Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The rhino is becoming too hot to keep

Kenya Wildlife Service rangers capture a rhino for relocation to Nairobi National Park. PHOTO/FILE

Kenya Wildlife Service rangers capture a rhino for relocation to Nairobi National Park. PHOTO/FILE 

By WANJIRU MACHARIA

Protecting the endangered rhino is becoming an expensive business for the Kenya Wildlife Service which has to mobilise massive resources to protect the animal from poachers.

At Lake Nakuru National Park, which is a save haven for rhinos in the country; money used in protecting the animal has been overstretching the park’s budget.

“We are spending Sh690,000 per month on rhino protection,” Lydia Kisoyan, the park senior told Horizons.

Security

The park spends another Sh300,000 on general surveillance — bringing the total sum of money spent on security to close to Sh1 million  a month.

In the recent past, the KWS has stepped up its surveillance in rhino protection following increased cases of poaching in all game parks, reserves and wildlife conservancies where the large mammals are found.

The rhino is among the Big Five – topping the list of tourist attraction. Others are the lion, leopard, buffalo, and elephant. As the biggest rhino sanctuary in the country, Lake Nakuru National Park has become the target for poachers keen on making easy riches.

What makes it easy for poachers, who kill the rhino for its horn, to get to the park is because the facility is surrounded by human settlement.

Though not scientifically proved, there is a belief that the rhino horn powder has an aphrodisiac effects. Aphrodisiac is a drug that enhances sexual performance.

Joseph Dadacha, the Nakuru National Park deputy warden does not believe the theory but he says horns are allegedly used to manufacture sex enhancement drugs in Asia. 

They are mainly exported to China or Japan where they sell at exorbitant prices.

“There is no proof that rhino horn powder enhances sexual performance but poachers continue to kill these animals, depleting their population in most game reserves, forests and national parks,” he explains.

Poachers sell a kilogramme of the horn at Sh500,000 while the middlemen who transport to exit points trade the same amount for Sh1 million.

The price more than triples when its gets to the Asian countries where it is dried and ground before being sold in powder form as an aphrodisiac with the manufacturers making a kill out of the illegal trade.

Penalties

This is a lucrative trade as one horn weighs about seven kilograms which translates to Sh3.5 million for the poacher while penalties are very lenient.

Mr Dadacha blames inadequate penalties against poaching for the continued game hunting.

The offenders are jailed for a maximum of five years or fined a small amount of between Sh20,000 and Sh50,000.

“These penalties are not enough to deter poachers, what does one have to lose if a successful mission makes you a multi-millionaire with a small penalty of a few thousands or a maximum of five years in jail?” asks Dadacha.

A new Bill with stiffer penalties for poachers is in the pipeline but is yet to be passed in parliament.

Dadacha says that the latest attempt by rhino poachers at the Nakuru National Park was in late March when six poachers were arrested within the park.

They had poisoned arrows and spikes, bows, axes and pangas.

The deputy senior warden says the park is normally on a high security focus because it is 80 per cent surrounded by the human settlement.

Challenge

“We depend on the community’s goodwill to protect our animals, rhino poachers target this facility because it is a sanctuary but we have done everything possible to ensure that we do not lose a single one to them,” he adds.

He observes that another challenge is the resettlement of people displaced during the post election violence on new residential areas around the park.

“This is a needy lot of people who were viewing the park as a target for meat and fuel, sometimes they destroy the electric fence in their attempt to get in thus exposing our endangered animals to poachers.

When the displaced person stands next to the park fence and sees a gazelle grazing, they see it in terms of food while a dry branch hanging on a tree is firewood to them, we are conducting sensitization programmes and encouraging these people to protect our heritage, he says.

Game hunting

Rhinos and elephants have remained endangered Kenya for several years. They were almost wiped out at one time when the sport of game hunting was legalized.

It was at this time that the government chose Lake Nakuru National Park as the breeding ground for rhinos purposely to restock the depleted national reserves and parks.