Poaching in the Tsavo National Park has escalated after illegal grazers with thousands of livestock invaded the area.
The poachers disguise themselves as herders to kill elephants. Last Friday, Kenya Wildlife Service personnel killed four armed poachers at Koito in Galana within the Tsavo East National Park.
During the sting operation, a senior KWS officer was shot dead and another sustained injuries in a fierce shootout.
The officers were pursuing two poachers who had escaped during a shootout at 11am. They caught up with them in the evening and gunned them down.
Taita Taveta police commander Fredrick Ochieng told the Star two AK-47 rifles and 35 bullets were recovered from the slain poachers.
Two elephant tusks weighing 14.5kg were also recovered. Ochieng said the identity of the poachers is yet to be established, but they are suspected to be from the Wardei community in Ganze, Tana River county.
The injured KWS officer was taken to St Joseph Hospital in Voi and admitted in serious but stable condition.
“Police have joined KWS personnel in patrolling the Tsavo East National park to ensure poachers have no room to operate,” Ochieng said.
He urged the public to report any suspicious people trying to sneak into the park.
Two weeks ago, KWS rangers killed another poacher in Tsavo East National Park. It is believed the suspects killed on Friday belong to a gang that has been killing animals.
KWS spokesperson Paul Gathitu told the Star on the phone the killing of the four is a breakthrough in the fight against poaching in Tsavo.
He said they are investigating escalation of poaching. “China has planned to close its importation of wildlife trophies by the end of this year. Europe is also planning to stop importation of wildlife trophies. We don’t know whether the poachers are taking advantage of the window before the market is closed,” he said.
On high alert
Gathitu said KWS and other security forces are on high alert to fight wildlife crimes. Information from KWS indicates that from late December, several poaching incidents have been reported across the country.
On December 22, three suspected poachers were intercepted by KWS patrol teams in the Taita ranches. Several ambushes were mounted and one suspect was gunned down and two elephant tusks recovered. The suspects had killed an elephant two weeks earlier and had gone to collect the tusks, which they had hidden.
On December 31, a fire was reported by patrol teams within Ngulia Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park. KWS security teams assisted by Air Recce spotted two rhino carcasses 33m apart.
The poachers had made away with the horns. On January 5, two poachers out to kill rhinos at River Njoro inside Lake Nakuru National Park engaged KWS patrol teams in a shoot-out.
One poacher was gunned down, while the other escaped with serious gunshot wounds.
The same day, a notorious poacher was arrested in Tsavo East National Park. He had just killed an elephant at Chakama near Kulalu Ranch. Two poisoned arrows, one elephant tusk and a bow were recovered.
On January 6, Maasai elders around Tsavo West National Park surrendered two elephant tusks. This was a result of sustained pressure and outreach by KWS teams following the killing of an elephant two weeks earlier.