4 rhinos gunned down in 4 parks in Kenya

Four rhinos were killed in Kenya’s deadliest week this year according to  KWS. On 23rd May poachers shot to death one rhino in Lake Nakuru National Park. Then on Saturday 26th of May they struck two sites, Solio Ranch near Nyeri, and Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park killing one rhino in each protected area. Then, on Sunday 27th May they struck again at Meru National Park shooting yet another rhino dead. Although the authorities heard the gunshots, all the horns from the rhinos were taken.

Gunned down in the light of a full moon

This coordinated attack comes after 2 weeks of relative quiet – the last attempt at killing a rhino was recorded in Solio over 2 weeks ago, and the last successful attack was 3 weeks ago in Nakuru National Park. The Kenya Wildlife Service puts the toll at 21 rhino killed to date in 2013 – a major increase from last year when the country lost 30 rhino. The Kenya Wildlife Service puts Kenya’s official  rhino population at just over one thousand individuals, however Richard Leakey, the former Director of KWS is doubtful.

“I am not surprised at this attack and when it comes time to do an accounting of our rhinos, I would be surprised if there were more than 500 individuals”

Leakey said on phone from USA.

In response to the latest killings, the Kenya Wildlife Service has mounted a major operation in pursuit of poachers. In a press release issued late on Monday, they state that “security teams are following crucial leads and expect to catch up with the perpetrators of the heinous crime.”

Speaking from Laikipia, Batian Craig, Director of 51 Degrees Ltd, a security company with management oversight in Ol Pejeta and Lewa Conservancies notes that the coordinated attacks are not surprising. “Poaching always goes up during a full moon, the rhino are easiest to spot and to shoot.” he laments.

On the future outlook Craig adds

 “What we have is a small number of people threatening the economic value of rhinos to 43 million Kenyans. These people are a security threat to Kenya. While we are not yet losing this war, but we are at a tipping point. We could arrest this crisis now by taking advantage of the global world attention, positive changes in government and the recent motion in parliament to elevate penalties for wildlife crime.”

Reforming Kenyan laws

He is referring to a recent news that Kenyan members of parliament voted almost unanimously to raise penalties for wildlife poaching and trafficking of wildlife products on Wednesday 22nd of May. This decision clears the way for the creation of emergency legislation to raise penalties to up to 15 years in jail and fines amounting to millions of shillings. Currently poachers and traffickers have been facing penalties amounting to a less than USD 500 in Kenya.

To Kenyans feels as if Kenya is losing the battle against poachers. Kenya has already lost 21 rhinos since January 1st, and 117 elephants. Out of these elephants, 37 were killed in protected areas while 80 were outside protected areas. Last year, Kenya lost 384 elephants and 30 rhinos to criminals. According to the authorities who wish to remain anonymous, the poaching is being conducted by organized crime syndicates and with internal involvement and international links.

Demand in Vietnam – not traditional

Rhino trade expert Esmond Bradley Martin says the main problem facing rhino’s is in Vietnam.

“Rhino horn has always been rare and was important in European, African and Asian cultures where it was carved. It was always rare, expensive and valuable. Previously only the rich could afford it, but now the nouveau riche can afford it. But even more worrying is the new trends in how it is being used. They are using it for aphrodisiacs, grinding it into food, and claim they are curing cancer with it. They had no tradition of using it for these purposes, it’s all new and contrary to traditional medicine in Vietnam”.

If the situation is bad in Kenya, in South Africa it is catastrophic. The country has already lost 350 rhinos this year. According to Martin the rocketing value of rhino horn is a major reason for the ongoing slaughter of rhinos in Africa. Only 6 years ago it was valued at USD 4-5000/kg. Today it goes for ten times that amount and more in Vietnam. This week poachers will have made tens of thousands of dollars each. The combined weight of eight rhino horns is approximately 24 – 32 kg.   At these prices the challenge of halting the crisis seems remote.

Kenya should emulate unique success in rhino protection in Nepal

But surprisingly this is not so. Nepal is one of the poorest counties in the world, and it suffers from extremely poor governance. Yet they have managed to control the situation. Last year Nepal lost only 1 rhino,  and only one the year before. Martin is finalizing an analysis of the situation and says he believes that there are four key reasons for this success.

First, the Prime Minister has taken personal interest in the crisis and has created three new organizations to tackle wildlife crime. Secondly, the law enforcement focus is on combating traders. Thirdly, the communities benefit from parks by receiving 50% of the proceeds. This means they support the parks and conduct their own voluntary patrols long the boundaries of the parks. Finally, the role of the army in anti-poaching has been expanded from 7 posts to 51 posts in Chitwan National Park  alone – this park is home to 503 of the countries 534 rhinos.

The success in Chitwan may have direct application in Kenya and South Africa if the Presidents of the two countries make it their personal mission to save rhinos.

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