Kenya Wildlife Service struggles to stop poaching

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s wildlife authority said Tuesday it needs help to curb the escalation of killings of the country’s endangered elephants and rhinos for ivory tusks and horns.

Poachers have killed 18 rhinos and 51 elephants so far this year, Kenya Wildlife Service chief William Kiprono said.

Kiprono denied that a poaching cartel exists within the organization and said that steps are being taken to ensure that none of its employees engage in poaching.

Since 2009, 17 wildlife service employees had been fired and some prosecuted, three had been demoted and five others fined. He said 26 were investigated but no evidence found, Kiprono said. “We don’t condone or engage in this kind of thing (poaching),” Kiprono said.

Last week Richard Leakey, a famed scientist and founding head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, alleged the service had been infiltrated by powerful people enriching themselves from poaching.

Leakey, whose family has been investigating the origins of man for decades in Kenya’s Turkana region, urged Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to overhaul management at the wildlife service.

Wildlife service rangers need better equipment to allow them to tackle poaching effectively, said the service’s species expert Patrick Omondi. The rangers need night vision equipment to see poachers, who use night vision binoculars to hunt elephant and rhino in the dark. Poachers also use satellite phones to communicate in remote areas where normal radio frequencies cannot reach, said Omondi. Such equipment is expensive and the wildlife service needs help in purchasing it, he said.

“We don’t need criticism we need support,” Omondi said.

Last year 302 elephants were killed in Kenya, down from 384 in 2012, out of an estimated population of 35,000, according to wildlife service statistics. Last year 59 rhinos were killed up from 30 in 2012.

Demand for ivory from China’s rising middle class and demand for rhino horn in Vietnam again are imperiling two of Africa’s most iconic creatures, according to the wildlife service.

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