Police and the Kenya Wildlife Service are pursuing suspects involved in a poaching incident that left two male southern white rhinos dead and their horns clipped.
The attack at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Meru County is believed to have taken place at around 11pm on Friday, as it rained heavily.
“Our rangers heard gun shots but it was raining heavily ... the terrain are impossible to patrol during such times," said Joseph Kabiru, an employee at the conservancy.
"The poachers had already disappeared by the time our rangers got to the scene. Usually, poachers take advantage of the heavy rains which make most of the conservancy difficult to access. Police and KWS officers have taken the lead on the matter.”
Dr Tuqa Jirmo, Lewa’s Chief Operations Officer, termed the loss devastating, "after six years of successfully keeping all rhinos in the conservancy safe and recording high birth rates'.
"Since the incident, we have been working tirelessly with the Kenya Police and the [KWS] to apprehend the criminals."
Dr Jirmo noted that the incident served as a reminder that the threat from poaching is ever-present so animal sanctuaries cannot be complacent.
"The poaching scourge and illegal rhino horn trade continue to put the survival of rhinos at risk across the continent.”
Tourism CS Najib Balala said in an event yesterday, “The numbers of rhinos killed by poachers had dropped to single digits while those of elephants had dropped to just 38 last year from the hundreds killed years back.”
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, Kenya is home to around 1,000 rhinos, two-thirds of which are critically endangered black rhinos – the rarer of Africa’s two rhino species, with just 5,000 left in the wild globally.
This is in comparison to around 20,000 white rhinos.
It was reported in the 80s that Kenya’s rhino population had dropped to less than 400.
In 2017, however, the KWS reported that the rhino populations were rising, with a reported number of 1,258 at the time, including 745 black rhinos.
Lewa, which was founded in 1995, spans 61,000 acres and holds 13 per cent of Kenya’s black rhino population and 12 per cent of the world’s Grevy’s zebras.
Two and a half rhinos are killed every day in Africa for their horns, which are illegally traded in the international black market.
This is mainly driven by a huge surge in the demand for rhino horn in Asia – especially Vietnam - where it's seen as a status symbol.
Kenya’s worst poaching year was in 2013, when 59 animals or at least five per cent of the national population were killed.
The rhino poaching crisis began in 2008, with increasing numbers of the animals killed for their horn throughout Africa until 2015.
However, there has been a decrease in the number of rhinos poached across the continent since the peak of 1,349 in 2015.