By Steve Mkawale
Trade in ivory and rhino horns became so lucrative in 2014 that it threatened conservation gains made since establishment of the first national park in Kenya in 1946.
This was the year when poaching reached alarming levels, forcing conservationists to demand that President Uhuru Kenyatta declare it a national disaster.
Reports of marauding poachers having a field day both inside and outside protected national parks and game reserves hit newspaper headlines almost on a daily basis between January and June of this year.
Alarmed by the unprecedented raise in poaching, President Kenyatta issued a terse but stern warning to poachers, with conservationists pushing for amending the law to give stiffer penalties to poachers.
The Government was to initiate robust anti-poaching measures - from stronger legislation to specialised legal mechanisms and upgraded enforcement - in a bid to underscore the country’s resolve to secure the survival of iconic species like the elephant and the rhino.
But despite the warning, the rise in poaching continued even in the most heavily guarded parks, and in broad daylight, with little fear of tough laws designed to stem the wave of killings.
By September, 2014, the country had lost 100 elephants and at least 50 rhinos. Lake Nakuru National Park was the hardest hit by the poaching menace in the year under review.
The attacks in the protected areas like the Nairobi National Park led to an uproar from citizens and conservation organisations alike.
They demanded that poaching be declared a national disaster.
In March, veteran conservationists Dr Richard Leakey who once served as the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director, joined other Kenyans in calling for drastic action be taken against the menace, warning that known poaching ringleaders were operating with “outrageous impunity.”
The Government responded and vast hauls of ivory tusks were repeatedly seized at the port of Mombasa.
With the slaughter of elephants showing no sign of slowing down, Dr Paula Kahumbu, another renowned conservationist decided to take the fight to the poachers.
She lauded the ‘hands off our elephant’ campaign and managed to persuade First Lady Margaret Kenyatta to join in.
Her campaign managed to push dealers in poaching away from the country by making it difficult to operate.
“It is now war. We are losing our national heritage, we are losing our elephants. It is happening inside our national parks; rangers are being shot by other rangers because they are poaching,” Dr Kahumbu was quoted in the media at the height of the poaching menace. More....