By Kenfrey Kiberenge
Poachers struck again on Thursday, killing six elephants in Dawida Ranch near Tsavo East National
Poachers struck again on Thursday, killing six elephants in Dawida Ranch near Tsavo East National Park in Taita Taveta County.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director William Kiprono said his officers were informed of the killings on Friday and found the six carcasses strewn inside the community ranch with their tusks missing.
“There were two adults and four juveniles. The two adults had their tusks removed but the four juveniles had not yet grown tusks,” he said.
Dawida Ranch is in a remote area called Kilibasi on the border of Kenya and Tanzania. This is the single largest poaching incident since a gang of 10 poachers eliminated a family of 12 elephants inside the Tsavo East National Park in February last year.
Mr Kiprono said the poachers, suspected to be from Somalia, were on a revenge mission.
“We had arrested 15 poachers the previous week for killing an elephant in the same area but they were released on bond by a court in Voi. We suspect they could have poached these elephants in revenge because if it was about the tusks, why kill the four juveniles?” he posed.
“We have launched a manhunt pursuing some leads but some of them did not have any identification documents so we suspect they could be from Somalia.”
(READ: Rise in poaching blamed on illegal guns and KWS)
INVESTIGATE SOMALIA LINK
In January last year, former Head of Public Service Francis Kimemia said gangs from neighbouring Somalia and former game rangers were behind the stepped-up poaching of Kenyan wildlife.
He directed the KWS top leadership to investigate and furnish the Office of the President with findings into the Somalia link.
Last September, the international Environmental Investigation Agency reported that Islamic extremists Al-Shabaab receive a large amount of money through ivory and rhino horn smuggling.
"Up to 40 per cent of Al-Shabaab's money comes from ivory-users and buyers," the EIA said.
The claims were later echoed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) executive Director Achim Steiner in November.
“Studies indicate that the illegal trade in wildlife and timber may help finance terrorism and organised crime across the world,” said Mr Steiner.
Interpol Executive Director Jean Michel Louboutin, however, refuted the assertions saying the claims were unverified.
“My answer must be very clear. I am a policeman and to make such an assertion I have to have evidence and at this stage there is no evidence,” he said.
In China, elephant tusks can fetch an estimated Sh77,400 ($900) per kilo, while a kilo of powdered rhino horn can net as much as Sh5.6 million ($65,000).
Under the new wildlife laws, convicted poachers risk a life sentence in jail or a fine not less than Sh20 million, or both.
The Tsavo Elephant range, which encompasses Mkomazi National Park in Tanzania, Tsavo West and East National Parks, the Chyulu Hills and South Kitui National Reserve, is the one of the largest elephant sanctuary in the world.
A survey conducted by KWS in February showed a decline in the elephant population of Tsavo which has reduced from 12,573 in the previous census three years ago to approximately 11,076 elephants.