Kenya wildlife officials suspended over poaching crisis

NAIROBI, Kenya – Five officials working for Kenya's state-run wildlife service have been suspended as part of a probe into allegations of mismanagement and an upsurge in poaching, the government said Friday, April 11.

The purge comes just weeks after the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was forced to counter accusations from wildlife activists that it was losing the fight against the booming elephant ivory and rhino horn trade.

The KWS, in charge of guarding Kenya's world-famous national parks, has been battling accusations that poaching ringleaders were well-known but allowed to act with impunity.

It had resisted calls to declare the situation as a national disaster, but the Kenyan government, however, said it had been forced to step in.

"It has become necessary for the government to get involved in the affairs of the KWS, especially on how it is run and managed," senior environment ministry official Richard Lesiyampe told reporters.

He signalled that the purge was sparked by the fact that sophisticated anti-poaching equipment promised to poorly-equipped park rangers had not been deployed despite having been paid for.

"The poaching and trafficking in wildlife... has increased in sophistication and scope. We want to understand why our efforts are not working and this investigation might give us an insight to it," he said.

"We want to understand why our officers on the ground have not received modern equipment such as night vision goggles, modern firearms and vehicles which will assist them in dealing with poaching."

Upsurge in poaching

The KWS confirmed that at least 5 senior officers, including those in charge of finance and the deputy head of security, had been suspended.

Kenya has seen a sharp upsurge in the poaching of elephants and rhinos in recent years, and wildlife campaigners say the trend is showing no signs of slowing down, with animals being slaughtered even within the most heavily protected areas.

Poachers have killed at least 18 rhinos and 51 elephants in Kenya so far this year, a similar rate to last year.

But Lesiyampe said that the government was taking the issue seriously.

"As a government, we have vowed to ensure that poachers will not carry out their activities in our parks, we will use all means including monitoring the parks from the air, we will use our own officers and some of us are ready to spill our blood to ensure that they will never repeat killing our wildlife heritage," he said.

Last month veteran conservationist Richard Leakey – himself a former KWS boss – said a core group of just 20 to 30 poaching bosses were operating with "outrageous impunity" and that Kenya was now the global hub of ivory smuggling.

He said that poaching in Kenya was "a national disaster" which could result in the extinction of elephants and rhinos in the country. –