By John Muchangi
Kenya Wildlife Service, in its currently form, cannot stop poachers and should be completely reorganised, the task-force on wildlife security recommends.
It says that KWS suffers a top-heavy organisation at the Nairobi headquarters and confusion in the field due to overlapping functions, poor reporting systems and infighting over roles.
The task-force, led by Ambassador Nehemiah Rotich, paints the Service in the image of an old, obese person who cannot run around to perform assigned duties.
"The core business of KWS has become shrouded with confusion leading to a drop in effectiveness and delivery and loss of motivation and morale in the field," says the final report, Lifting the Siege: Securing Kenya's Wildlife.
The 15-man team was appointed by Cabinet Secretary for Environment Prof Judi Wakhungu in January to identify the threats to Kenya's wildlife at the height of the poaching crisis.
The taskforce presented the final report to Prof Wakhungu last week at the ministry headquarters.
The lethargic structure at KWS was picked out as a major threat. The service's top brass consists of 65 staff, the lowest being 46 assistant directors. Nearly all the honchos are based in Nairobi and only eight are in the field.
The task-force recommended scaling down of the KWS to six directors, reporting to a director general.
Amb Rotich said: "It needs to be stated therefore that the task-force is not recommending a patching up of KWS but a major reform."
The task force says the impending merger with Kenya Forest Service (KFS) presents the best opportunity for a radical overhaul.
It said the two organisations should follow the example of Kenya Police Force and adopt a county approach where more staff are deployed out of Nairobi.
The affected staff be lured into retirement with attractive packages.
The task-force blames the lethargic structure for increased poaching and retaliatory killing of animals by local communities.
An example provided is the slow response by KWS to animal control problem, leading to a growing disconnect with local communities.
But, even with this heavy structure, the service receives plaudits for its work in national parks because nearly all the poaching for trophies is happening in private conservancies, where KWS has limited presence. "In the last few months 40 out of 51 elephants killed were in private ranches," Amb Rotich observed.
The report says KWS should, however, take seriously allegations that some of its staff may have been involved in poaching.
"This has serious implications for KWS as it is a fundamental necessity to have no internal betrayals in conducting security operations."
KWS acting director general William Kiprono earlier told the Star internal investigations revealed no staff were directly involved in poaching.
However, the service earlier this year temporarily suspended six deputy directors for failing to act decisively to stop poaching.
Poachers have killed 97 elephants and at least 18 rhinos in Kenya this year while 59 rhinos and 302 elephants were killed last year, KWS says.
At least 250 suspected poachers were arrested this year and charged with wildlife crimes.
The most recent arrests are the suspected killers of Kenya's largest elephant, Satao, in Taita Taveta last month.
Kiprono said KWS has also sacked 17 employees over poaching since 2009, while 13 were retired "in public interest".
The Amb Rotich task-force comprised Stephen Manegene, Peter Musanga Pamba, Tom Lalampaa, Samuel Muraya Kariuki, Peris Boit, Patrick Kiswi, Lucy Ambasi, Samson Silatoi, Simon Mwangi, Christopher Ombega Mosot, Nigel Hunter and Helen Nzainga.
The joint secretaries were Benson Ochieng and Faith Tabu Pesa.
Prof Wakhungu said the government will act on the 289 recommendations the task-force made. "About 1,500 rangers will be deployed to various duty stations with immediate effect to address the poaching threat," she said.
Other recommendations relate to human resource management. The team recommends hiring of extra staff saying the current rangers are often fatigued because they hardly ever proceed on leave or off duty.
"A percentage of the number of rangers recruited should be reserved for recruitment of people from the communities in which the national parks are located. ... .this gesture will ender these communities to support and complement KWS effort in wildlife conservation," the report says.
Another major recommendation is revamping the KWS intelligence unit, which the task-force said operates in "outdated" methods of gathering information.
"KWS needs to balance the training drills with emphasis on bush-craft in order to improve ranger recording devices," the report recommends.
It also faults the government decision to impose Value Added Tax on entry fees to National Parks saying the parks are becoming out of reach.
The team notes a visitor to a national park in Tanzania pays $55 per day whereas a visitor to a Kenyan park pays $90 per day.
The $90 charge for Kenya only applies to the premium parks whose fees were raised to protect the environment because of high traffic of low-budget tourists.
"Comparison of visitor numbers for 2012, 2013 and the current part of 2014 clearly shows a decline with reduced park revenues," the report says, proposing that the VAT be scrapped.
Other recommendations touch on land use planning and also stopping the multi-billion trade in bush-meat.
The team said they interviewed the public, KWS staff and all other stakeholders involved in wildlife.
However, they said they did not have money to visit Mombasa and other Kenyan ports of entry to investigate the origin of the illegal ivory constantly being seized there.
The Principal Secretary for Environment Dr Richard Lesiyampe said a committee to implement the Taskforce's recommendations will be put in place immediately. He added that the recommendations set the way forward for management of wildlife for the next 10 years.