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2021 Numbers (Unofficial) Indicate that Poaching/Trafficking Still Active in Kenya

Turning back the calendar to 2012, I am sure that  Dr. Julius Kipng’etich, then Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), would agree it was not one of his finest hours. Challenged publicly over poaching statistics by Kahindi Lekalhaile, the CEO of EcoTourism Kenya, DG Kipng’etich had Lekalhaile arrested for the not oft used offence of ‘undermining the authority of a public officer’.
 
Mr. Lekalhaile had dared to comment through a newspaper editorial that DG Kipng’etich’s claims that only 275 elephants had been poached in 2011 was considerably understated.  Lekalhaile stated that the number could be 10 times that (which certainly could have been closer to the truth). Amidst a public furore, the charges against Mr. Lekalhaile were dropped 10 days later, but a clear indicator that KWS were then a little prickly on “poaching numbers”.
 
This irascibility over poaching/trafficking numbers exhibited by KWS 10 years ago is still prevalent to this day.  In fairness, however, a similar testiness can be found amongst all African elephant/rhino range states who typically downplay the numbers of elephants or rhinos poached or even the size of their pachyderm populations (or inflate dependant on circumstances).  It is somewhat ironic that the respective national wildlife authorities would have such thin skin over these numbers that are “guesstimates” at best.
 
This report is about poaching/trafficking numbers in Kenya in the year 2012. The numbers quoted are indicative of the number of ivory, rhino horn, sandalwood and bushmeat seizures that have been made in Kenya in the year 2021. There is no guessing involved. These numbers, while unofficial, are essentially irrefutable and are a compilation of facts found through public criminal court records, Kenya media sources, or information publicly accessible from the websites of the Big Life Foundation (Kenya) and the Mara Elephant Project. 
 
While these statistics are based on documented evidence, they are not the true count.  These numbers are, unfortunately, just a fraction of the total of wildlife trophies and by products that are being sold and trafficked throughout Kenya.  The real numbers, if they could be ascertained, would be much higher.
 
There are two reasons for this.  First, KWS as an organization is somewhat reticent in publicising their  boots on the ground effectiveness in making poaching/trafficking arrests and seizures across the country.  Secondly, and as is generally recognized, seizures of contraband are typically just a fraction of the actual amount of product that is being trafficked. 
 
In 2021, there is documentary evidence that law enforcement agencies in Kenya (KWS, NPS and DCI) made ivory seizures totalling 890 kg over 32 incidents.  Presently, the recognised average tusk weight for an African elephant is 5 kg.  Therefore, 890 kg of ivory at 10 kg of ivory per elephant is representative (estimated) at 89 elephants.
 
The actual amount of contraband being trafficked could be anywhere between 5-10 times that.  Yes, it is a guess but what is an absolute certainty is that more than 890 kg of ivory ‘moved” through Kenya in the calendar year 2021.
 
The term ‘moved’ would be appropriate here as it cannot be stated with certainty that the ivory was actually poached or originated from Kenya.  The ivory could have come from elephants that died of natural causes, it could have come from ivory that has been buried or stockpiled for some years, it could have come from ivory that transited from Uganda, Tanzania or elsewhere. These are all explanations typically provided by various national ministries or agencies of elephant range states wishing to downplay their actual poaching numbers while in stark contrast, hundreds of tonnes of ivory are being seized in South East Asia.
 
KWS has yet to publish any elephant or rhino poaching numbers for 2021. In 2020, they announced that 11 elephants had been poached and zero rhinos. It was, however, recently published that 62 elephants had died in Kenya between August and December 2021 due to drought conditions.
Ivory, rhino and sandalwood incidents in Kenya 2021.

THE MAP

The above map details general areas of arrests/seizures made of the flora/fauna depicted (sandalwood in green). The orange elephants are seizures made through the joint efforts of the anti poaching teams of the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) and KWS. The red elephants are seizures made through the joint efforts of Big Life Foundation (Kenya) and KWS. The deep red elephants are seizures that have been documented by either court documents or Kenya media outlets.  As a caution, the incident locations circled in orange (MEP) and circled in red (Big Life) are applicable to their area of operations, Greater Mara Ecosystem and Greater Tsavo Conservation Area respectively, and are very general. 

DISCLAIMER: The ivory  arrest numbers and map information involving the Big Life Foundation Kenya and the Mara Elephant Project has been compiled specifically from their websites. 

IVORY

The ivory seizure total of 890 kg is comparable to the 2020 figure of 980.5 kg of ivory seized; those figures also including seizure/arrests from the MEP and Big Life Kenya.  Ivory poaching numbers were taken by SEEJ-AFRICA for 2018 and 2019 (below) but did not include seizures from MEP or Big Life Kenya. 

2021:  SEEJ – 890 kg (equivalent to 89 elephants)                 KWS – Not yet published

2020:  SEEJ – 980.5 kg  (equivalent to 98 elephants)             KWS – 11 elephants
 
2019:  SEEJ – 839 kg  (equivalent to 84 elephants)                 KWS – 34 elephants
 
2018:  SEEJ – 795 kg  (equivalent to 79 elephants)                 KWS – 40 elephants
This 101 kg ivory seizure in the coastal county of Kwale and proximity to Shimba Hills National Reserve was the largest known of the year 2021.
This 100 kg ivory seizure in Kangari town was the second (known) largest in 2021.

RHINOS

While it has not been acknowledged officially by KWS, a number of different sources within Kenya and globally, report that poaching of rhinos has taken place in 2021.  The information obtained from various confidential sources has not been specific to numbers, date and locations but it appears that the number of rhinos poached for their horn is at a minimum of three and possibly as many as six.  The effected parks are Solio Ranch, Nakuru National Park and Ruma National Park in western Kenya.  In perspective with the rhino poaching in South Africa or Botswana, it is a drop in the bucket, but still a concern.

The official numbers of rhino poached within Kenya in the last four years are as follows:

2021:  Three to six (unofficial)
 
2020: Zero
 
2019: Three or four rhinos poached dependant on source.
 
2018:  Four rhinos poached, 11 died in re-location project.
 
2017:  Nine rhinos
Abdikadir Yusuf and Kowsar Ugas when they appeared before the Kibera Law Courts September 2020 charged with trafficking two rhino horn. PHOTO | JOSEPH NDUNDA

SANDALWOOD AND BUSHMEAT

SEEJ-AFRICA has only recently adjusted focus to include the sandalwood and bushmeat trade within Kenya, both which are generally known to have increased substantially during 2021.

Big Life Kenya reports being involved in sandalwood seizures involving KWS to a tune of almost 9000 kg over the 2021 calendar year.  That is believed to have included a massive 5.5 tonne sandalwood seizure made in the Emali area on April 8th, 2021. Six suspects were arrested. 

The bushmeat trade in 2021 has also mushroomed exponentially as also reported by an ODPP prosecutor at a recent Mombasa seminar on “Reducing Maritime Trafficking of Wildlife Between Africa and Asia”. 

Big Life Kenya made bushmeat seizures in excess of 1800 kg throughout the year. On July 18th, 2021, KWS officers arrested 3 men and seized 1500 kg of zebra meat in the Burma market of Nairobi. 

On July 5th, 2021, the law court in the town of Voi, sentenced three men to 16 years jail for poaching 186 dik diks three weeks previous. 

HOW IS IVORY LEAVING THE COUNTRY?

From 2018 and 2021 inclusive, Kenyan law enforcement authorities have seized 3,504 kg of ivory. The actual amount of ivory moving through Kenya to be trafficked to South east Asia could, however, be as high as 35,000 kg.  While it sounds obscenely high, from a theoretical perspective, it is more than plausible.

Regardless of the total, the ivory that has not been seized is leaving the country from somewhere.  The typical trafficking operation has small amounts of ivory being transported to collection points for consolidation.  The Mombasa and Nairobi area have in the past been the location of these collection points.

Mombasa Port has not registered a seizure since December 2016 although the 1097 kg of ivory that was seized had to be returned to Mombasa after it had cleared the port, based on information and/or assistance from outside external agencies. The last seizure in Mombasa Port based on regular search protocols was in October 2013 when two containers from Uganda were seized within days of each other and found to contain almost 5 tonnes of ivory.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) has in the past been the other port of egress used by traffickers. The last seizure of significance that involved JKIA was in June 2017 when 217 kg of ivory was seized from a home located within close proximity to the airport. Five of the seven accused all had working connections with JKIA.  From all appearances, there has been no subsequent spin off investigation into the use of the airport as a wildlife trafficking hub. 

With no substantive amount of Kenyan ivory having been seized outside the country for over five years, the question is perplexing.  Have authorities stalled the Kenyan involved ivory cartels or have the logistic wheels of these same cartels been greased so well with corruption, that no seizure is even possible?

Unfortunately, answer ‘B’ is the more realistic.

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