Kenya elephant survey raises uncomfortable questions


Elephants poaching takes place close to ranger camps and stations in Kenya.

A new study looking at poaching activities in Kenya could and should lead to some rather uncomfortable questions being asked about the way that the Kenya Wildlife Service operates and the way in which local communities are supported in wildlife conflict situations.

Why are elephants being poached close to ranger stations in Kenya?

The number of elephants being poached in the study areas – The Tsavo East National Park and the Tsavo National Park – have increased over the last few years. This is nothing new for Africa which has seen an upsurge in poaching over the last decade. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is one of the best trained, equipped and motivated in the world so why is Kenya different from the rest of Africa in one important aspect of elephant poaching. While across the rest of Africa the poachers operate as far away from ranger posts and camps as possible it is the opposite in Kenya. 

Surprisingly the study, which looked at the behaviour of poachers, found that in Kenya there was a clear correlation between ranger posts and poaching activities. To quote the report: “When distances to ranger bases and outposts were analysed, there was a strong negative correlation between poaching (incidents) and distance to patrol bases and outposts,” Basically in Kenya more elephant poaching took place the closer you go to ranger camps and outposts.

Elephant poaching increasing in Kenya like most of Africa.

The report was published on April 12th 2012 in Wildlife Review, an Australian peer reviewed journal on wildlife management. The team of researchers were from the Kenya Wildlife Service and University of Miami using date from the KWS, NASA and the Japanese government. It was published shortly after the arrest and release without charge of  Kahindi Lekalhaile, Chief Executive of Ecotourism Kenya who alleged that over 2,000 elephants are now being killed in Kenya  – a figure disputed by the KWS.

The report also supported the claims of other notable conservationists such as Dr Richard Leakey who have been warning of the increases in elephant poaching in Kenya over the last few years.

Ranger stations more dangerous than roads for elephants in Kenya.

The study found that being closer to a ranger station or outpost is more dangerous for an elephant than being close to transport infrastructure like a road or river.

Most of the poaching in Kenya is undertaken during the dry season and the researchers highlighted the predictors for elephant poaching as:

  • density of elephants,
  • condition of vegetation,
  • proximity to ranger bases and outposts,
  • and densities of roads and rivers.

Is KWS losing the support of local residents?

The reports notes concerns of conservation policy and community support that may be having an impact on the KWS ability to protect elephants.  It notes that people living close to the national parks no longer collaborate with the KWS in the same way that they used to.

Part of this break-down in relationship can be explained as the local people move away from pastoral agriculture to one of cultivation. With a lack of compensation for damaged crops from the KWS there is little motivation to try and protect elephants that could damage crops and irrigation structures.

The KWS has also reigned back in investing in local communities. It no longer provides the same degree of support for health centres, schools and medical facilities that it once did. This reduction in community support and investment could mean that the residents no longer see any benefit in providing support and intelligence to the KWS.

This is seen in the number of local residents who are willing to act as guides and porters to the poachers who mainly come from outside Kenya and in particular Somalia.

But the biggest concern that should be thrown up by this report is the fact that, unlike the rest of Africa where poachers go out of their way to avoid ranger camps and patrols, being close to a ranger station is an important predictor of being poached. The authors of the report point out that this may suggest that “there is collusion between anti-poaching units and poachers.

External sites:

Wildlife Research: Spatiotemporal patterns of elephant poaching in south-eastern Kenya.

Posted in Animal and tagged , , .
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  1. Last year there is this group of scientists whose research concluded that allowing trade in endangered specie will reduce poaching cases. How can I trust this study with so many misrepresentation of facts.

  2. Why is there an orchestrated campaign to insinuate that the KWS Rangers are corrupt and are the ones involved in the poaching of Elephants in Kenya but at the same time we acknowledge that poaching in the continent is on the increase? Wildlife news decided not to include the financial constraint that is facing KWS that was in the original report because doing so will not help their agenda. Let us be truthful. When it is alleged that KWS was compensating well, for loss of life, it was a paltry KSH 30,000 (US $400 at that times exchange rate) now it is KSH 300,000 (US $ 3700 at the current exchange rate).is it logical that people are not happy that the amount was increased? Yet there evidence that people are being paid even though they would like it to be increased. I am also of the opinion that the young man from Voi who was killed by an elephant had a bright future and cannot be worth any amount leave alone ksh 300,000. KWS on their own cannot decide to increase this amount; it has to be done by the Kenyan parliament through amendment of the relevant laws. Any attempt to bring cheap racial propaganda in such emotional issue is like adding salt to injury.
    For the allegation that KWS is not investing in the local community, have the authors of this article ever heard of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF)? They seem not to understand that before the introduction of CDF in Kenya KWS was doing that but the ruling class decided to give the mandate of such development to the local politicians. Why should someone in their right mind expect that one section of the community be treated differently that is be given CDF for development of Health Centers and schools and at the same time KWS to build schools and Health Centers. Some other parts of the country without wildlife resource also contribute to the exchequer the same way and with CDF there has been immense increase in these forms of development. I don’t know if in the United Kingdom the law allows for such discrimination. Kenyan law does not and in case it is introduced we will definitely move to court to have it declared unconstitutional.
    Now we want to blame KWS when someone living next to a national park decides to excise his or her constitutional right to change from pastoral agriculture to irrigation based agriculture. This is the most absurd of all the allegations of failure by the author of this report. Could someone explain when KWS was compensating for destruction of crops and property? I do even remember one farmer from Nakuru District who took KWS to court seeking compensation for destruction of his wheat farm by birds. The argument of KWS was that those birds were not classified in law as game birds. In which country did KWS ever even compensate for injury? May be another Kenya because in my home town, there were several people maimed by Leopards, crocodiles etc nobody ever bothered with their hospital bills
    I don’t want anybody to think that I am some apologist for KWS. I am not. There are some issues that I have against the manner in which parks are managed with more inclination towards economic sustainability rather than overall sustainability (including ecological and social) but I realize that there are several factors in play that blaming only one player is not fair. Take Amboseli National Park for example, the same local communities have decided to use their land to build more lodges that the park cannot sustain and KWS is obliged to allow residents of these lodges entry into the park. Any attempt to control traffic is what is causing the KWS management these systematic attacks. I DO NOT SUPORT THE ARREST OF THE ECOTOURISM SOCIETY OF KENYA’S CEO FOR THE ALLEGATIONS HE MADE. WE ALL MUST ACCEPT THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM AND ARREST IS NOT THE WAYB TO GO WHEN SOMEONE MAKES ALLEGATION. I DON’T THINK ECOTOURISM SOCIETY OF KENYA WILL REACT THE SAME WAY TO MY ALLEGATIONS THAT OVER 90% OF THEIR MEMBERS IN KENYA ARE JUST GREEN WASHING AS THEY ARE OPERATING WITHOUT SOME OF THE LICENSES AND PERMITS REQUIRED OF THEM OR THEIR STAFF.
    All said and done it is really sad that the systematic attack that has been directed toward the management of KWS has now degenerated to involve the hard working rangers in the whole country being accused of killing the same animals some of their colleagues have lost their lives protecting.
    If we really care about these elephants, we should all fight to address all the factors contributing to the increase in poaching in the continent like the rapid growth of the economies that are known to be the consumers of elephant products as well as the opening up to these economies by our governments, WHAT WE SHOULD NOT DO IS TO CLAIM THAT KENYAN RANGERS ARE MORE CORRUPT LIKE THAN THEIR COUNTERPARTS IN WAR TORN COUNTIES.

    • Hi Were Joseph

      I have to agree with you on a lot of your points.

      I’ve always thought that the Kenya Wildlife Service was one of the best wildlife ranger services in the world so when this report was published with its conclusions it was something I certainly did not expect.

      If the report is true and poachers are happy and comfortable working in close proximity to ranger camps in Kenya then that has to be invetigated and the reasons need to be found.


  3. thank you for sharing! Its shocking to see how far curruption can take a human, without any regrads, now soul !!!! hope that there are one that stands up and say “no more” !!!!! scrutinaise the people who we are suppose to trust!!!!!

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