Kenya Wildlife Service Goes Broke, Elephants at Risk

By Jennifer Wanjiru

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 17, 2002 (ENS) - Elephant poaching has resumed in Kenya, senior Kenya Wildlife Service officials admit.

At the same time, government officials say that the Kenya Wildlife Service, responsible for managing the country's wildlife, is in the red and is relying on government handouts to operate.


Mother elephant and calf in Masai Mara National Park (Photo credit unknown)
The two admissions have shocked conservationists who fear renewed elephant poaching could lead to another decimation of elephants in this part of the African savannah. Trade in elephant ivory is under a global ban, still elephant tusks command high prices on the black market.

Once headed by well known African conservationist, Dr. Richard Leakey, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), had been relying heavily on donor funds which have now dried up.

"The body is now relying on government handouts to survive," says Shariff Nassir, cabinet minister in the office of President Daniel Arap Moi.

"The corporation needs money to hire game rangers but we have no money," said Nassir citing the current budget deficit after the International Monetary Fund and World Bank refused to advance the country any further cash until it shows willingness to fight corruption.

The Kenya Wildlife Service has only 1,000 rangers and needs 2,500 more to staff its forest populations of Mt. Kenya, Abderdares, Shimba Hills and Mt. Elgon plus the Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo and Marsabit parks.

"We need to hire additional game wardens for the security of animals and tourists in our parks," said Nassir.


Dr. Richard Leakey (Photo courtesy ENB)
The wildlife conservation body, once the pride of conservationists, is one of the seven departments in the Office of the President headed by Nassir. It is Dr. Leakey who turned it from a small government department into a blue-chip agency and gave it international respect. Dr. Leakey has since fallen out with the government due to his no-nonsense stand on corruption.

Two months ago, Dr. Leakey's sucessor, respected Kenyan conservationist Dr. Nehemiah Rotich, was also edged out of the service.

The service's acting director, Joseph Kioko, admits that the body is "facing serious revenue problems." He attributes the financial crunch to the September 11 terrorist attacks in America which he says dealt a major blow to Kenya's tourism sector.

"We have no money but KWS is certainly not going under," said Kioko. He denies that the donor withdrawal was due to the exit of Dr. Leakey, a darling of the donor community.


Then Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director Nehemiah Rotich; Lusaka Agreement Task Force Director Adan Dullo, and KWS chairman, C. Njonjo unwrap tusks confiscated from smugglers. July 1999 (Photo courtesy KWS)
Leakey quit the Kenya Wildlife Service in April 1994 and returned in September 1998 after he was offered his former job by President Moi. He was later appointed head of the Civil Service, a position he quit in 2001.

While admitting on national television that KWS officials have "noted an increase in poaching" in the last few months, Deputy Director of Security Omar Bashir called on the countries in the southern part of the African continent that are against a ban on ivory trade to get into consultation with East African countries in order to chart out a way to ensure the protection of elephants.

Evidence of renewed elephant poached emerged last week in neighboring Tanzania. Two Tanzanian nationals were arrested late last week following the seizure of 1,255 tusks from two homes in a suburb of Dar es Salaam, a busy Indian Ocean port. Police said they do not know the country or countries of origin of the tusks.

"This incident once again supports our evidence that it is very difficult to properly monitor and control the cross-border trade in ivory and, more importantly, questions the ability of elephant range states to stop poaching of their elephant herds," said Jason Bell, International Fund for Animal Welfare's regional director for Southern Africa.

"Despite trade in ivory being illegal since 1990, the world continues to see the seizure of illegal hauls. The black market demand for ivory is insatiable, and opening up a legal trade will only provide a cover and a market for illegal ivory products and encourage the poaching of elephants," said Bell.


Elephants at a waterhole in Tsavo East National Park (Photo credit unknown)
A global ban on trade in elephant ivory was established by the transfer of the African elephant to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endanagered Species (CITES), the result of decisions taken at the 7th meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Lausanne, Switzerland, in October of 1989.

The experimental sale of nearly 50 tons of ivory from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to Japan was approved at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties held in Harare, Zimbabwe in June 1997. The sale occurred in April 1999.

Proposals from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to establish annual ivory export quotas were put forward for consideration by the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties at Gigiri, Kenya in April 2000. Botswana and Namibia also proposed allowing trade in elephant hide and leather, previously accepted only for Zimbabwe.

In addition, South Africa proposed to have its elephant population transferred to Appendix II to allow the sale of an experimental quota of 30 tons of ivory originating solely from Kruger National Park, along with trade in live animals, elephant hides and leather products, and sport hunting trophies.

Kenya and India were successful with their counter proposal to put the elephants of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia back on Appendix I of the CITES Treaty, along with other elephants, a proposal that banned all trade in elephant products everywhere for three years. The only exception was a single sale of stockpiled ivory to Japan.

Nations are again taking sides in the run up to the next Conference of Parties to the CITES treaty November 3 to 15 in Santiago, Chile.

"The current poaching is due to speculation that the ban on ivory trade could be lifted soon," said Bashir. "Our fear is that if a ban on ivory trade is lifted, the situation could be complicated as more resources will be needed to protect elephants and we do not have that kind of money. During the 1970s and 1980s, it is estimated that Kenya lost over 80 percent of its elephants.

There is now fear in Kenya that poaching could now reverse the gains of the 1990s which saw increases in elephant populations in Tsavo, Samburu/Laikipia, and Amboseli parks.

With wildlife tourism one of the country's major sources of foreign exchange, elephants are one of the most important financial elements of the Kenyan economy.


Confiscated elephant tusks and poachers' guns, country of origin not identified (Photo by Rob Barnett, courtesy TRAFFIC)
The introduction of the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) concept four years ago initiated by the CITES has not worked as it is only a theory, Kenya Wildlife Service officials say.

"There is need to invest more in protection of the jumbos instead of merely monitoring them," said Bashir, a senior KWS official.

The revelation that KWS does not have enough rangers has raised fears that Kenyan wildlife will once again be threatened by poachers.

Last week KWS officials said two elephants were killed by poachers in the Kula Mawe area of Isiolo district, though media reports put the number at nine.

The officials said that the encroachment of human communities into corridors traditionally used by elephants have hastened the problem.

"Some jumbos are retracing old routes they used before human settlement," said Bashir. "When this occurs the elephants find themselves in areas they inhabited but which have been settled by human beings."

The recent forest excision exercise has aggravated the situation with many new settlements carved out of forests, encroaching still further on animal habitat. There is still an unresolved national issue after the government threatened to clear 10 percent of its forest cover to settle the landless.

Although Bashir said the number of jumbos that have been poached recently is "not alarming," the fact that there is a resumption of poaching at a time when the Kenya Wildlife Service has no money increases that danger.