By Gilbert Koech
KENYA continues to lose precious wild animals as the Kenya Wildlife Service and private conservancies engage in a blame game.
Poachers have killed 26 rhinos and 111 elephants so far this year. Last year, 59 rhinos and 389 elephants were slain.
KWS claims most of the animals were killed in private conservancies. However, the number of elephants and rhinos poached in the agency’s game reserves and national parks are equally high.
Last week, four black rhinos were killed at Ol Jogi conservancy in Laikipia bringing the number of the animals killed on the ranch this year to nine.
And in April, there were reports of seven rhino deaths in the span of two weeks at the highly guarded Lake Nakuru National Park.
KWS reacted by suspending a number of officials and transferring others.
Speaking to the press on Thursday when he launched the sixth annual ‘To Hell’s Gate on a Wheelbarrow’ race, KWS acting deputy director for Strategy and Change Edwin Wanyonyi said the rise of water levels in Lake Nakuru has pushed the rhinos to the perimeter fence, where the rhinos become an easy target for poachers. Rhino population has stagnated at around 1,000 in the past few years, according to KWS, while elephant population stands at 38,000, up from 15,000 in 1989, thanks to a higher birth rate and conservation efforts, Wanyonyi said.
Following the killings in Ol Jogi, the Laikipia county security team formed a task force to investigate rampant poaching. County commissioner Wilson Wanyanga named a six-member team to probe the deaths.
The task force comprises members of the security department and a representative of the ranchers.
Wanyanga said KWS rangers who had been withdrawn from the ranch will be reinstated.
A KWS ranger attached to the conservancy was shot dead by suspected poachers.
In a phone interview, KWS acting director William Kiprono told the Star they do not normally post rangers to private conservancies except when there is need to boost security or by special arrangement.
Kiprono said in the last month, 260 pieces of worked ivory totalling 45kg have been intercepted in Nairobi, while another 22 pieces of raw ivory weighing 95kg were nabbed at Gilgil toll station.
He said two AK47 rifles were intercepted at Sibiloi with two arrests being made.
"Two poachers were killed in Tsavo East during contacts with rangers in the last one month," Kiprono said.
He defended KWS, saying poaching is a global threat and the agency is doing its best. Kiprono said discussions on the use of drones in the fight against poaching are ongoing.
In May, the government suspended the imminent launch of wildlife surveillance drones citing security concerns. The drones were to be launched last month by the Ol Pejeta conservancy.
The conservancy had successfully tested a model drone manufactured in the US known as Airware. The ranch had received approval from relevant authorities before the launch was stopped.
Kiprono told the Star the use of drones needs to be interrogated by various players as their use might endanger other species. He said KWS wants “basics” such as night vision goggles to be provided before drones are employed.
Kiprono said the use of drones in flight paths might compromise air safety.
"We are still discussing the use of the drones and once will revisit its use once an agreement has been reached," he said.