When will poachers begin to feel force of State?

Saturday June 15 2013



Where, pray, is the outrage? I ask thus because of the following: One, the news last week that an Administration Policeman and three others had been arrested for being in possession of and trying to sell 40 kilogrammes of ivory to undercover Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) agents.

The news media did not give this news item great play. It was a filler in some and a brief in others.

Two, three weeks earlier, the KWS Director, Mr William Kibet Kiprono, was forced to posit that the wanton and rampant killing of elephants and rhinos in the country was an act of economic sabotage.

That is a serious standpoint, indeed, but justified because of the events that led to it. Mr Kiprono was speaking in Naivasha where unidentified people had invaded a private sanctuary and killed a rhino and its calf.

Intriguingly, the killers did not remove the rhino horn. But, even more disturbing about the Naivasha killings, is that they capped a week in which Kenya had lost seven rhinos.

Because of the wanton slaughter of the elephant and the rhino and the fact that the killers did not remove the horn of their victim in Naivasha, Mr Kiprono thought that the culprits were most likely economic saboteurs.

Three, but just how credible is Mr Kiprono’s claim? On June 6, KWS revealed that it had interdicted a whopping 32 staffers and three others removed from the service altogether because of their suspected involvement “in the illegal killing of wildlife”.

KWS said the action against the staffers, who ranged from assistant directors to rangers, was occasioned by the findings of an internal investigation sanctioned by the management and Board of Trustees.

Four, may I remind you that in my last piece on poaching last month I wrote thus: The question Kenyans would like the court to answer is whether professed protectors of the elephant had turned predatory poachers?

I asked thus because two staffers of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants – a mother and son and the latter an honorary warden of KWS – had been arrested and charged with smuggling 19 kilogrammes of ivory.

Now, as I say, when police break the law, there is no law. The big worry is that the ivory-hawking AP was arrested hot on the heels of a chilling report which informed us that there is a worrying trend where police officers are increasingly turning to crime.

Similarly, Kenya’s wildlife cannot be safe when KWS top brass (assistant directors) and the last line of defence (rangers) turn from game wardens to predatory poachers.

Mr Kiprono must begin by putting his house in order. I noted that the KWS report said that the interdiction of the 32 staffers was meant to pave way for further investigations. One must wonder when he will move from investigations to prosecutions.

Second, the politicians must keep their noses out of the investigations and resulting interdictions and leave KWS and the law to take their course.

In fact, the National Assembly must move with haste and enact laws that will hand poachers and all those involved in the slaughter of the rhino and elephant herds stiff penalties.

As I say, it does not make sense to fine a smuggler Sh30,000 for possessing pieces of worked ivory that would have earned him about Sh2 million.

The National Assembly must also enact another law making the protection of Kenya’s wildlife a shared responsibility of the security agencies.

When there was an upsurge in the poaching of the rhino and elephant in the late 1980s, the government responded by setting up the KWS in 1990 and appointing a no-nonsense Richard Leakey to take charge of it; giving him sweeping powers to get on top of the situation.

Then President Moi went on the offensive and torched a stockpile of elephant tusks to call global attention to the danger elephants and rhinos faced.

Those measures have served us well until now. This resurgence in poaching, which goes back to 2007, calls for a new approach to the protection of our wildlife.

My stated position is that now all security agents and not KWS alone must be trained to protect our wildlife, apprehend those who kill it and prosecute them.

Last, Nairobi must take the lead in mobilising the rest of the world to force China to stop import of illegal ivory. This approach should involve convincing all to treat the illegal trade in wildlife products as no different from the illegal trade in narcotics and trafficking of humans.

Kwendo Opanga is a media consultant [email protected]