(eTN) – In a media statement issued ahead of the Easter weekend, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Corporate Communications Department finally responded with a detailed account of their own, after the criminal case against the Eco Tourism Kenya CEO was earlier withdrawn. An article two weeks ago, in fact, had suggested that this would be the best way, instead of criminalizing comments made, rightly or wrongly, by individuals concerned over poaching and about anti-poaching measures across Kenya by KWS and other law enforcement agencies.
In the interest of balanced reporting, here is the full statement issued by KWS and availed to the media last week:
“Over the last couple of weeks, misleading statements have been made on the various aspects of wildlife conservation, especially the recent translocation of a white rhino to Kisumu Impala Sanctuary, as well as the extent of poaching.
Contrary to these unfounded statements, Kenya has had a steady recovery of key endangered species, especially elephants, rhinos, and the big cats.
“Kenya Wildlife Service and partners have developed and are implementing management and conservation strategies for key species, especially elephants, lions, hyenas, cheetahs, wild dogs, Grevy’s zebras, hirolas, and sea turtles. We are also completing conservation strategies for giraffes, bongos, and roan. These efforts are bearing fruit, and we have been sharing this information with interested individuals and groups.
“We take pride in the fact that despite pressure on land by growing human population and competing land uses, we have secured at least one million acres of land for wildlife through community conservancies and private ranches across the country.
“At the outset, we recognize that conservation is facing challenges including poaching, loss of habitat, adverse effects of climate, wild fires, and livestock incursions into protected areas.
“Indeed, we are experiencing worrying trends in wildlife crime, though this must be understood in its global context. We keep our government and other partners informed about these trends, formulate appropriate strategies, and seek the necessary support to implement them. Therefore, it’s not true that poaching is worse than it was at the peak of poaching in the late 1980s.
“As an institution conscious of its national and international obligations, KWS provides scientifically sound and accurate statistics on elephant poaching and other wildlife to the public, the media, government, and other interested local and international organizations.
“Indeed, we take pride that as an institution overseeing a critical public resource, our decisions are based on sound science and are verified by stakeholders. Kenya is internationally acknowledged for its robust wildlife data collection and recording systems.
“The information we provide is collected and shared in consultation with stakeholders, both local and international. We conduct regular censuses for various key species of wild animals and share results with the public and stakeholders. The presence of independent stakeholders and the media to verify the census process and results is a testament to our transparency. Therefore, poaching can’t be worse than it was in 1989 given that Kenya’s elephant population has been growing at a healthy rate of 4 percent per annum as evidenced by our census results.
“When KWS was formed, poaching was at its peak with the elephant population estimated at barely 16,000 from a high of 167,000 in the 1960s. Kenya’s elephant population has steadily recovered to the current 37,000, thanks to the efforts of KWS and stakeholders. It is important that the public appreciates that frequent seizures of ivory on transit at Kenya’s main airports does not necessarily originate from local illegal killing of elephants. We have tightened controls at all our airports and regularly report trophy seizures.
“Our records indicate that Kenya lost 278 elephants to illegal killings last year. This is factual. KWS will continue offering accurate and timely information on wildlife population dynamics to the public. Kenya has also registered remarkable success in its rhino program, despite incredible demand for rhino horns in some Asian countries. Kenya’s rhino, both black and white, has doubled since early 1990s from an estimated 500 to the current slightly over 1,000. In the last 5 years, Kenya has recorded average of 4.5 percent growth.
“As an institution, we have robust systems of sharing information on conservation activities and developments with the public.
“In particular, we widely shared the reasons for the white rhino translocation on our website www.kws.go.ke . We also issued a media release on the same matter. We are ready to provide further clarification on the translocation. Translocation any species of wildlife is informed by clearly spelt out internationally and nationally accepted protocols, criteria, and guidelines.
“So far, no conservationist has approached us to dispute the logic behind the action nor offered an alternative. Any criminal activities, within or without KWS, are swiftly dealt with as provided for by the law. This should be reported to KWS and other law enforcement agencies.
“The background, which necessitated the translocation of the white rhino to Kisumu and has been widely shared is as follows:
“The white rhino released recently in Kisumu Impala Sanctuary was raised at Ol Jogi Ranch in Laikipia and was then relocated to Mugie Ranch in Laikipia.
However, because he had been hand raised, he proved a security risk, as he constantly sought human company. As such, KWS was compelled to transfer the rhino to Nairobi National Park. Here again, in search of people, he took to frequently leaving the park to residential areas of Kitengela and Ongata Rongai where he caused unnecessary panic, despite the efforts of the rangers to keep him in the park. There was a very high likelihood that he would be poached as he was frequently near the fence-line. Besides, the likelihood of the rhino injuring or killing people could not be ruled out. Significant security resources were thus being diverted to protect a single animal.
“KWS considered various options, including placing him in the Safari Walk but there is already a rhino there. Moving him to a fenced area such as Lake Nakuru National Park would have almost certainly led to him fighting with other dominant white rhino bulls or to him walking the fence-line once more (which would have meant that a number of KWS rangers would have had to walk with him, thereby being diverted from their wider duties).
“The decision to send him to Kisumu Impala Sanctuary was guided by Kenya’s policy concerning the protection of white rhino, which is: to manage the species for community conservation, education, and tourism and as a conservation resource for restocking white rhino ranges outside of Kenya.
“KWS has a duty and a fundamental commitment to protecting and conserving Kenya’s wildlife heritage. However, inevitably there are certain individual wild animals that cannot be successfully returned to the wild, especially when they have been hand-reared, rescued or injured. KWS has genuinely evaluated the available options for this particular rhino but his previous history has made a wild life simply far too risky, particularly during these challenging times when rhino poaching is so intense.
“We appreciate the concerns for the rhino’s welfare that have been expressed and believe his relocation to Kisumu is in his best interests. Kisumu Impala is a welfare facility dedicated to the care of sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife. As a responsive public institution, we welcome stakeholders and the general public to raise whatever concerns they have on wildlife conservation with us. Our doors are open for consultation as we discharge our mandated as provided for the law.”
The question remains open though if a clearly bruised ego by the KWS Chief Executive, Dr. Julius Kipng’etich, was enough reason to initially have a criminal complaint filed under an outdated and archaic section of Kenya’s statute books or if this forthright method of publicly explaining KWS’s position would not have been the correct way to start with. Water under the bridge now, but the entire affair has been damaging to all parties concerned and it is hoped that in the future common sense prevails from the onset and not as an afterthought when the fallout has become visible to all and long-standing relationships have been damaged, not beyond repair but damaged nevertheless.