By Renson Mnyamwezi
The government has arrested more than 200 suspects in connection with poaching among other related crimes in the vast Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA) in Taita-Taveta County in the past two months. County Commissioner Oningoi Ole Sosio said yesterday that the government has impounded smuggled goods and driven out of the park more than 3,630 heads of cattle to rid the Tsavo ecosystem of criminal activity. He said the suspects were arrested in Tsavo East and West National Parks, which have of late been hit by a series of banditry attacks. Briefing local ranchers during a meeting convened by Wundanyi MP Thomas Mwadeghu in Mwatate town, the commissioner disclosed that 74 suspects have been charged in court while others were released for lack of evidence. Present at the function were Voi MP Jones Mlolwa and Deputy Governor Mary Kibuka among others.
Ole Sosio said some of the locals and aliens from Tanzania faced charges of banditry, bush meat trade, illegal fishing at Lake Jipe, smuggling of food stuff, fuel siphoning, charcoal burning and bhang trafficking. Ole Sosio said unscrupulous traders have been using the porous Kenya-Tanzania border in Taveta district and Tsavo National Park to carry out their illegal business. Responding to concerns from local ranchers that security personnel were only targeting locals in the fight against poaching, the commissioner said: “We have arrested illegal immigrants from Tanzania for poaching as well as Kenyans. We are not targeting locals.”
The ranchers also complained that hundreds of elephants are fleeing from Tsavo to the ranches because of the poachers and presence of illegal grazers. Led by the Taita-Taveta Ranchers Association Chairman Bongosa Mcharo, the ranchers claimed influential illegal grazers from outside the country were colluding with corrupt security personnel to allow them graze in the park.
“Local ranches have become a safe haven for wildlife especially elephants because Tsavo East and West National Parks have become inhabitable for them,” Godon Mwangola, a rancher told the commissioner. Ole Sosio said that the government could not effectively flush out illegal grazers from ranches and community land because some of them had leased the land legally. “Majority of illegal herders were invited by the management of these ranches where they signed lease agreements. Titles of ranches whose managers have abused their office should not be renewed,” he added. Ole Sosio, who is also the chairman of the County Security Committee said however, that shortage of security personnel and limited resources remains a major challenge in the fight against crime in the region. Mwadeghu said he will provide a free legal advisor to look into the lease agreements signed between the ranchers and livestock traders.
“We are aware that a few corrupt individuals have signed lease agreements with well connected livestock traders from outside the country. I will provide a legal advisor to assist the ranchers to avoid legal implications,” said the Minority Whip.