1% of Rhino Population Poached

1% of Rhino Population Poached

KWS officials at their news conference yesterday.  Photo courtesy of FM Capital Radio.
KWS officials at their news conference yesterday.
Photo courtesy of FM Capital Radio.

A major KWS nab of rhino poachers in Laikipia, yesterday, reveals new and terrible sophistication in rhino poaching.

Recently a friend chastised me for writing so negatively in my blogs, remarking specifically about the number of blogs about poaching. She’s right, of course. My blogs about poaching have increased substantially. Poaching always increases in an economic downturn, but this time Tanzanian and Ugandan wildlife management policies are even making it worse.

Tanzania and Uganda are substantially increasing their hunting and Tanzania has revoked its support to keep elephants on the CITES most endangered list.

Add to these wrong government moves, an increasingly bad approach being taken by international wildlife organizations, and we are creating the perfect storm for successful poaching.

I’m referring in particular to the incredibly stupid move just before Christmas by Fauna and Flora International (FFI) to import into Kenya’s Laikipia four of the remaining eight northern subspecies of black rhino in existence. (See my blog of December 26.)

Yesterday, a cell of poachers nabbed in Laikipia revealed a level of sophistication obviously much higher than the idiotic organization that dumped these precious rhino into the criminals’ lair.

A cell of twelve highly sophisticated “businessmen” – an organized corporate cell not just errant individuals – were arrested by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in possession of two recently poached rhino horns valued at $300,000.

Yes, you read correctly. The value of a rhino horn on Kenya’s black market is now around $150,000 per horn. It’s estimated that Fauna and Flora raised a quarter million dollars to transport the four rhino from Europe to the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya in December. Each of those rhino has two horns. The ROI for the bad guys, delivered right into their hands by supposedly good guys as their investment, is a neat 500%.

Try that on some Laikipia community based tourism project.

Baby born yesterday in the Ziwa Reserve, Uganda.  Photo by Angie Genade.
Born yesterday in Uganda's Ziwa Reserve. Photo by Angie Genade.

According to KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich, the suspects took down a 10-year-old female rhino at the Mugie rhino sanctuary. This is one of the best patrolled sanctuaries in Laikipia, owned by the author, Kuki Gallmann, and it lies oh about a two hour’s easy drive from Ol Pejeta, which is not as well patrolled a reserve, where four of the most precious life forms on existence now are up for target practice!

The “cell” included two poachers with a marvelously new Landrover and new weapons, six professionals running the feed-through front at the Luonyek trading center near Baringo, and four other accomplices.

According to terrific reporting by Catherine Karong’o of Nairobi’s Capital FM Radio, 18 rhinos were poached in Kenya last year, 13 of which were on private reserves like Mugie and Ol Pejeta.

This would be the first time since 1984 in the heyday of animal slaughter that 1% of Kenya’s existing rhino population was killed in one year.

“For us in Kenya,” Kipng’etich explained, “even the loss of just one [rhino] means a lot to us.” Kenya’s has the third largest population of rhino of any country in the world. South Africa has the most in well protected reserves, and the U.S. has the second… in zoos.

According to the KWS Director, the Kenya black rhino population now stands at 600, while the white rhinos are 240. Globally, it is estimated that there are 4,200 black rhinos left, and 17,500 white rhinos.

And 4 (that is FOUR) of the remaining precious subspecies of northern black rhino (the only rhino immune to tse-tse born diseases) has been plopped into the poacher’s den with specious conservation applause to the idiots who funded the project. Including a Vice President of Goldman Sachs. (Oh, sorry, didn’t they make some other mistakes, recently?)

I could go on and on, but let me stop with this: no charity, no NGO, no private donation can succeed as well as government-to-government action and the swift, scientific aplomb of well-run government agencies. Kenya is beset by a myriad of problems, but the KWS works well. And the KWS’ work is now made much harder by Fauna and Flora International. FFI is an old and respected private conservation foundation, which has done a lot of good work. This time, what it did in December was DEAD wrong.