It’s the early hours of the morning, and all of a sudden, our phones start beeping – a poaching alert – another rhino felled in the dead of the night, horns taken, ears removed. These alerts have become an almost weekly nightmare that we wake up to …. it has become obvious to all of us that the rhinos in our country are systematically being killed by highly skilled criminal gangs with the right connections to get in and out of parks, reserves and sanctuaries unscathed. It has become patently clear to us all that our national heritage is under attack from forces that are bigger and greater than what any of us can imagine and also that these forces are being protected by corruption and impunity rife within the system. Yet even with this continued and sustained attack on our national heritage – the ultimate authority, our President is deathly silent.
Last year, KUAPO delivered a petition to the President asking him to declare poaching a national disaster and to galvanize all possible resources to bring to a complete halt the poaching of all our wildlife. The response we received was that the matter was being given its due attention. And so we waited with bated breath…some changes did happen. An elite crack team was formed within the KWS, inter-agency collaboration was encouraged, and yes even a new Wildlife Bill with harsher penalties was enacted. Yet the killings still continue – there appears to be no stopping them and the President (apart from his initial inaugural speech) still remains quiet.
Flabbergasted with the lack of critical response, Kenyans have started speaking out in whichever manner that they can. A campaign was started by some active wildlife enthusiasts on Facebook and Twitter entitled #MrPresidentStopPoaching, encouraging all of us to voice our thoughts and force a reaction from our President – a reaction we all hope will cut through impunity and corruption and bring to justice the few people who are dead set on poaching our wildlife into extinction for a useless trinket or a myth of potency. KUAPO members have also joined this clarion call and reignited the petition we shared last year which now stands close to 17,000 signatures and counting.
In the latest effort by Kenyans, Wildlife Direct and their flagship campaign – “Hands Off Our Elephants” – held a press conference in Nairobi wherein Dr. Richard Leakey appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to take bold action. He said the time has come for the President himself to take action to stop this dreadful situation. His suggestion was simple – that the management of KWS needs a desperate overhaul. He said that the ring leaders and poachers are known and that it is now imperative that we cut out impunity and save our wildlife. And only the President can do that – he needs to declare poaching a national disaster in order to be able to take these extra-ordinary actions. And we totally agree, the President must declare poaching a national disaster – we felt this a year ago and we feel it today – critical action must be taken.
It is, however, unfair to place blame squarely on the shoulders of the Kenya Wildlife Service. For sure they have the most major role to play being the custodians of our wildlife heritage and there are probably elements within the service that are exacerbating the poaching crisis. But rather than blame and criticise, it is time for all of us to stand together and figure out what we can do to right what may be wrong within KWS, what we can do to help. Just as there may be a few rotten apples, there are many more who are risking their lives everyday to protect our national heritage for what could be considered peanuts and terrible conditions.
So we need to look beyond KWS as well – for so many tons of ivory to pass through our borders – there are clearly many other players involved. This where the Presidents intervention is absolutely critical and crucial – extraordinary actions need to be taken across the board – those who are being protected by impunity and corruption need to be outed and punished across the board – whether they are in government, private sector – are nationals or internationals. Recently, a group called the Ha Ha Birds sent a letter to the President naming some very influential individuals in Kenyan society and at KWS. Part of this letter is shared below:
“First person to investigate for allegations made (witnesses will testify if protected … right on!) with no prejudice
Hassan Noor. CEO of Water Towers … sits on KWS Board while in charge of Mau and Water Towers. There is evidence that he is a main exporter of at least tusks, and of financing poaching in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Records of poachers killed in the field seem to confirm that a majority are from his clan and from Mandera.
Second person to investigate: with no prejudice
KWS Assistant Director Daniel Onsembe, who is the PA (Personal Advisor to the CEO, based in Nairobi.
Third person to investigate:with no prejudice
Corporal Ogori, a corporal based in Kilgoris who is alleged to be the present link person for poaching and has been coordinating the recent wave of successful poaching in the area.
Fourth person to investigate: with no prejudice
In Nakuru we are looking at a Senior Security Official in charge of the vast Rift Valley. Is this how Rhinos have been successfully killed right inside the park in attacks carried out by the same cartels. Someone knows the security routine to get around it … the rest is threats and transfer to other post to ensure silence.
It is hard for anybody that cares about Kenya and it’s Natural Treasures, as the Ha Ha Birds like to point out … to consciously work and cooperate or liaise with KWS when this is an alleged and provable reality and we support the trapped KWS staff in this situation. The honest staff and Rangers. In this we walk with the honest rangers. It is not enough to be honorary warden or rangers … might as well be boy scouts until maturity catches on. It is disconcerting and demoralizing even for the whole country and those protecting wildlife to realize that it is from the same body responsible for protecting wildlife … we repeat Jomo Kenyatta words, the Natural Treasures of Kenya … to be responsible from within for facilitating poaching elephants and rhinos.”
We don’t know how much of the above is true but the point is there is obviously a pervasive rot in the entire system in Kenya at the moment and it needs to be cleared – Mr President – We humbly ask you to take the right steps to do that. All of us – whether we be ordinary citizens, NGO’s, international friends of Kenya – we ask you again – Declare Poaching A National Disaster and as Wildlife Direct said designate Elephants and Rhinos as National Treasures. Let us give these dirty poachers and criminal traffickers everything we’ve got – because as Dr. Leakey said, we did it in the 80’s, we can do it now. We just need the political will – the people of Kenya are with you.
For all who haven’t signed this petition – keep signing and sharing…one day the President will respond. Let us all bring our voices to bear in whichever way we can.