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Kenyan, Tanzanian poachers now gang up with Chinese criminals

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A herd of elephants graze in the Amboseli National Park, with Mt Kilimanjaro in the background. Photo/ANTHONY KAMAU

A herd of elephants graze in the Amboseli National Park, with Mt Kilimanjaro in the background. Photo/ANTHONY KAMAU 

By JOHN MBARIA

Posted  Saturday, February 14   2009 at  08:57

Gangs of poachers bringing together Kenyans and Tanzanians with business links to Chinese nationals appear to have invaded a number of Kenyan parks.

The gangs have been responsible for killing 18 elephants in Amboseli and a further 80 in the Samburu and Laikipia areas over the past one year, says a report released by a wildlife body that is backed by information from the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The Amboseli Trust for Elephants says that ivory from nine of the 18 elephants killed in Amboseli disappeared without trace and that the fate of 22 more is not yet known. It says that some of the ivory was sold to Chinese nationals working in the country.

The Kenya Wildlife Service concedes that poaching has been on the increase in Amboseli as well as in the Laikipia and Samburu ecosystem.

“During the past year alone, a total of 80 elephants were killed,” said KWS Head of Elephant Programme Patrick Omondi.

At Amboseli, KWS says poachers killed only six of the 18 elephants while the rest were victims of human-elephant conflict.

It attributes this to a decision made by the UN Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) two years ago to allow the Southern African countries — Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana — to sell ivory to China and Japan.

The Trust’s Report on Elephant Poaching and Ivory Trade in the Amboseli Area says local Maasai people act as ivory brokers while Tanzanians and Kenyans from elsewhere in the country do the actual trading.

On at least four occasions in 2008, Chinese nationals were reported to have been arrested at Nairobi’s international airport while attempting to smuggle ivory out of the country. The latest such arrest was last Saturday.

Contacted by The EastAfrican, the press attache at the Embassy of China in Nairobi, Liu Bo, revealed that the embassy had been contacted by KWS and the police over the matter but denied the involvement of any Chinese nationals based in Kenya.

“No Chinese based in Kenya is involved in ivory smuggling,” Mr Liu said, adding that most of those arrested at the airport are usually on transit from other African countries and that the embassy had issued notices to all Chinese nationals in Kenya to abide by Kenyan laws.

But writing to the KWS Director, Dr Julius Kipng’etich, on January 29, the head of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Cynthia Moss, said, “It [the report] presents alarming data indicating that elephant poaching and ivory trade are rapidly becoming established along the border and possibly in other places as well.”

The letter continues, “During 2008, 40 elephants were wounded or killed by spearing, poisoned arrows or bullets... Of these, we know that 18 have died.” She also says that her organisation does not know the fate of another 22 that were reported wounded.

KWS confirms that 18 elephants were killed in 2008, but the wildlife body denies that poachers killed all of them.

KWS head of communications Kentice Tikolo told The EastAfrican, “Within the past year, the ecosystem has witnessed an upsurge in elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade... elephant poaching and human-elephant conflicts are currently some of the major causes of elephant mortality within the Amboseli ecosystem.”

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