By Wanjiku Wangai
To say that I was shocked by the statements of the KWS director’s statements on 24th March is an understatement. I was horrified, dismayed and scandalized.
Just to remind you, the Director of KWS was responding to public concerns that poaching has reached alarming levels thus putting a spotlight on Kenya Wildlife Service the National Institution with the specific mandate of protecting our wildlife. He acknowledged that there have been recent rhino and elephant poaching incidents in the recent past.
He went on to say many other things but in short, the summary of his response was that we really shouldn’t be worried for the rhino and elephant population in Kenya were stable and that he did not see what all this hullabaloo was about.
On the issue of possible involvement of KWS in poaching, Bwana Kiprono told us that the institution’s staff members were not angels!
I wish to comment on the first statement and ignore the second. The preamble of our constitution clearly states that “we, the people of Kenya (shall be) respectful of the environment, which is our heritage, and (shall be) determined to sustain it for the benefit of future generations”.
So conserving of wildlife as part of our environment is not voluntary but obligatory and in this responsibility is vested in Kenya Wildlife Service by the people of Kenya.
So Bwana Kiprono, it is important to remember that wildlife is owned by the people of Kenya and only held in trust by KWS. Thus, the death of one elephant or one rhino through poaching is one death too many and is a failure on the part of KWS.
It is an irrefutable fact that there has been significant increase of poaching in Kenya particularly Elephant and Rhino in Kenya with 384 elephants and 30 rhinos reportedly poached in 2012.
In the last 15 months, the situation deteriorated culminating in poaching of more than 60 rhinos including slaughter in Solio and Ol Jogi Conservancies as well as brazen shooting in Nairobi National park; the very backyard of KWS headquarters.
The notoriety of Kenyan seaports and airports as important transit points for illicit ivory led to the blacklisting of the country and infamous naming of Kenya as part of the “gang of eight”.
What is even more worrying is that this increased poaching is despite the enactment of the new Wildlife Act 2013 with stiff fines and long custodial sentences. One would imagine that these stiff penalties would act as a deterrent.
However, it is evident that the allure of the 5 million shillings a Kg of rhino horn (one horn may weigh over 5 kg) in the China outweighs the 20 million shillings fine and life sentence provided for as maximum penalties in Kenya.
The stakes are high and times desperate. The KWS board recognizing this, set up a taskforce chaired by Prof Marion Mutugi to investigate the increased poaching and particularly possible involvement of KWS staff.
The comprehensive report was submitted to the board a year ago and is rumored that it was t presented to the highest levels of government. Now, a year later, there is another taskforce chaired by Nehemiah Rotich a former KWS Director investigating the same poaching menace!
A report is only as good as its implementation. It does not matter how many reports there are, how comprehensive or how radical their recommendations; if they are not implemented, then the resources spent are wasted and the report is not worth the paper it’s written on.
Kenya is famous for investigations, taskforces, and Commissions of enquiry producing reports, reports and more reports. It looks like the more things change, the more they remain the same. What is the value of another taskforce if the recommendations of earlier ones on the same subject are gathering dust on some shelf?
Desperate times call for desperate actions. It is now in the public domain that issue of poaching is beyond KWS, the Parent Ministry or the NGOs.
We were treated to the inside story by NTV and heard that the poaching menace comprises of a syndicate with complex local, regional and international networks involving people at highest levels of society.
Our Constitution clearly state that it is the role of the National government to protect “ the environment and natural resources with a view to establishing a durable and sustainable system of development, including, in particular protection of animals and wildlife” I totally agree with Dr Leakey that the poaching menace now calls for intervention at the highest levels.
This is the opportune moment for radical intervention to save our heritage. With a new Constitutional dispensation, new Wildlife Act, new government with young digital leadership of “Kusema na Kutenda” we plead with you please save our wildlife for so that we can pass on this legacy to generations to come.
And you Bwana Kiprono, yes your staff may not be angels, but history will judge you harshly, very harshly as the Director in whose period in office rhinos and elephants were reduced to unsustainable breeding herds.
The writer is a biomedical research scientist