By Paula Kahumbu
It comes as no surprise that a trafficker tried to smuggle Sh33 million ivory through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on July 25. This person was sure they could easily move 260kg of ivory in 12 massive and conspicuous boxes through the airport. This could only happen if the person was confident that their corrupt operatives at the airport would clear the cargo. This cargo represents at least 26 poached elephants.
Richard Leakey blames corruption for the breakdown of wildlife security and the threats facing wildlife in general. In 2013, Kenya seized 13.5 tonnes of ivory worth $2 million (Sh175 million). This may represent only 10 per cent of the ivory that flowed through the country - the owners of this ivory, presumably Kenyans, still made more than $18 million (Sh1.5 billion) in Kenya. By the time this ivory reached China it was worth more than $300 million (Sh26 billion).
Another major seizure of two tonnes of ivory representing more than 200 elephants was made on June 5 in Mombasa.The arrest of four low-level handlers was conducted with major media presence. What has not received much press, however, was the arrest warrant issued against the kingpin, a renowned Mombasa businessman, Feizal Ali Mohamed. The KWS claim that Feizal has masterminded the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants and seems to be the major beneficiary of the ivory trade in Kenya.
The arrest warrant was issued on June 11, but Feizal is still. Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko has publicly blamed the police in what is now an embarrassing national scandal. The police cannot seriously expect us to believe that this man is so good at hiding that they cannot find him. If he has crossed an international border, why hasn't Interpol been asked to assist? We cannot deem Feizal's crime unimportant. It threatens our economy, our heritage and our security.
The ivory trade is financing al Shabaab and already more than 100 people have died this year in Kenya at its hands. The implications of failure to arrest Feizal cannot be understated. He is not just a poacher. Feizal is believed to be the leader of a transnational organised crime syndicate. The laxity with which we treat him is the reason why Kenya's security is in a crisis, why hundreds of people are being slaughtered in Mpeketoni and Likoni. The failure by the police to arrest Feizal and others like him is the cause of overall escalating insecurity in Kenya.
By refusing to arrest Feizal, Inspector General David Kimaiyo and his officers are telling Kenyans that known terrorists will be allowed to continue to operate with impunity in Kenya, and we will continue to sacrifice our people, our officers, our rangers and our wildlife, for the benefit of a few selfish individuals.
In response to the recently published wildlife security report titled 'Lifting the Siege' the government has promised to hire 1,000 rangers, and buy night vision goggles. In my opinion, this will not help.
The only thing that can reverse the crisis facing our wildlife is to crush the criminal cartels. This will require a national inter-agency cooperation never before seen in this sector. Unless the cartels are crushed, no amount of new rangers, night vision goggles, or reform at KWS will stop the inevitable loss of rhino and elephants in Kenya.