Nairobi: Gunshots rang out across the wilderness on May 23 when poachers shot to death one rhino in Lake Nakuru National Park. Then three days later on May 26 they struck two sites, Solio Ranch near Nyeri in central Kenya, and at Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park killing one rhino in each protected area. The very next day, they struck again at Meru National Park in the north of the country where they shot yet another rhino. Two days later, on 29 May three more rhino were poached on a private ranch Oserian Wildlife Sanctuary.
All of these sanctuaries were created specifically to save rhinos in Kenya. Although the authorities heard the gunshots in every case, and even saw the poachers cutting horns in Oserian, no arrests have been made, and all the horns except those of the Oserian rhinos were taken.
These coordinated attacks bring Kenya’s annual rhino death toll by the end of May to 24. Unless something changes, the country will lose at least 55 rhino in 2013, which would be an increase of nearly 100 per cent on 2012, when 30 were killed. The Kenya Wildlife Service puts Kenya’s official rhino population at just over 1,000 individuals. However, Richard Leakey, the former Director of KWS said on the phone from the US: “I am not surprised at this attack and when it comes time to do an accounting of our rhinos, I would be surprised if there were more than 500 individuals left in Kenya.”
In response to the latest killings, the Kenya Wildlife Service have reassured the public that they have mounted a major operation in pursuit of poachers.
Speaking from Laikipia, Batian Craig, director of 51 Degrees, a security company with management oversight in Ol Pejeta and Lewa Conservancies notes that the coordinated attacks are not surprising.
Poaching always goes up during a full moon, the rhino are easiest to spot and to shoot.
On the future outlook, Craig adds: “What we have is a small number of people threatening the economic value of rhinos to 43 million Kenyans. These people are a security threat to Kenya. We are not yet losing this war, but we are at a tipping point. We could arrest this crisis now by taking advantage of the global world attention, positive changes in government and the recent motion in parliament to elevate penalties for wildlife crime.”
Craig was referring to a recent news that Kenyan members of parliament voted almost unanimously to raise penalties for wildlife poaching and trafficking of wildlife products on May 22. This decision clears the way for the creation of emergency legislation to raise penalties to up to 15 years in jail and fines amounting to millions of shillings. Currently poachers and traffickers face penalties amounting to a less than $500 in Kenya. But this week’s carnage suggests that poachers and dealers are collectively mocking Kenya’s lawmakers.
To Kenyans it feels as if the country is losing the battle against poachers. According to the government agency, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya lost 384 elephants and 30 rhinos to criminals last year. By the end of May the official tally is 21 rhinos and 117 elephants but many experts believe these are underestimates.