By Neville Otuki
- Kenya Wildlife Service steps up fight against vice that has left 18 rhinos, 51 elephants dead.
- The agency had planned to hire 500 rangers last July and another 500 this year, but the recruitment was delayed by lack of funding.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) will on Monday begin hiring about 1,000 game rangers to help fight elephant and rhino poachers.
The State agency will Tuesday issue a notice of the delayed recruitment plan that will run from next Monday to Thursday across the 47 counties.
The agency had planned to hire 500 rangers last July and another 500 this year, but the recruitment was delayed by lack of funding.
Kenya plans to deploy surveillance drones to help fight elephant and rhino poachers and has introduced stiffer penalties for offenders.
Poaching has risen in recent years as well-armed criminal gangs kill elephants for tusks and rhinos for horns that are often shipped to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.
“The service wishes to recruit additional rangers for training and deployment in various conservation areas in response to the current wildlife security challenges being experienced in the country,” read the KWS notice.
The agency last year had about 2,800 rangers manning its 33 national parks and reserves, who it says are inadequate to fight poaching. This means that KWS targets to increase its range base by 35 per cent this year, making the hiring one of the largest.
READ: Kenya embarks on security audit in private game reserves
Judi Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment Water and Natural Resources, last week in a briefing to media said the training of new rangers will start before the end of the financial year in June.
KWS said last month that Kenya had lost 18 rhinos and 51 elephants to poachers so far this year. Last year, 59 rhinos and 302 elephants were killed, compared with 30 rhinos and 384 elephants in 2012.
Kenyan officers seized 13.5 tonnes of ivory at the port city of Mombasa last year, mostly originating from other countries in the region. At least 249 suspects have been arrested this year and prosecuted for various wildlife offences.
In January, a court convicted a Chinese man of smuggling ivory and ordered him to pay a Sh20 million fine or serve seven years in jail in the first sentence handed out since Kenya introduced a new anti-poaching law.
Conservationists hope the new law, which allows for longer jail terms and bigger fines, will deter criminal networks.
Kenya has emerged as a major transit route for ivory destined for Asian markets from eastern and central Africa.
The government says poaching is harming tourism, a major foreign exchange earner that is also being affected by terror attacks by Al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants that has dimmed tourist arrivals.
The employment of new rangers will increase KWS wage bill, which stood at Sh2.75 billion in 2012.
The agency is eyeing a larger revenue base to fund its wildlife conservation efforts at a time when the increased poaching is putting a strain on its resources.
It earned Sh4.2 billion in park entry fees in the year ended June 2012, pushing its total income to Sh4.7 billion in the period. Its total expenses, however, surpassed the income at Sh6.4 billion, leaving the State-owned firm with a Sh1.6 billion operating deficit.
This saw it rely on grants from donors and the government allocation amounting to Sh1.9 billion that left it with a surplus of Sh271.4 million in the period.
KWS has been working on opening new parks and expanding the existing ones with the acquisition of land.