accused the State of doing little to conserve the jumbos.

“The government does not completely support the conservancies that form bulk of the territory for the elephant, Kenya Wildlife Service only covers 25 per cent of the wildlife territory and it is under-funded,” he said.

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