Monday, March 11, 2013

KWS seizes Sh1.5 million ivory

PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA Mombasa Port employees arrange some of the 638 pieces of elephant tusks for weighing after they were impounded in January. Conservationists have raised alarm over the surge in poaching.

PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA Mombasa Port employees arrange some of the 638 pieces of elephant tusks for weighing after they were impounded in January. Conservationists have raised alarm over the surge in poaching.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By KITAVI MUTUA kitavimutua@gmail.com

Kenya Wildlife Service officers have seized an ivory haul valued at Sh1.5 million believed to belong to 12 elephants that were recently killed in a national park.

The tusks, which were being transported using a motorcycle, were impounded near Mwingi town in Kitui county on Saturday after a fierce exchange of fire with the suspected poachers.

Acting on a tip-off, a team of four officers from KWS headquarters approached the armed poachers posing as prospective buyers of their cargo.
The tusks are suspected to belong to elephants recently killed in Tsavo East National Park.

According to Mwingi police boss Kipkemboi Birir, the officers tracked down the poachers and caught up with them at a forested area near Ukasi market on the Nairobi-Garissa highway.

“Posing as ivory dealers, the officers met three men in the bush and pretended to negotiate a deal with them,” Mr Birir said, adding that they pounced on the poachers after managing to form a ring around them.

However, Mr Birir explained that a fierce exchange of fire began when the officers tried to wrestle the suspects to the ground in an attempt to arrest them.

Unbeknown to the KWS officers, a group of other poachers lying in wait in nearby thickets suddenly opened fire, ostensibly to rescue their accomplices.

The OCPD said the officers, who sustained injuries as they struggled to take cover, were forced to free the suspects.

An exchange of gun fire ensued as the suspected poachers grabbed the bag containing the ivory and took off under a hail of bullets before abandoning it a few metres away as the officers gave chase.

A KWS officer who was part of the operation but who requested not to be named told the Nation they almost lost their lives as the second group of poachers ambushed them.

He said they later combed the forest and recovered more sacks containing 28 pieces of elephant tusks.

A motorcycle believed to have been used by the suspects was also seized. The tusks weighed 89 kilogrammes.

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