Reformed poachers join patrol to stop illegal activities in Aberdare

Thursday May 19 2022

Various groups have joined hands to protect the environment, and do away with logging and poaching. PHOTO | FILE


John Njuguna Mugo, a member of Aberdare Joint Surveillance Unit (AJSU) and a reformed poacher, leads members of the group and journalists around the Aberdare forest.

Moving in a slow but steady manner, we follow Samuel Kariuki, Joshua Odhiambo (ranger from Kenya Wildlife Service), Zachary Kamau, Joseph Ndaba and Mercy Nyambura, who are members of AJSU.

We had covered about two kilometres when we were beckoned to lay flat on our bellies for a black rhino that was just five metres away. It was noon but because of the tall trees and thick foliage, we could not see or feel the impact of sun in Aberdare North, Nyeri County.

This is a normal day for AJSU, which was formed with the help of the Rhino Ark to carry out daily surveillance on the 400-kilometre long electric fence to reduce the human-wildlife conflict in the area.

The team begins its routine patrol at 5am and sets camp wherever the sun sets. Each of member of the team has a story behind their membership. Njuguna, for example, had been in several conflicts with the police, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service officers.

“I was not only a poacher but also a charcoal burner. I was arrested several times until I made up my mind to change my ways,” said Njuguna.


He has offered his services at the forest for the past 12 years.

“Quite a number of people from my village have transformed. They now see the benefits of conserving the environment.”

Ndaba had a similar story to tell. To him, “logging was normal” and he didn’t see the importance of conserving the environment.” But now he is a fully transformed poacher who now preaches the importance of caring for the ecosystem.

Nyambura, the only woman in the surveillance team, said most of the poachers lay traps on trees and spears which may even endanger their lives.

In a single surveillance trip, they remove between 10 to 15 snares and come across seven to 10 trees that have been logged. They have also been trained on firefighting skills to put out the fires that erupt in the forest.

Logging is mainly done in the northern part of Aberdare whereas the southern part is termed as a poaching hotspot.

As a way of protecting the ecosystem in Aberdare, various groups joined hands and formed a bigger movement called Mwelami to protect the environment, and do away with logging and poaching.

The group’s chairperson Grace Ndiritu said their main aim was to reduce conflict between the public, KWS and KFS and also to uplift the livelihood of the people living around.

The group sponsors members to grow arrowroots, tree tomatoes, tree seedlings, grass, rear dairy cows and goats. It also starts poultry farms as a way of helping members find an alternative activity and prevent them from tampering with the forest that is a home to millions of animals.

So far, the group has reached more than 1,600 households and are targeting 2,000 more.

“We are the ones that cause climate change and we can only solve that by preserving our forest and water catchments,” she said.

They improve the livelihood of the people and create job opportunities hence reducing logging and poaching.

As a way of reducing logging and maintaining a greener forest, the group came up with an initiative of supplying energy saving jikos to various schools to help them reduce cost and be part of restoring the ecosystem.

One of the beneficiaries of the project is Amboni Secondary which was given four energy saving jikos to help prepare food for the students and be part of rehabilitating the environment.

The principal of Amboni Secondary, Grace Mwangi told us that they now use less firewood compared to the past years.

“We were using eight lorries’ per term but now we have reduced it to three because of the energy saving jikos. We always make a saving of Sh80,000 per term. We are one of the beneficiaries of the project and we thank God,” said Mrs Mwangi.

The group covers counties like Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu and Tharaka Nithi.

The sponsorship they give comes from the Sh6.6 billion that the Kenyan government was given as a grant by IFAD, an organization from Europe.

“It is imperative that we decouple environmental degradation and unsustainable resource use from economic growth and associated production and consumption patterns,” concluded Mr Mwangi.