Star (Kenya)

Elephants
Elephants

We refer to the article titled ‘Liberate Wildlife, KWS from Dr Leakey’ by Ndung’u Njaga, which was published by the Star on Monday. The Kenya Wildlife Service takes exception to the claim that it is “stuck in an administrative paralysis imposed by the current board of trustee’s chairman, Dr Richard Leakey”.

Whereas Dr Leakey chairs the Board of Trustees once quarterly, KWS is run by a structured management team supported by thematic committees of the board. The three main committees are Conservation, Finance and Audit. Each has a competent chair and is comprised of experienced professionals, including from government.

The extreme expressions of the writer, who is a former staff of KWS, can be judged through inaccurate assertions such as “KWS has been without a substantive DG for over a year”, yet the former DG left in July 2017.

Contrary to this sensational and misleading article, KWS is recovering and is well on its path to its former status. Among the key achievements of the current board is the creation of an endowment fund holding over Sh2 billion. The vehicles so far procured are 30 Land Cruisers and a translocation truck, of which 26 are to be delivered next week. A further 26 are expected by June.

KWS’s recent anti-poaching performance, unlike before 2014, has been particularly successful. In the wildlife aerial survey supported by several partners in the Tsavo-Mkomazi Ecosystem in February last year, the census counted a total of 12,866 elephants. Overall, the elephant population in Tsavo-Mkomazi Ecosystem increased by 14.7 per cent over the last three years.

The buffalo population in the ecosystem was 8,623, a 46 per cent increase compared to 5,912 in 2014. The census indicated the ecosystem supports 4,323 giraffes compared to 2,891 in 2014. Group sizes of up to 80 individuals were recorded last year. This represents an increase of 49.5 per cent, which is a very good result, considering the threat giraffes face due to poaching for meat.

In the past three to four years, the KWS spearheaded inter-agency collaboration that has virtually subdued poaching. The KWS has performed exceptionally well in the protection and breeding of Kenya’s rhinos. Whilst nine were poached, 98 births were recorded by last November.

The reopening of infrastructure in parks such as Nasolot, Marsabit, Kora, and Tsavo has also impacted positively on tourist numbers. Several projects aimed at mitigating human-wildlife conflict are in progress, including installation of electric fences in the greater Laikipia West, ADC Mutara, Rumuruti and Laikipia nature conservancy.

Training of conservancy rangers from Laikipia, Turkana, and Kajiado last December was a major boost to resolving human-wildlife conflict and enhancing community benefit from wildlife. Management plans for Kor, Sibiloi and Longonot are due for completion by June.

Whilst the KWS was seriously short of patrol planes in 2014, the KWS Airwing now includes a Cessna 206, four Aviate Huskies and two helicopters, aside from others from partners brought to work together by the KWS management.

These aircraft have been a great facility in all the wildlife censuses, ear-notching exercises and elephant drives to prevent human-wildlife conflict in areas such as Kajiado, Narok, and Nakuru, as well as livestock drives out of various parks such as Tsavo and Meru. The KWS Airwing is soon completing rehabilitation of its famous Caravan plane.

The writer’s claim that KWS had been declared technically insolvent is misapplication of facts by blaming it on the current board. It should be noted that the audit report status was an accumulation of financial trends carried forward from several years prior to the appointment of the current board.

The KWS is, therefore, not insolvent and has continued to meet its obligations to its creditors.

Staff welfare issues are also being addressed. The long outstanding adjustment of the KWS salary structure has started. The 2017 annual increment was paid. Medical benefit was increased in November, while annual salary increments for 2016, which had not been paid due to cash flow, were eventually awarded in January 2017.

Wildlife conservation remains a complex field, requiring commitment and continuous partnership with stakeholders from across the divide. The 2008-14 alarming poaching trends are behind us.

The quest for conservation should not be diverted by unsupported claims that do not tally with realities in the field. The assault by an ex-employee on Dr Leakey was unwarranted. KWS is on course towards recovery.

Julius Kimani, KWS Acting director general