News that 11 elephant were slaughtered for their ivory tusks have prompted wide outrage among Kenya’s conservation fraternity, with immediate demands of a strong hand response to hunt down those responsible for this latest elephantcide. An entire elephant family of 11, young ones included, was wiped out by a hail of bullets before their tusks were hacked out of the carcasses, in a location at the Tsavo East National Park, prompting a wide spread manhunt by KWS and security services using dogs, foot and vehicle patrols and aerial surveillance.
The massacre is seen as a direct challenge to the new KWS CEO William Kiprono and his team, which have been on the receiving end of the war on poaching for too long, with only temporary successes followed by yet more reports on dead elephant or rhino emerging.
However, this latest incident will probably be counterproductive for poachers as the reaction inside the KWS head quarters in Langata was reportedly one of cold anger and focused determination to muster enough resources, including bringing in other government agencies and the private sector, to turn the tide in the new year. Demands for a shoot to kill policy have on legal grounds been rejected it is understood but after losing several rangers and wardens in shootouts with poachers, there will be little mercy shown when fire fights break out, ambushes are laid and the poachers are foolish enough to fight back.
The incident also brought members of parliament to the fore accusing the minister responsible for wildlife into their cross hairs for failing his job and not providing sufficient resources for KWS to bring a rising tide of rhino and elephant poaching under control, and recent seizures of blood ivory in Hong Kong, allegedly originating from Kenya, have only stirred emotions yet more.
A recent census on elephant and Gravy Zebra in the north of Kenya has shown a significant decline in numbers and a wave of rhino killings on private conservancies and in parks has resulted in a public private partnership in Laikipia where aircraft and helicopters are now made available by private airlines to take a rapid deployment unit on site as soon as reports of gunshots or suspicious vehicle movement are reported. A dark weekend it was though for Kenya’s conservation and tourism fraternity and not a good start for the New Year at all.