Category Archives: Masai Mara

Kenya’s biggest elephant killed by poachers

By Paula Kahumbu

Satao, the world's biggest elephant, with his family in the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

Satao, the world’s biggest elephant, with his family in the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

It is 4 am and I have been sitting at my computer for hours. I just can’t sleep after hearing the terrible news that Satao, the world’s biggest elephant, is dead

Satao lived in Tsavo East National park in southeast Kenya and was celebrated as one of the last surviving great tuskers, bearers of genes that produce bull elephants with huge tusks reaching down to the ground. This news follows hard on the heels of the slaughter of another legendary tusker, Mountain Bull, deep inside the forests of Mt. Kenya .

Of all the elephants that have died in Kenya, these deaths are the hardest to bear. The grief in Kenya at the slaughter of our iconic elephants is translating into floods of tears, emotional poems, and outrage on Twitter and Facebook.

I had suspected for days that Satao was dead. The rumours were too many and they came from too many different people for them not to be true. Bad news travels fast in Kenya. Moreover, like everyone who had ever heard of Satao, I was already concerned for his safety.

I first learned about Satao through an emotional and beautifully written blog post by Mark Deeble, who described him as being so intelligent that he knew he needed to protect his enormous tusks by intentionally hiding in bushes so they couldn’t be seen. At the end of the post Mark wrote:

I am appalled at what that means – that the survival skills that the bull has painstakingly learnt over half a century have been rendered useless by the poachers’ use of mass-produced Chinese goods; GPS smart-phones, cheap motorcycles and night vision goggles.

I think the old bull knows that poachers want his tusks, and I hate that he knows.

More than anything, I hate the thought that poachers are now closing in on one of the world’s most iconic elephants.

Then in early March, during the great elephant census, we heard that the poachers had got to him. Mike Chase from Elephants without Borders reported seeing two seeping wounds on Satao’s flank. Veterinarians rushed to the scene and confirmed that these were arrow wounds.

It’s hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the poachers on the day that they approached this mountain of an elephant and shot at him with crude bows and poisoned arrows. It must have been terrifying and yet the sight of his massive gleaming tusks probably left them salivating with greed.

 

For days Satao must have endured excruciating pain from the festering wounds. But he recovered and we all heaved a sigh of relief when it was reported that his wounds were healing on their own. The Facebook post by Save the Elephants about his recovery attracted more 200 “get well soon” comments.

Then in the first week of June Richard Moller, Executive Director of The Tsavo Trust, found a massive elephant carcass in a swamp. “I knew instinctively in my gut that this was Satao, but there was a tiny chance that I was wrong. I had to verify it before we go public,” Richard told me.

The Tsavo Trust runs an inspirational campaign to bring attention to Kenya’s last great tuskers . Their work brings huge joy and celebration every time an elephant with tusks sweeping to the ground is found.

When I heard that Satao may have been killed, I posted a message on Facebook. I said I hoped that the rumours were wrong and that Satao was safe. I had to hastily remove the post after Richard explained: “We don’t want to alarm people if there’s even a 1% chance that Satao is still alive”.

For days Richard and (Kenyan Wildlife Service) KWS rangers visited the carcass. It was certainly a giant tusker, but it was hard to tell if this was Satao, as the face was mutilated face and the tusks gone. They flew over the park and searched for Satao, hoping against all odds that he was still alive.

Then finally, yesterday on 12 June, Richard admitted to me that his first gut feeling had been right:

Today I had to write my official report to KWS and confirm to them that Satao is dead. It was the hardest report that I have ever written, I couldn’t see past a wall of tears.

In voice choked with grief he begged me not to post anything on this blog until KWS had officially broken the news.

 

From a biodiversity perspective, tuskers are rare specimens, the pinnacle of their species. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

From a biodiversity perspective, tuskers are rare specimens, the pinnacle of their species. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

 

It is not only the rangers in Tsavo or those who knew Satao who are sorrowful, all of Kenya is in a state of deep grief. Satao was not just a Kenyan icon, he was a global treasure. He was of such a phenomenal size that we knew poachers would want him, and no effort was spared to protect him. He had 24/7 protection from KWS and conservation organizations. Even as we mourn Satao’s passing, Kenyan’s are asking: what went wrong?

It may take days for the KWS to provide more details about this terrible news. The country’s authorities are loath to admit the scale of the current crisis.

According to the latest figures published by KWS, 97 elephants have been poached in Kenya so far this year . Nobody in Kenya believes this figure, which suggests that less than one percent of the national elephant population have fallen to poachers’ guns.

The official figures do not tally with the many reports of elephant killings in and around the Masai Mara, Samburu, Loita Hills, Marsabit, Tsavo, Mount Kenya, Aberdares, Shimba Hills and the north eastern coastal forests.

I estimate, from the reports I have seen, that the elephant poaching in Kenya is at least 10 times the official figures, but it is impossible to verify this as the KWS jealously guards the elephant mortality database.

A few brave people within the system describe a systematic cover up of the real figures. To many of us Kenyans, this problem is even more serious than the poaching. Our wildlife services are like the drug addicts who are the most difficult to help, those in denial that there is a problem to be fixed.

Those at the helm who craft the KWS’s communications seem blissfully unaware of the damage caused to Kenya’s reputation by the lack of transparency and accountability around poaching figures.

Kenyans are angry and confused. Elephants do not belong to KWS but to the people of Kenya. Elephants are an important national asset that make a significant contribution to Kenya’s GDP through tourism. It is therefore in the national interest that the correct figures are shared with the public.

It is also confusing for donors. KWS is fighting furiously for funds to strengthen anti-poaching efforts, and massive ivory seizures also continue to snatch headlines, but according to official figures and statements, there is no elephant poaching crisis.

The appalling news of Satao’s death comes at a time when Kenya is preparing to showcase our conservation successes at the UNEP Governing Assembly which starts on 24 June. Instead Kenyan delegates will bear the heavy burden of conveying the news of the passing of this gentle, intelligent and compassionate giant.

I call on Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, to set the tone for the Governing Assembly by starting with a minute’s silence: so that delegates can reflect on their duty of care towards our fellow beings, and in memory of Satao, Mountain Bull, and all the others who have died before them.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2014/jun/13/kenyas-biggest-elephant-killed-by-poachers

Kenya at the crossroads: it’s time to root out the elites who control wildlife crime

A huge seizure of ivory at Kenya’s main port, Mombasa, tests the will of political leaders to apply the law on wildlife crime

Police with some of more than 200 elephant tusks seized in Mombasa on June 5, 2014. Photograph: Kevin Odit

Police with some of more than 200 elephant tusks seized in Mombasa on June 5, 2014. Photograph: Kevin Odit

The announcement of the seizure on Thursday (June 5th) of more than 200 elephant tusks in a motor vehicle warehouse in Mombasa was a rude but necessary awakening for us in Kenya

This huge haul, following a tipoff to local police authorities, confirms Mombasa’s pivotal role as a transit point for smuggling ivory out of Africa.

The photographs show some gigantic tusks, undoubtedly from Kenya’s greatest tuskers. One enormous tusk in particular stood out; it can surely be linked to an individual elephant. These can only have come from killing fields in Kenya’s flagship National Parks, like Tsavo, Marsabit, Samburu and Masai Mara.

The last refuges for these magnificent animals are no longer safe havens, and are under siege by increasingly well-armed and equipped poachers. Recent TV reports in Kenya have exposed the sophisticated organization of the poaching gangs, whose leaders are well-connected to Kenya’s ruling elite. In many cases their identities are known, but nobody dares to name them.

Media confusion around the circumstances of the latest seizure raises fears that once again the big fish will slip through the net. Reports initially indicated that two people had been arrested. Then the police further disclosed that the people arrested had tried to bribe them with Ksh 5 million (Kenyan shillings, about £34,000). By the end of the day, the two arrested had somehow transformed into just one.

Oddly – or perhaps not surprisingly – the main person apparently behind the trafficking could not be traced. Identified only as a “Mombasa tycoon”, aged 52, possibly of Arab heritage, closely linked to the political elite, his identity remains shadowy. After a whole day, officials claimed they “could not find him”.

Latest reports indicate that two people have been charged. The prosecutor has asked for time to conduct investigations and hearing for bail will be heard on Monday. On task is the new Wildilfe Crime Division of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions. This was set up recently in an attempt to fast track wildlife crime prosecutions and bypass local courts that were seen as more susceptible to bribery.

Prosecutors have many options, including seizing properties, bank accounts and anything that could be deemed the “proceeds of crimes”. They can also charge the offenders with tax evasion, attempted bribery, organized crime and other serious offences. But so far, prosecutors have been unwilling to use these powers in cases of wildlife crime, or to seek the maximum sentences – a fine of Ksh 20 million or life imprisonment – stipulated under Kenya’s stringent new Wildlife Act.

The language in the Wildlife Act is rather vague and leaves open the possibility of imposing much lighter sentences. In this case the suspects might even get away with a charge of illegal possession of a government trophy, which carries a minimum fine of Ksh 1 million or just over £7,000. Not much for a cache of ivory worth over a million pounds.

Kenyan conservation organizations including WildlifeDirect and the African Network for Animal Welfare have begun lobbying parliament to amend the new law to raise the maximum fine to Ksh 100 million, with life imprisonment as the only alternative. Parliamentarians seem keen on the idea, but laws are only as effective as their implementation.

Like so many other high profile arrests, things in this case seem to be going cold horribly fast as the “untouchable” Mombasa businessman uses his influence, networks, cash and friends to get him out of the sticky situation.

The whole episode might sound like a plot from the TV series “Law and Order” but this is for real and the stakes are high. In reality Kenyan is at a crossroads. All the elements to successfully combat wildlife crime are in place: informants are supplying leads to the police, the police are making arrests, the prosecution service is organized to press charges, and the law allows for appropriate penalties.

The Kenyan public is fed up with seeing the nation’s wildlife disappear before their eyes and wants to see action. All that is lacking is the will of political leaders to set the machine they have built in motion, and let it run, no matter who gets caught up in the cogs.

For those of us agitating for change, this high profile case is the opportunity for Kenya to demonstrate its seriousness in combating wildlife crime. According to WildlifeDirect: “This is the moment for the government of Kenya to demonstrate that there are no sacred cows. No matter how high the perpetrators of these crimes are they must be brought to justice.”

The Kenyan government has been vocal at CITES and other big events. But it’s time to do more than talking and put our money where our mouth is. If we don’t have the courage to take on the big men and women who run the wildlife crime syndicates, we should shut up.

At the end of June, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta will open the UNEP Governing Assembly meeting in Nairobi. In a speech to Ban Ki-moon and other dignitaries, he will be expected to demonstrate Kenya’s achievements in combating wildlife crime. Right now, Kenya has very little to show.

Poachers jailed in Masai Mara

A Narok court has just sent two men who were in possession of ivory to jail for a year each plus a fine. Narok is the administrative headquarters for the world famous Masai Mara area where the wildebeest migration is in full swing. Poaching of elephants and rhino in the Mara threatens a hugely successful tourism industry.

This is the third case in Narok county where jail sentences have been given for wildlife crimes WITH NO OPTION OF A FINE.

Why is this significant? Narok has been the most notorious court where poachers have been getting off on small fines, cases withdrawn and evidence lost, and where corruption is considered “normal”.

The recent high profile case of the arrest of a gang of three including a former KWS officer arrested on suspicion of poaching in the Mara will attract much local attention. The trio had guns, night vision goggles, saws and a GPS presumably with rhino locations logged into it.

 

WHY IS WILDLIFE CRIME BEING TAKEN SO SERIOUSLY IN KENYA?

First, the campaign HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS is having an enormous impact on public views and reactions. With full page and half page informational advertisements running for a full month has created new discussions. According to one person on the ground “The media attention is making a hell of a difference. Conversations about the attention to this issue are being heard all over, and these conversations include discussions around the fact that magistrates have not been handling cases properly”

KTN News Anchor in Kenya

 

HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS in the newspaper

Secondly, magistrates are on notice. When justice is not served, the public is appealing sentences which opens up cases in the high court. This scrutiny of rulings and overturning of sentences is an embarrassment to any magistrate and it undermines their authority.

NEW PRECEDENT

In the Narok case a new precedent has been set.

On 4th May 2013 three men, Daniel Kararon Tasur, Letasuna Sadera and Simpai ole Seki, were arrested in the Mara region with 40kg of ivory estimated to be worth  KES 4 million.

They were arraigned in Narok Court and pleaded not guilty on 6th May and then changed plea to guilty on 20th May. They were fined KES 40,000 on both counts or KES 80,000 each. They paid the same afternoon.

This ruling by the Magistrate flies in the face of the recent decisions by NESC, His Excellency President Kenyatta’s speech at his inauguration, and the discussion in Parliament on 23rd May this year.

The case was reviewed in light of the fact that the magistrate could have applied much more punitive penalties under the existing laws

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, through his officers took the case up at the Nakuru High Court and the sentences were declared illegal. This means the three will be re-sentenced.

According to a witness “For the first time, someone is monitoring these wildlife crime cases and following up – when before, people used to just go back to business, now the cases are being referred to the top most courts. This has had a huge effect.”

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL FOR ELEPHANTS AND RHINOS

In the Maasai Mara where elephants, rhino and leopards are being targeted by poachers, the police and the magistrates can no longer sweep cases under the carpet. The high level of government oversight means that the can no longer issue Ksh 30,000 fines.  Junior magistrates have to give custodial sentences with no option of a fine because they are obliged to follow the precedent of the principle magistrate.

Hands Off Our Elephants in the papers

What people are saying is that the WildlieDirect HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS campaign is reaping real and significant impacts on the seriousness with which the police and magistrates are handling cases, the depth of media reporting and the attitudes of the public at large. We are witnessing moral indignation whenever magistrates fail to deliver justice.

It’s not just the Mara that is benefiting. A court in Kwale also sent two men to jail for poaching elephants.

Young Kenyans support the campaign

SOME SECRETS OF THE SUCCESS OF HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS CAMPAIGN

This successful strategy has benefited from the expertise of strategic consultant Helen Gibbons who has worked with WildlifeDirect since October 2012 in critically thinking through the strategys and actions that we could target to make a major difference. Helen is an expert on campaign strategy and her love for elephants makes her contribution many times more significant.

We also thank Shamini Jayanathan from the British High Commission who has provided the legal expertise around maters concerning the law and enforcement. Shamini might as well be an honorary Kenyan and she has provided expertise that has until now been largely absent when it comes to legal matters around wildlife law enforcement in Kenya.

We are also indebted to the team at TBWA have developed the most successful communications campaign on wildlife that Kenya has ever seen through bold and effective messaging that not only informs, but calls Kenyans to action.

We thank them all for the successful beginning of a wonderful campaign.

To support our work please make a donation now. 

Hands Off says Transworld Safaris

We are extremely grateful to Sushil Chauhan and Transworld Safaris (Kenya) Ltd for their support and branding their fleet with the Hands Off Our Elephants stickers.

On vehicle up close

On vehicle up close

 

Transworld

We look forward to seeing these stickers on more and more vehicles.

 

 

KTN continues coverage on Elephants

Kenya Television Network (KTN) a local television station in Nairobi, Kenya continues to cover the poaching crisis in East Africa.

Follow their segment, PERSPECTIVE here…

embedded by Embedded Video
Download Video

KTN PRIME News – Save Our Elephants

Last night Kenya Television Network – KTN featured the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign in a story dubbed Save The Elephants during their PRIME Time News at 9m.  We are pleased that the News Anchors wore the Hands Off Our Elephants armbands in solidarity with the drive to Save Our Majestic Elephants @HandsOffOurEles

Watch the full story here…

embedded by Embedded Video
Download Video

 

 

13 year old inventor of Lion lights, Richard Turere saving lions with WildlifeDirect

Lions, once ubiquitous in Africa and Asia are now in big trouble of going extinct in the wild  Their numbers have declined from an estimated 400,000 in the 1940′s to as few as 20,000 today. In Kenya lions are the main tourist attraction to the country, but fewer than 2,000 remain. WidlifeDirect has been working with the National Geographics Big Cats Initiative to halt lion population declines by the year 2015 and to restore populations to sustainable levels.

In October 2011 WildlifeDirect with funding from the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, we began looking for ways to reduce the mortality of lions due to human wildlife conflict. We started monitoring the human wildlife conflict in the pastoralist areas around the Nairobi National Park.

In partnership with the Friends of Nairobi National Park we started a community lion project  to understand the problem and to find a practical solution to the problem that was leading to the killings of lions. One of the greatest threats to lions is humans – people are retaliating against lions when livestock are killed.

The lion attacks on livestock in and around Nairobi are seasonal and predictable – lions move out of the Nairobi National  Park whenever the wildlife migrates.

Wildebeest and zebra leave the park as soon as rains start in search of sweet short grass. Lions follow these prey animals into the  vast dispersal area where they encounter pastoralists with livestock which are easier prey for them. The Nairobi National Park has 24 adult lions ( 8 adult males and 16 lionesses), 8 sub-adults (between 2.5- 3 years; 7 males and 1 female) and at least 8 cubs of varying ages below 1 year of age. They are all known individually.

 

The Nairobi park lions are especially vulnerable because they are surrounded by a rapidly growing urban environment. In December 2011 and January 2012, three lions were killed by the local community in retaliation for stock killed – 18 cows, 85 sheep and goats, and 14 donkeys were killed by a number of different park lions in the Kitengela triangle south of the park, since the onset of the short wet season (November – December).

Lion human conflict in this area is an age old problem that has been growing worse every year. We cannot afford to lose the lions, they are the number one tourist attraction to Kenya, a developing country that depends heavily on tourism revenue. We have been monitoring the problem and what we were looking for a local home grown solution, that is practical and affordable for the communities.

We had no idea that we would find that bright spark in a 13 year old boy, Richard Turere.

In February this year we were attended to homesteads that were most severely impacted by the lions – you can read our reports on human- lion conflict here and the lion predation in the Empakasi area here . Indeed the lion predation is so severe that the community tolerance reached breaking point in December 2011 and they killed three lions in one week.

 

The killing of lions right on the city’s doorstep quickly became a national concern You can watch the disturbing footage of the lion killing here. in the area due to the high number of lions in the park. During our visits to the homesteads we discovered something totally unexpected.

Our research showed a surprising result, one family was somehow immune from night time lion attacks. This was the home of Richard and his family but it wasn’t always like this, they used to have lion attacks every week.

The Turere Family live in Empakasi, right on the edge of the Nairobi National Park, just south of the City of Nairobi. Richard is responsible for herding his family the livestock and keeping them safe from predators, especially lions, but being so close the park puts this family’s cattle right in the path of lions and every month they lost cows, sheep and goats.

At the age of 11 Richard decided to do something about his family’s losses. He observed that the lions never struck the homesteads when someone was awake and walking around with a flashlight. Lions are naturally afraid of people. He concluded that lions equate torches with people so he took the led bulbs from broken flashlights and rigged up an automated lighting system of four or five torch bulbs around the cattle stockade. The bulbs are wired to a box with switches, and to an old car battery charged with a solar panel that operates the family Television set.

The lion lights don’t point towards the cattle, or on any property, but outwards into the darkness. They flash in sequence giving the impression that someone is walking around the stockade. In the two years that his lion light system has been operating, the Turere family has had no predation at night by lions. To Richard he was just doing his job – protecting the herds. His father is beaming, stock thieves will also think twice about visiting a homestead where it appears as if someone is awake. Six of the neighbours noticed that they were getting hit by lions but not the Turere homestead. Richard has already installed the lion lights system in their bomas too. For conservation and human wildlife Conflict management, this simple innovation is a fantastic breakthrough.

The Kenya Wildlife Service report that human wildlife Conflict has cost the government Ksh71 million in compensation in 2011 alone. In Kitengela consolation of several million has been paid to the community for the loss of livestock to lions alone. This figure will rise dramatically as new legislation comes into play. Richards little device of four or five lamps, some wires and a few batteries costs less than ten dollars and has saved his father tens of cattle and therefore it has saved donors several thousand dollars in consolation. The alternative being applied elsewhere is the construction of lion proof fences but at the cost of 1,000 dollars just for materials, then there’s the cost of transport and labour it is way out of the price range fore the average pastoralist. Richards invention is cheap, local, cost effective and easy and quick to install and to maintain. In the two years that his lion light system has been operating, the Turere family has had no predation at night by lions.

To Richard he was just doing his job – protecting the herds. His father is beaming, stock thieves will also think twice about visiting a homestead where it appears as if someone is awake. The Kenya Wildlife Service report that human wildlife Conflict has cost the government Ksh71 million in compensation in 2011 alone. In Kitengela consolation of several million has been paid to the community for the loss of livestock to lions alone. This figure will rise dramatically as new legislation comes into play. Richards little device of four or five lamps, some wires and a few batteries costs less than ten dollars and has saved his father tens of cattle and therefore it has saved donors several thousand dollars in consolation.

The of lion predation problem is not unique to Kitengela and Empakasi, it is a threat to lions wherever they occur. In the Masai Mara and Amboseli the problem is being solved by building lion proof fences around the bomas, or stockades. This is at a cost of up to 1,000 dollars which is way out of the price range of the average pastoralist. At 10 dollars for the lion lights, Richards invention is cheap, practical, cost effective and easy and quick to install and to maintain. In the two years that his lion lights system has been operating, the Turere family has had no predation at night by lions. To Richard he was just doing his job – protecting the herds. His father is beaming, stock thieves will also think twice about visiting a homestead where it appears as if someone is awake. The neighbours of the Turere family noticed that they were getting hit by lions but not the Turere homestead. Richard has already installed the lion lights system in six other bomas too. For conservation and human wildlife Conflict management, this simple innovation is a breakthrough.

Richards invention is cheap, local, cost effective and easy and quick to install and to maintain. It is getting global and local attention on inventors websites like Afrigadget and Make Magazine. The National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, WildlifeDirect and Friends of Nairobi Park are now looking at how to scale up the use of lion lights which can be used in combination with fences and other deterrents. We thank Mr. Oconnor who on learning about Richards amazing invention, offered him a full scholarship to one of Kenya’s top schools Brookhouse International School.Richards story has reached over 33,000 websites and he has been invited to audition for TED. Keep your fingers crossed for Richard and lions and watch this space.

Richard with one of his new friends at Brookhouse School

Please support the lion lights project,  and keep livestock and lion safe. You can make your donation now.

Rhino poaching epidemic in Kenya


Dear Friends,

The poaching of rhino for it’s horns has reached a new high and Africa is losing an average of one rhino per day to poachers. These critically endangered species could disappear forever if we don’t halt the poaching. In the last two weeks we have lost two white rhino near the Masai Mara Reserve where they were under 24 hour surveillance.

The Kenya Wildlife Services are taking no chances. To prevent any further losses, one of the remaining whites was brought to Nairobi Park earlier this week. I was there to witness the event. Enjoy

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt
Rhino Release in Nairobi Park

To support Wildlife Sentinels on WildlifeDirect, please make a donation. Thank you.

Strange antelope in the Masai Mara

As Paolo Torchio says, capturing an image of something never seen before is every photographers dream.

hairy beast

half hairy goat?

Is this animal half hairy goat?

Look at this hairy fellow. Anyone got any ideas?

A very strange bushbaby in Masai Mara

Dear all, I am back in the Mara and this time the primates have caught my attention. I took these photos tonight of what seems to be a melanistic bushbaby but I wondered if anyone had seen anything like it before?

bushbaby42

It is bigger than galagos (bushbabies) that I have seen elsewhere in Kenya in Nairobi, Mombasa, Tana, Shimba .. but it could just be it’s weird coloration that makes it look bigger. It is jet black apart from a white mark on the chest which apparently all the galago’s here are the same though I’ve only seen this one individual which was coming down for bananas. It makes usual galago calls but a chirpy noise as well – at least I think it was this guy chirping.

bushbaby32

He looks and acts kind of like a bear!