By Kwemoi Kapchange
Increasing poaching of wildlife in Kenya could be as a result of myths attached to the vice, a Kenya Wildlife Service ( KWS) boss has said.
Julius Cheptei, the Assistant Director for the Southern Conservation Area, argues that there is a strong link between the swelling cases of poaching and the possibility that people are looking for traditional medication.
This year alone, 12 elephants have died in Amboseli National Park. Five of this was as a result of poaching, three due to human-wildlife conflict and the rest through natural death. Of the five elephants killed, Mr Cheptei says the poachers seemed not interested with ivory but the private parts of one of them. It was killed in June. "This particular animal was pregnant," said Mr Cheptei.
World Health Organisation statistics show that about 80 per cent of the world’s population relies on medicines derived from plants and animals for its primary health care. This is particularly true in Africa and Asia where traditional medicines are widely used.
Given the growing populations and spreading popularity of traditional medicines globally, experts say the demand for these natural remedies is increasing. Kenya’s chief source of worry is China, whose consumption of natural medicines is appreciating, in tandem with its wealth. In this Asian nation, rhinoceros horn is used to treat fever, convulsions and disorientation. Indeed, wildlife experts link the major reduction in rhinoceros population in Africa to its medicinal attractiveness.
The development is likely to further complicate authorities' fight against poaching in Kenya, which has seen its treasured wildlife population dip significantly.
Programme Manager for Kilimanjaro Landscape in African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) Noah Sitati says in a span of 30 years, the country has lost about 60 per cent of its wildlife population to mainly poaching.
"It is unfortunate that to date, majority of Kenyans do not understand the value of wildlife. In the 1970s, Kenya had 176,000 elephants and 20,000 rhinos. This dropped to 16,000 and less than 300, respectively, in 1990. We must be worried about this trend," Dr Sitati told The Standard.
Despite the authorities’ upping their game against the crime, analysts say the key impediment to checking poaching in the country has been the failure by authorities to work harmoniously.
"The operating landscapes for magistrates, prosecutors, customs officials, security apparatus and KWS have in most times been clashing. Majority of officers have little or no knowledge on wildlife. This has made it difficult to check poaching," said Mr Cheptei.
Based on this challenge, AWF has launched an ambitious plan that will see these players undergo intense training on the new Wildlife Act, which came into force in January. "It is important that the implications of the Act are made known and collaboration hatched to minimise poaching," said Dr Sitati, adding: "This will seal all loopholes that suspects use currently to escape being netted."
The Act spells out stern punishments to poachers and those committing wildlife crimes. It includes substantial fines, longer prison terms, among others. Crucially, it gives magistrates more powers to impose harsh penalties to those breaking the law.
Besides harmonising the operational field, Dr Sitati says there is need to recruit and train the youth who can act as game scouts for different conservancies. He pegs the drop in cases of poaching in Amboseli to the employment of scouts, who are being used to fight the vice.
"Poaching is complex as it operates in cartels due to the prize attached to it. That is why we are increasingly using our network of scouts to fight it," he said. The development, Dr Sitati observes, has seen suspected poachers head South to Tsavo, where there are no scouts. "This means we need more game scouts down there to battle the imminent danger," said Dr Sitati.