(eTN) – Kenyans will be waking up to stark news of significant changes at the Kenya Wildlife Service, which is facing mounting pressure from the country’s tourism industry and conservationists over the recent upsurge of poaching across the country.
The man who briefly held the Acting Executive Directorship until William Kiprono was appointed in record time by President Kibaki, Peter Leitoro, until yesterday in charge of security, was sent home to make way for investigations alongside his colleague Benjamin Kavu, who oversaw Wildlife and Community relations.
A number of other top personnel were given marching orders to new duty stations, effective immediately, as William Kiprono asserts his authority and responds to critics who are at present as outspoken as never before.
A statement released by KWS, however, states that the two officials have not been interdicted, one should add ‘yet’ but simply allow for a range of issues to be investigated while the transfers were aimed to increase efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery. This diplomatic phrasing however does not conceal the fact that for those now affected it will be make or break in their new assignments, as Kiprono from his previous civil service career is not known to tolerate failures.
Only days ago did allegations surface which connected the dots of poaching to Somalia, something which was also the case in the 1980s when the appointment of Dr. Richard Leakey then turned the tide as he ruthlessly pursued the poachers in the field and cut off the political god father connections among senior political ranks at the time for those allegedly shielding the poaching gangs. The Head of Civil Service in Kenya, when the claims emerged, immediately ordered KWS to respond to these suggestions, which probably then triggered the actions taken by Kiprono yesterday.
Kenya’s tourism industry in the meantime held a peaceful demonstration in Mombasa against poaching and demanded from government immediate action, led by MCTA chairman Mohammed Hersi, in a move which found broad support and is likely to trigger similar demonstrations in Nairobi and other Kenyan towns in coming days.
Mr. Hersi produced a list of demands on behalf of the MCTA membership and tourism stakeholders, which cover a range of most urgent issues.
TOURISM SECTOR AND OTHER STAKEHOLDERS STATEMENT ON THE STATE OF INCREASED POACHING IN OUR PARKS
Protest note to the Government of Kenya:
“Our core attraction is under attack.”
Poaching right now is totally out of control. Our magnificent elephants in the Mara, Tsavo, Amboseli, Samburu, Meru, and elsewhere, that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists, are being wiped out for a few thousand shillings paid to small-time crooks that do the killing while the big shots behind the ivory trade earn billions from illicit ivory. Rhinos are also being decimated at an alarming rate which cannot just be wished away.
The continued killing of our elephants and rhinos across the country is of great concern to us in the tourism sector and wish to voice our discontent in the manner in which the whole is being handled.
In the Mara, over 90 of the big old bull elephants have been killed in recent months. Without the big old tuskers we lose a vital tourist attraction and there are no good breeding bulls left to improve the genetic diversity of the elephants. No serious effort to arrest and bring charges against those involved. Nobody convicted.
At present the sentences are ridiculous – someone in possession of ivory worth thousands of dollars is fined a couple of hundred dollars and released. Some work has been done by conservationists in identifying the various acts which could be used by the courts to enable much heavier sentences to be passed including stringent fines and prison terms. As well as taking legal action against the criminals the government must investigate how 4 rhino can be killed brazenly in a small park like Nakuru and how a family of elephants can be gunned down in Tsavo and the ivory just disappear after the killings had already been reported.
All the lodges across the national parks in Kenya will have to close down and all the tour vans and tour operators will no longer have anything tangible left for them to do. The consequences of losing our wildlife are too dire to comprehend.
The tourism industry condemns this senseless act of violence against our animals, hold the government responsible and call upon the government to take immediate steps towards stopping this cruel act.
Tourism is the second highest income earner in the country contributing over 13% to the GDP. Our wildlife is a heritage we will not want to lose. The greatest attraction for visitors has been our wildlife and to date they are endangered with the numbers depleting at a very high rate. This will lead to a decrease in the income generation levels and the consequences are grave for the country. Wildlife and the big five have always been the greatest puller complimented by the beach experience. If we do not have wildlife and notably the Big Five then tourists will have no unique reason to insist on choosing Kenya. We will also cease to be the land of safari.
8 Point Demands:
1. We demand immediate response and action from the Minister of Wildlife and his PS who have both maintained silence despite these callous killings right under their noses. They are paid by taxpayers’ money, and they ought to wake up and do their work.
2. We demand the immediate arrest of the people concerned and charged accordingly. Media in Kenya has exposed on numerous occasions the people behind these trades yet no action is being taken against them. Huge stock is found at the port and to date no one has been charged.
3. We call upon the government to set special task force within the Director of Public Prosecution’s office which should be charged with overseeing the compiling of evidence and prosecution of persons arrested so that they should be charged under the economic crimes act which is in existing legislation which provides much heavier penalties for economic crimes and for persons benefiting from the proceeds of criminal acts against wildlife.
4. We demand heavier sentences to be passed including stringent fines and prison terms for those prosecuted, as well as taking legal action against the criminals.
5. We demand more funds and support to Kenya Wildlife Service who have so far done splendid job to police our parks. KWS have lost many rangers in the line of fire and they must be given superior arms to deal with these ruthless poachers who do not hesitate to kill.
6. We do not believe all is well at KWS since the departure of Dr. Julius Kipngetich and we want an independent body to ascertain with immediate effect what could be ailing the KWS.
7. We must insist on ivory ban on trade in the Far East as we only have about 30,000 elephants left in Kenya now and if 100,000 were killed during the last poaching crisis until 1989, all of these will be gone long before Vision 2030 arrives and tourist will not come here to see elephants in zoos – they can do that at home.
8. We call on our government to seriously review our bilateral relations with China, Thailand and even Philippines who are all reluctant to stop ivory carvings and factories in their backyards. If these countries can hang drug dealers they should equally be made to mete the same punishment to Ivory smugglers and traders. Our message to the Far East please leave the rhino alone, its horn has
NO medicinal value nor is it an aphrodisiac.
Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association
Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers (KAHC)
Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO)
Kenya Wildlife Clubs of Kenya
Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW)
This correspondent, for long an advocate of conservation and the protection of our region’s priceless wildlife, THE key component for tourism, throws his voice behind Mr. Hersi’s and those of the Kenyan tourism industry in calling on the Kenyan government to react immediately and comprehensively to the justified demands made to bring poaching under control, punish the culprits with appropriate fines and long prison terms and eliminate the menace from national parks, game reserves, and the country at large.