KWS leadership blamed for lack of action


(Posted 21st March 2014)

KWS spokesperson Paul Uduto did himself and his organization no favour when he mouthed off at the media briefing by Wildlife Direct two days ago at the Nairobi Serena Hotel.

The fellow showed how inept he is when instead of taking the bitter medicine following the disclosures and revelations made by Dr. Leakey and Dr. Kahumbu he tried to defend the indefensible’ wrote a regular conservation source following the comments Uduto made, claiming the duo were ‘bashing’ KWS.

The recent figures given after a census of elephant populations in the Tsavo / Taita Taveta / Mkomanzi area showed a very significant fall in numbers over the past three years since the last census. That number, divided by three years, shows a decline of over 500 per year. That alone is a lot more than KWS admits to and shows for the whole country so far and it is now an open secret that numbers have been doctored. Something somewhere is wrong bigtime with KWS. Just remember how their last Executive Director used an obscure law when he was challenged by the CEO of one of our conservation NGO’s last year over the exact same issue. Instead of owning up and admitting the obvious he went berserk, showed the ugly face of himself and of KWS and had the man arrested and charged in court. THAT is not the KWS Kenya needs and that is not the organization which can be trusted to tell the truth, no matter how tough it is’ the source then added while condemning Uduto in the strongest possible terms as a peddler of smokescreens.

Dr. Paula retorted instantly: ‘Everyone knows those numbers are not true’ while Dr. Leakey responded in the same fashion saying: ‘It is patently not true’, referring to the bashing allegations Uduto made.

The highly publicized spat shows that a deep rift has opened between the conservation fraternity, which still has issues over the actions of former KWS ED Kipng’etich lasts year, and the wildlife service, with the latter now under intense scrutiny and subject to criticism for failing to stem the poaching tsunami.

Under Kipng’etich lions were killed by Masai morans with impunity, cheetah cubs removed from their home environment at one of the Mara conservancies leading to the death of one at the animal orphanage and figures were habitually downplayed. Under the new regime of Kiprono the situation has now gone from bad to worse. Two rhinos were this year killed right under the nose of the KWS Executive Director in Nairobi National Park, last week rhinos were killed within earshot of KWS offices in Nakuru National Park and inspite of stricter laws has the poaching of elephants not been significantly reduced.

Leakey was right to quote [Kenya’s President] Kenyatta about poaching. Yet, nothing seems to have been done since his inaugural speech. Does KWS even have a board right now, has that issue been resolved or is the minister still ‘consulting’. It is a damning indictment when Leakey has to remind us that under [Former
President] Moi he was given the resources and political backing he needed to deal with poachers and within months he had most of them sorted out. There is a lack of political will it seems, just like you keep pointing out happens in Tanzania, and it is very puzzling that the First Lady takes such a strong stand alongside Dr. Paula and yet the president appears so completely removed from this problem. Of course, having a bureaucrat like Kiprono on top of KWS is another issue and perhaps reform should start there with someone put in charge who understands the issues Leakey raised. Lashing out at critics no longer cuts it, the loss of elephants and rhinos is alarming and KWS has to shape up or ship out, at least those responsible should.

I agree with Leakey and Paula that there are very dedicated people in KWS but I am more concerned with leadership which is patently absent. Kiprono should have sat next to the two and not send his verbal hitman to smear them’ ranted another regular source who attended the media briefing at the Nairobi Serena Hotel.

Wildlife Direct released a study on Wednesday that found only 4 percent of offenders convicted of wildlife crime in Kenya went to jail between 2008 and mid 2013. Of 743 court cases, 70 percent of the case files were missing. A recent Interpol report found that more ivory is transited through the Kenyan port of Mombasa than any other, but the Wildlife Direct study found no evidence of prosecutions in Mombasa.
Dr. Richard Leakey at the press conference also said rangers have asked him to speak publicly about the country’s poaching problem: ‘Someone has to put an end to this outrageous impunity’.

The situation, inspite of tough new laws, appears to be compounded as the prosecution service and the judiciary seem to continue taking a lenient view on the problem, with poachers released on bond, small fines being slapped on convicted individuals and hardly any serious jail time handed down, prompting further outrage and allegations against magistrates and judges that they were fueling the poaching tide through lax rulings.

Others once again put the spotlight on the need to deal with the demand side in China, Vietnam and other Far Eastern countries which are held responsible for the upsurge in poaching across Africa, which in South Africa alone last year saw 1.004 rhinos butchered for their horns while an estimated 25 – 30.000 elephant were slaughtered for their ivory.

What is patently clear now is that across Eastern Africa the governments and wildlife management organizations must now take decisive steps, in line with a directive by Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who told UWA and other security personnel to shoot poachers on sight, or else the most important element of wildlife based tourism, on which the region crucially depends, namely the wildlife itself, will be so decimated in a few years that tourists no longer care to come to our national parks after they were shot empty of big game. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from Eastern Africa’s conservation scene.

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