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