Kenya and Tanzania are modernising their wildlife security services to cope with increasing poaching that threatens the survival of their multimillion-dollar tourism sectors.
The move has been prompted by the increased sophistication in poaching, which has this year already claimed about 20 rhinos and 63 elephants in Kenya as at end of April. According to government reports 11,000 elephants are killed every year in Tanzania.
The most recent killing in Kenya was of an elephant nicknamed Mountain Bull, a mammoth that symbolised the country’s anti-poaching campaign. Mountain Bull was killed in the Mt Kenya Forest by poachers and his tusks removed.
Kenya and Tanzania have agreed to collaborate on wildlife security, after being named by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), last year, as part of a group of eight countries responsible for the wanton killings of African elephants. Other countries are Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and China.
The government of Kenya has allocated Ksh1.8 billion ($20.9 million) to the Kenya Wildlife Service in the next financial year, to which the Chinese government has added Ksh850 million ($9.88 million) to improve wildlife security.
The World Wide Fund has also announced a Ksh5 million ($58,139) grant to the KWS to enhance security at the Lake Nakuru National Park, one of the few rhino sanctuaries in the country, which has lost six rhinos to poachers this year.
According to Environment, Water and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu, a large part of the money will be used to equip KWS rangers to protect wildlife.
“We need sophisticated equipment, like night vision goggles, better ammunition and better surveillance equipment, and also to improve our intelligence gathering. We also need modern equipment at our ports of entry and departure,” said Prof Wakhungu.
The money, she added, will also be used to buy better vehicles for the rangers.
Tourism is an important sector in East Africa, and environmentalists warn that increased poaching, if not checked, may lead to the collapse of wildlife tourism, the backbone of the region’s industry, in the future.
According to a recent World Bank study, in 2012, tourism contributed five per cent to Kenya’s GDP, 4.8 per cent to Tanzania’s, 3.7 per cent to Uganda’s and 3.1 per cent to Rwanda’s.
According to the Born Free Foundation — an international wildlife charity — since 1989, when the trade in ivory was banned the illegal trade in animal products has been consolidated, hence the need for elephant range countries to up their game in securing the continent’s wildlife.
“Most subsistence or artisanal poaching for supply to local markets has been co-opted or crowded out by an illicit commercial trade that is monopolised by organised crime, and enabled by government functionaries, security forces, and businessmen,” said Born Free in a study on poaching in Africa.
The conservation organisation added that the logistics of ivory trafficking are complex and varied across the continent, calling for improved wildlife security.
The organisation cited three distinct phases of wildlife crime in Africa, namely poaching, trafficking and retail, each increasingly professional and dominated by criminal and corrupt networks using some of the latest equipment in the market.
In Tanzania, the government recently announced that it will buy three helicopters and 12 vehicles specifically for wildlife security. Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Lazaro Nyalandu said the cost of the equipment has already been factored into the next financial year’s budget.
The minister also announced that six pilots selected to fly the helicopters will be sent to South Africa for specialised training to ensure patrolling of protected lands is carried out effectively.
The Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority has been tasked with dealing with the illegal trade in wildlife resources and educating the public on the importance of wildlife resources.
Mr Nyalandu, said the establishment of the authority would increase the ability to respond to poaching, create transparency, and win the trust and confidence of the international community in such efforts.
“Tourism is booming — we received more than one million tourists last year — and this has increased pressure on the government to deal with poaching,” said Mr Nyalandu.
Kenya will send a group of rangers for specialised training in China. KWS director William Kiprono said they also sent rangers for specialised training in Europe, Israel and the United States.
Both countries have a shortage of rangers capable of protecting the region’s wildlife and so apart from acquiring modern equipment, they are also employing more game rangers to provide adequate security to wildlife.
Recently, KWS recruited 575 youth from the National Youth Service to train as rangers in a bid to increase manpower in protected areas.
Tanzania said it plans to deploy 2,532 rangers to parks and game reserves that have suffered heavily from poaching.
However, both governments concede that the additional manpower is still inadequate, adding that rangers cannot be present in every part of protected lands, hence the need for more assistance.
It is partly the reason why KWS now wants East African governments to lobby the international community to take a tougher stand on countries providing a market for illegal animal products.
Top on the list is China, which due to its sheer market size dominates current ivory demand in the world. However, studies carried out by Born Free found that it is not only China that is to blame, but also Vietnam and Thailand, which are becoming important ivory and rhino horn destinations.
East Asian countries — Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia — are prominent ivory transit and transshipment countries as are Persian Gulf port nations, especially the United Arab Emirates.
Additional reporting by Erick Kabendera