Poaching in Kenya
Whenever I see a slain elephant, my heart literally crinkles. This is not the first time, I have been there before. Am I the only one seeing this? Am I the only one feeling this sense of attachment to the wild? Of course not; but if there are millions of like minded individuals why is the trade still thriving? Is it my obligation to help protect the feeble in the wild? What is my obligation? Might it be beyond me? Might is a strong word, leaving all other possibilities to chance.
Kenya is endowed with a resource that is fast becoming a rare spectacle in the world; the wildlife resource. Wildlife in this context and in the conventional context I know of encompasses flora and fauna. The value of is resource is evident from the millions of people who visit our beloved country Kenya to have a glimpse & experience of what Mother Nature has prized us with. Of what importance is this resource important to me as an individual you may ask? We live in an ecosystem that naturally has interdependent components which include genetic resources, biological resources and wild resource. We owe our existence to each other and it is by this simple fact that our existence should not pose a threat to any other component in the ecosystem. This, am afraid, is not the case. Man’s superiority has led to wanton destruction and reduction in the very resources that we owe our existence to.
Kenya Wildlife Service statistics indicate that in 2012,Kenya lost 384 elephants and 19 rhinos to poachers compared to 289 elephants and 29 rhinos in 2011. In 2013 from January to June, Kenya has lost 137 elephants and 24 rhinos to poachers. It is my belief that these numbers exclude elephants and rhinos that died of natural causes. 5,842 kg ; that is the amount of ivory and rhino horns recovered since January to June 2013. 123 suspects have been arrested in connection to poaching. What happens to them after that? Just a curious thought. Despite the realization how unsustainable poaching is, game hunters still go about their business relatively unabated.
Reasons for poaching
Economic gain is the main driving force behind ivory trade. Elephants are mainly targeted for their tusks which are made of ivory. There is high demand for ivory especially in China where majority believe that ivory powder incorporated into traditional medicine increases virility and can cure cancer. I am not best suited to confirm or deny the accuracy of this belief. Ivory is also used by craftsmen to carve accessories such as bracelets & necklaces. Rhinos are hunted for their keratin containing horn which is quite pricy in the black market. In China rhino horn is ground into powder and used as traditional medicine. It is believed to cure ailments such as arthritis and relieves symptoms such as headache & fever. Did you know that keratin is also found in the human nails & hair? You should try biting your nails when you have a headache and see if it works. Of course it won’t.
Since 1990 the Kenya Wildlife Service has been charged with the management & protection of our vast wildlife.During the 9th annual Warden & Scientists Meeting, Kenya Wildlife Service Director William Kiprono, highlighted the organizations elaborate strategy to curb poaching. The key thematic area of their action plan included;
- Legislation and regulations
- Enforcement actions, investigations and national inter-agency collaboration and coordination
- International and regional wildlife enforcement collaboration
- Outreach, public awareness and education
- National reporting to CITES Secretariat and Standing Committee
Despite the prevailing challenges, the Kenya Wildlife Service is trying its best to implement the above listed thematic areas in a bid to curb poaching. The Results? We will have to wait and see but in the mean time it is of essence that we as citizens support KWS in its endeavor to save our wildlife as it is for our own good. With the passage of the Wildlife Bill 2010 & more local & international support there shall be light at the end of the tunnel.
Prevention is better than cure
Over the years there have been calls for the introduction of tougher penalties for poachers. In my opinion we do not have the tome to wait for it to work. Here is my reason; the human greed cannot be deterred by rules & regulations. Kenya has had laws since independence but crimes are still being committed Poachers are not just people who wake up & pick powerful guns by the roadside, invade our protected areas and hunt game. There exists a network & these people are trained otherwise the Kenya Wildlife Service would have killed all of them like houseflies. In most cases arrested poachers have turned out to be of Asian descent who easily pay the court fines & fly back to their respective countries. Again,in my opinion this is just collateral damage to them & it only takes a matter of time before the same guy goes back in the bush for another run, this time with experience.
I propose a preventive approach; the wise men once said prevention is better than cure. No matter how much a poacher is fined in a court of law, it cannot replace the value of the slain wildlife to the ecosystem. Yes the government will rake in more revenue from the fines but the ecosystem components such as biodiversity will degrade since elephants are keystone species i.e their existence directly affects the existence of other living organisms within their surrounding. It is also not guaranteed that the fines charged will be channeled towards funding anti poaching efforts.It is time for a preventive approach. The Kenya Wildlife Service should liaise with the National Intelligence Service to foil poaching plots and thereby eliminate poaching once and for all. The protection of wildlife is a matter of national security since wildlife is the backbone of tourism in Kenya. Tourism being a key pillar of the economy earns the country a lot of revenue without which there wouldn’t be money to set up security agencies like the National Intelligence Service. Surveillance of wildlife water points & hotspot is utmost brilliance but lack of rapid response completely waters down that brilliance. The Kenya Wildlife Service and poacher share a common interest in that they are both interested in wildlife though in different perspectives. The former should therefore formulate ways of preventing the latter from accessing the irreplaceable resource that is wildlife thereby preventing poaching.
The implementation of this proposal might not be a piece of cake but a change of tact is very necessary. Mediocrity is doing things the same way year in year out and expecting results.