By Kibiwott Koross, The Star, 15 April 2013
Poaching has recently been on the rise, with whole herds of elephants massacred for their ivory. Rhinos have also not been spared. Our writer KIBIWOTT KOROSS spoke to KWS director WILLIAM KIPRONO about a wide range of issues affecting the sector. Of immediate concern, however, is the lenient sentences for convicted wildlife poachers or ivory smugglers.
How has it been at KWS since you joined?
It is a challenging job. It has been a rigorous exercise and I am happy of the support from my staff. We work as a team and our goal is to deliver results which I am sure we will.
Some have been questioning your appointment. They claim you didn’t go through a vetting process. Are you in office legally?
Yes, I am in office legally. I was appointed by the President (President Kibaki). The current Wildlife Act is silent on vetting that is why we need a new Bill now. The KWS Cap 376 gives the President powers to appoint a director. Again, I was a public servant and my credentials have never been questioned.
There have been numerous cases of elephant poaching which seem to be rising day by day. What is your take on this?
Poaching of elephants has been alarming especially late last year and early this year but the figures have since dropped. We have been working around the clock to arrest the poachers and all those involved. Our security personnel are out in the field and you can know from the court cases and number of those being arrested that we are making an effort.
What we need is to cut the links of poachers who are members of local communities living around our parks and the traders. The demand of ivory is high and thus the price.
The availability of ready market in Asia is also a major contributor coupled by our weak laws. Imagine a situation where a poacher is bailed on a Sh30,000 bond even after being nabbed with ivory worth millions of shillings. This has to change and we need strict laws which will scare away poachers.
Our only hope is the new Wildlife Bill which is yet to be passed by parliament which will bring in stiffer penalties. We are looking at a penalty of at least five years imprisonment and fine of Sh15 million.
That is the only way to curb poaching. This trade involves many people who are financially able. If you look at the kind of weapons they use and how they ply their trade, they are not ordinary people.
We are also doing a lot of civic education to communities living near parks. With the county governments now in place, we want the locals to learn that they are the ultimate beneficiaries of this wildlife.
We are calling on the government to increase the budgetary allocation to KWS. We are currently getting Sh2 billion from the government which is not enough.
We need more infrastructure. Our roads inside parks are not all weather and poachers take advantage during the rainy season since our vehicles cannot reach certain parts of our parks. This also means we need more vehicles especially four-wheel drive vehicles for our patrols.
We need to improve our airwing. As we speak, there is a team going to Taita Taveta to round up elephants who have strayed out of Tsavo National Park. That could have been a little cheaper if we had a chopper stationed at Tsavo. Our plan is to have a chopper in each zone.
There have been reports that some of your officers are involved in poaching. How true is this?
Well, we have not ignored the reports but if any officer is found to be conspiring with poachers, we will treat him or her as a criminal. We have reorganised our staff and I call upon all members of the public to report such officers to the police or KWS.
Do you have enough officers to man all parks?
We have about 3,000 rangers and these are not enough keeping in mind that our parks are vast. We need more rangers and as we speak there are plans to recruit 1,000 rangers this year. We are targeting additional 5,000 rangers in the next five years.
Where do the ivory of aging elephants go?
We track elephants especially the elderly ones. Once they die, we collect the ivory and those who die of natural causes. We have them in our stores.
There are reports that Kisite Marine Park has been sold to a private developer. How true is this?
We have heard reports that a private developer claims ownership of the marine park at the South Coast which is a lie. The Kenya Wildlife Service does not recognise the titles owned by any individual.
Since KWS took ownership of the land in 1977, Parliament has not de-gazzeted it. We have our rangers there. Everything is in order and I want to assure Kenyans that all is well.
With the entry of county governments, how is KWS going to work?
Parks are under the national government. There are some parks which have been under the management of county councils which will now fall under county governments but will still be answerable to KWS. We will be working with the county governments and I think they will also have budgetary allocations to the parks and reserves under their jurisdiction.
There are cases of mushrooming hotels and lodges in parks especially in Maasai Mara which has led to environmental degradation. There have been similar cases in Amboseli and in Samburu where lodges are said to be polluting rivers. What is KWS doing about this?
Maasai Mara will now be under Narok county government. It was initially under the Narok County Council and it is true there have been reports of unregulated hotels.
The new Wildlife Bill will cure this problem. There is a provision which gives KWS the mandate to cancel licences of such operators. We will be advising the county governments accordingly and I believe Nema will do the same.
The Amboseli ecosystem continues to attract a large number of tourists each year, more so due to its large elephant population totalling about 1,500.
This attraction is however faced with a challenge as more investors are putting up developments that if not well managed would pose a threat to the fragile ecosystem.
To save the ecosystem, there is a 2008-2018 Amboseli Management Plan that was was unanimously adapted during the consultative forum on the Amboseli Ecosystem by Nema and is awaiting gazettement.
The plan was proposed in 2004 and has been going through various consultative meetings with different players including Nema, Kenya Forest Service, Ministry of Tourism, Attorney General’s office, the Amboseli community and KWS.
Specific areas will be identified for hotel developments, horticulture, farming and grazing areas for the community which heavily relies on pastoralism.
How do you see the Kenyan elephant in the next few years?
Well, with new and strict laws, poaching will be contained which means elephant numbers will increase. What we need to do is cut the link between poachers and those who trade in ivory. That is the only way of ending poaching.