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Poaching in Kenya

Photographer: Dai Kurokawa


Poaching is not a sport but an environmental crime since it poses a major threat to the animal’s populations. In Kenya, about 280 elephants and almost 60 rhinos have been killed by poachers in 2013, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The government agency has a vision: ‘To save the last great species and places on earth for humanity’.


Elephants and rhinoceros are targeted by poachers for their tusks and horns. Ivory is used in mass productions for souvenirs and jewelry. The tusks of one elephant are worth tens of thousands of euros. Especially Asian clients pay good money for rhino horns to use in their traditional medicine as it is believed it can cure almost everything. But commonly known, biting nails would have the same effect.


Poachers lay out slings, poison water holes or shoot to kill the animals. But they neither are looking for the thrill of killing nor want to collect thropies for themselves. A self-confessed poacher said he won't stop killing elephants because he needs money to support his family and he feels betrayed by the government. 'My uncle was killed by an elephant. My brother was injured by buffaloes. And my cattle has been killed by lions. The government promised a compensation but they never paid me anything. So I kill those animals in revenge, and I won't stop’, says a Maasai tribesman. He also points his fingers at wildlife authorities. 'The poaching will never stop and even if I quit, others will replace me as long as there are people inside the government who work with poachers and benefit from this business'.


The hunters mostly belong to international organzied poaching syndicates, highly profitable due to the increasing demand. A June 2013 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) estimates that the illicit wildlife trade is worth at least 14 billion euros per year, ranking it the fourth largest global illegal activity after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking. And Somalia's Islamist militant group al-Shabab, who has killed more than 60 people in the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in September 2013, derives some 430,000 euros a month, or up to 40 percent of its revenue, through the ivory trade, as wildlife NGO Elephant Action League (EAL) claims.


To fight poaching, National Parks and Reserves have been established, guarded by rangers of the KWS via ground and aerial patrols. In support, they have been receiving patrol and field training from British paratroopers to fight raising poaching in the country. GPS-tracking collars were fitted to elephants to enable teams to track elephants' movements and help combat poaching in a joint operation by the KWS and the IFAW. But 70 percent of the Kenyan wildlife lives outside protected areas.


In late 2013, Kenya introduced new, tougher laws to combat poaching and illicit wildlife trade. A spokesman of the KWS said the new laws will give more incentives to the rangers who every day risk their lives while doing their job. But the internationally-praised new laws aren't really working since poachers have good connections to authorities, as they admit.


As the United Nations on 03 March 2014 marked the first-ever World Wildlife Day, activists and conservationists joined the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to call for a global effort to end illicit wildlife trade.