By Wolfgang H. Thome
It was learned overnight that one more rhino was shot and killed while another was shot and injured earlier in the week in the north of Laikipia County. The prompt response by rangers and Ol Jogi conservancy (www.oljogi.org) wardens and staff seemingly prevented the poachers from cutting off the horns of the rhino and it is understood that a combined taskforce comprising KWS rangers and other security personnel are in pursuit of the gang, though no arrests have been made at the time of uploading this report.
The 7 pm incident on Tuesday made it difficult for the rangers and other security personnel to pursue the poachers though and they reportedly had to wait until the next morning before commencing their pursuit, using sniffer dogs. A regular source from Nairobi had this to say: “Those pursuing poachers in the field should have night vision goggles, should have the benefit of aerial surveillance equipment like UAV’s and should be able to call upon an airborne intervention force to deploy at short notice. Such facilitation would allow hot pursuit even at night and make setting traps and ambushes possible because once airlifted to the scene additional personnel can be deployed into the path of the poachers as they run away.”
From this latest rhino killing it is clear that the government’s resource allocation to equip and enable law enforcement to effectively combat the poaching tsunami is entirely inadequate. Presently responses are largely reactive rather than proactive in many ways for lack of resources like equipment and trained manpower. It is an open secret that only by taking the fight to the poachers can the tide be stemmed. Surveillance and intelligence gathering must be stepped up and a new command structure be established bringing several law enforcement components under one roof.
In response to a clearly challenged conservation fraternity, following events at a press conference at the Nairobi Serena earlier this week, a tourism stakeholder made his views known: “Tourism marketing is under facilitated for the past few years already. When Balala left our hope for tourism to become the biggest industry in Kenya left with him. We all know what should have been done and when but the funds were never given. Even now we have a tourism advisory board or council which is basically formulating what the industry has known for a while. The question is will our government listen to them because they did not listen for the past one year. This turns out to be a double whammy now, lack of resources for tourism marketing, and a whole range of other issues which need sorting out in that sector, and now the growing loss of wildlife which is our biggest crowd puller. A lot of tourists come for safaris to Kenya and if our rhinos and elephant numbers drastically go down, you think they will come just for our landscapes? Our government must wake up, they have treated tourism like an unwanted step child and the way they are dealing with poaching is little different. If tourism goes down, a lot of jobs will be lost and therefore, I agree with you that action must be taken now. Some of those people should stop fighting you over what you write because you normally hit the nail right on the head.”
What is true is that rhino poaching has accelerated in recent months and is often carried out with such impunity that complicity of enforcement and protection personnel can no longer be ruled out, just the same way how over the past four years rhino poaching in Southern Africa has cost thousands of rhinos their lives while the authorities stood by and watched from the sidelines. This suggests that those involved in and behind the slaughter are well connected and have protection. The same trend emerged in Tanzania over the past years, where – like with the rhinos in Southern Africa – the elephant population has been under siege and under assault, with tens of thousands of elephant being slaughtered and as their government by and large also just stood by and did little or nothing until very recently.
It is time for the conservation fraternity to unite and speak with one voice across Eastern and Southern Africa and have the respective governments redirect resources to combat the poaching gangs before it is too late. When the last elephants and rhinos are gone, future generations will rightly blame the present generation for such failures to preserve our wildlife heritage. It is up to us now to stand up and be counted, do the right thing and speak up, whether some like it or not. Let the truth prevail.