Reading yesterday’s posting on the arrest of Kahindi Lekalhaile, the CEO of Ecotourism Kenya, visitors to the Kenya Forum will surely have been as shocked and perplexed as the Forum’s editorial team. Mr Lekalhaile’s crime was to be quoted in a national newspaper as saying that the number of elephants being killed by poachers in Kenya was probably 10 times the figure given by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). For this, and seemingly at the instigation of the Director of the KWS Dr Julius Kipng’etich, he was arrested under section 132 of the Penal Code for “undermining the authority of a public officer”.
Kahindi Lekalhaile’s figures may be exaggerating the true extent of the rapidly growing problem of poaching in Kenya. That poaching has and is increasing there is no doubt.
Dr Kipng’etich was quoted in the same report (‘Red flag raised over elephant poaching’, Saturday Nation, March 17) in which Kahindi Lekalhaile’s comment appeared that landed him in trouble, that, “There has been an upward trend in poaching of elephants since 2007 where only 45 were killed and just last year the population shot to 278”.
The problem, Dr Kipng’etich told reporters, goes back to 2008 when China was given permission by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to buy non-poached ivory from Africa.
Kahindi Lekalhaile’s response was: “Elephants are dying every day and to say that over 2,000 elephants were killed last year, we’ll be on the right mark”.
ELEPHANT POACHING: 41 ELEPHANTS KILLED IN KENYA IN FOUR DAYS
Monday’s Star newspaper reported ‘19 elephants killed in Laikipia since January’. Only four days before the same newspaper reported ‘20 elephants killed by poachers in Marsabit’, followed the next day by ‘Two elephants killed by poachers in Mwatate’. That’s the slaughter of 41 elephants reported in just four days.
Several sources from Safari companies, game conservation groups and a former KWS officer, have told the Forum that problem of poaching is considerably greater than even the reports in Kenya’s newspapers would suggest.
The problem is not just confined to the poaching of elephants: the poaching of Rhinos in Kenya is also on the increase according to our sources. Nor indeed is the growing menace of poaching by any means confined to Kenya.
It was reported in February that 200 elephants had been killed in Bouba Ndjida national park in Cameroon in just six weeks. In South Africa the number of Rhino’s killed for their horns has increased from an average of 36 per year over the period 2000 to 2005, to over 330 in 2010 and nearer 350 in 2011. Recently there have been reports of poachers shooting rhinos from helicopters before landing to cut of their valuable horn.
WILDLIFE POACHING: IVORY, RHINO HORN AND THE CHINESE MARKET
So what’s driving the recent dramatic increase in poaching in Africa? The answer, of course, is money, with illegal ivory now fetching $2,000 per kilo. Specifically however, demand has been driven by the increasingly wealthy Chinese market where ivory and rhino horn are much sought after (see, for example, ‘Elephant and rhino poaching is driven by China’s economic boom’, The Guardian, August 2011).
Of great concern to the Kenya Forum, and Dr Kipng’etich please take note, is that we have been told that several KWS officers are now in the pay of Chinese syndicates, or poachers supplying the Chinese market. A former KWS officer told the Forum: “The problem is that the KWS guys don’t know if their colleague standing next to them, gun in hand, is on their side, or the side of the poachers”.
What is to be done?
The first task is to recognise the scale of the problem.
Second, the governments of Kenya and China, and of course other African countries, need to take urgent and coordinated action to stem the slaughter, intercept the illegal merchandise and prosecute those involved.
Third, the KWS needs more resources but it also needs to use the resources it has far more efficiently, and it had has to attend to the problem of corrupt officers.
Finally, and goodness knows how this is going to be achieved, Kenyans and Africans in others countries, have to be shown that in the long term elephants, rhinos and other animals, are worth more alive than they are dead.