NAIROBI––Paul Harrison Lelesepei, 25, a Kenya Wildlife Service ranger stationed at the Ol Jorgi Ranch in Laikipia North, was killed in a June 2, 2014 shootout with suspected rhino poachers.
Lelesepei’s death demonstrated the futility of trying to protect wildlife with policies that had already made more enemies than friends back in 13th century England, when the Sheriff of Nottingham won lasting disrepute by trying to hang Robin Hood for poaching the king’s deer.
Lelesepei’s ranger team was apparently outnumbered, outgunned, ambushed, and caught in a crossfire––and might also have been given faulty intelligence.
“One gang was inside the ranch already while another was outside. Our rangers had no information about the gang that was inside and were caught unawares during the shootout,” senior KWS warden Aggrey Maumo told Kings Waweru of the Nairobi Star.
Five rhino had been poached in Laikipia, the region just north of Mount Kenya, since March 2014. Earlier in 2014 nine rhino were poached in and around Lake Nakuru National Park, northwest of Nairobi. The rhino poaching gangs appear to have moved into Laikipia after a suspected poacher was killed in a March 18, 2014 shootout with KWS rangers at Lake Nakuru National Park.
At least 50 rhinos were poached in Kenya during 2013, leaving about 850. South Africa, by comparison, lost 1,004 rhinos to poachers in 2013, leaving about 20,000.
“Situation has deteriorated”
“The situation in the last year has deteriorated,” said Rhino Ark director Christian Lambrechts. “The gangs are extremely well organized and people from inside the Kenya Wildlife Service have been found to be colluding [with them],” Lambrechts alleged. “There is a growing realization that private land holders do not have the ability to safeguard all of them. Rhinos cannot remain in the wild. They must be brought into sanctuaries.”
Ranger Lelesepei’s death preceded by less than two weeks official confirmation of the poaching death of Satao, reputedly the world’s biggest bull elephant, in Tsavo National Park. Satao was officially the 97th elephant poached in Kenya during 2014. Also among the dead was another exceptionally big elephant, Mountain Bull, slain on Mount Kenya.
The elephant and rhino poaching toll brought renewed hue-and-cry for restoration of the shoot-to-kill anti-poaching policy that prevailed in Kenya from 1984 into the early 1990s. At least 130 alleged poachers were killed in Kenya, but the shoot-to-kill policies also gave anyone carrying anything that might look like a weapon cause to flee from anyone resembling a ranger or landowner. Among the “poachers” at constant risk were truck drivers lightly armed for self-defense against bandits––or lions and leopards if obliged to sleep outdoors after a breakdown. Several global conservation charities encouraged the shoot-to-kill policies by helping to arm the Kenya Wildlife Service; elsewhere in Africa. Some set up their own private militias.
But this only encouraged serious poachers to improve their armament and shoot back at the rangers. Somali militias aligned with al Qaida and Hamas, including al Shabab, took control of the rhino and elephant poaching industries in Kenya, and continue to dominate poaching and wildlife trafficking in the eastern half of Kenya.
“Killing poachers has not worked very well”
“Killing poachers has not worked very well,” Kenyan investigative journalist Gitau Mbaria told ANIMALS 24-7. “I have met numerous conservationists who never question any human rights abuses, strong-arm tactics by authorities, or the power structures in which conservation exists, as long as there is a semblance of animal protection” in the pretext for the authoritarian behavior.
“My experience is that most conservationists are indifferent to the resentment that this provokes,” Mbaria continued. “They hardly interact meaningfully with the social, cultural, economic and political realities in countries like Kenya. But they have the dollars, so they can influence the shape wildlife law and policies take. But eventually this approach hardly pays off. Animals continue to be poached with or without shot-to-kill orders.”
Poaching, to poor farmers, often looks more like relief from omnipresent wildlife threats than like the destruction of an economically valuable resource, from which they derive little benefit. Between April 30, 2014 and May 7, 2014, for instance, elephants killed a construction worker in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, near the Tanzanian border; seriously injured a 10-year-old boy in Laipikia North; and destroyed maize, beans, wheat, black beans and potato crops near Mount Kenya after a ten-year-old electric fence failed.
“Philanthropy from interested donors can do more to help the situation,” Gies continued, speaking as a philanthropist who has contributed not only funding to ANAW, but also his own time and management acumen as a volunteer executive working from the ANAW headquarters in Nairobi.
“More encouragement is needed that nurtures new nongovernmental organizations,” Gies said. “Non-governmental organizations provide a different approach to problem-solving and leadership development than governmental employment. Growing new leadership outside the elites equalizes the distribution of resources while empowering networks to expand into rural communities.”
“Hire people in bush”
Gies urged fellow philanthropists to “Hire people in bush communities to patrol, ranger and scout against poachers; include a broad spectrum of employment opportunity across all age groups; limit corruption by organizing local groups through the charitable sector; disrupt the traditional [from the top down] flow of funds by engaging interested philanthropists to partner with unrepresented groups; and link the evaluation back to increased security, GDP and tourism.
“Kenya’s government is very busy with many issues,” Gies added. “The new government is working to curb crime, stop terrorism, build schools, hospitals, infrastructure and the like. The country is only 50 years old and comes from the mixed experiences of colonialism and tribal tradition. The country is making huge strides in moving 40 million people into the 21st century.”
But Gies warned that “The West would do well to pay more attention to East Africa. The influence of the Chinese is everywhere as they build roads throughout the land,” built to facilitate economic development, often facilitating poaching as well.
(See also Nairobi terrorist strike alerts the world to new threat to elephants , http://wp.me/p4pKmM-A8.)