Chasing Cattle to Save Elephants


David Daballen

Date Published

On November 20th, I received an urgent call from Iain Craig, Director of Conservation at the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT): Cattle rustlers on the attack! Ian and his team were already hot in pursuit, but needed Save the Elephants’ landscape knowledge, machinery and manpower. STE immediately dispatched a team led by Chris Ledasimo to help in the ambush and recovery of the stolen cattle.

Chris teamed up with a ranger from Lewa Conservancy to lead the ground teams’ efforts while Ian coordinated from the air. Half an hour into the search, Chris reported that they had found the point at the Waso River where the stolen cows had crossed. A contingent of security personnel from the Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU), Lewa, Nasuulu, Leparua and the Administration Police all convened at the Waso Bridge.

The team then started working out the plan of action – quite a challenge in such a wide expanse as Samburu National Reserve. One of the team was Lesayaa, a young Samburu bush expert who was recently employed by STE’s anti-poaching program. His knowledge and familiarity with the local topography got things moving again. He suggested that the search would be faster and more successful if extended to areas outside the reserve. The teams drove through Westgate, West of Kiltamany hills. They soon found fresh cattle and human tracks that meant the rustlers were just a couple of miles ahead.

An exchange of fire

We maintained radio communication with the teams as they got closer to the cattle. The operation commanders gave their orders. The NRT aircraft soon spotted the cattle and directed the security teams towards the cattle. As the ground force advanced there was an exchange of fire and gunshots could be heard from different directions. The security team proved effective and the rustlers soon fled, abandoning the cattle. The security personnel then took control and drove the cattle back to the owners who confirmed that none were missing.

Cattle in the north of Kenya are a form of wealth as real as money, and a large-scale raid is as significant as a bank robbery. Raids and counter raids increase insecurity and so has a bearing on the fate of the region’s elephants. Save the Elephants collaborates with the Northern Rangelands Trust in many things. By helping the security forces and community combat cattle rustling, together we win the trust and confidence of local people. In turn they recognize the value of community conservation and their wildlife, and fish out poachers from their midst.