Investigators have linked the disappearance of two men to a poaching cartel involving a senior Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) ranger.
Their vehicle was found abandoned near Solio Ranch.
Both are residents of Nyeri, but Kihato hails from Weteithie in Thika, while Wanjohi lives in Skuta, Nyeri.
The Standard has learnt that a team of detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigation had identified the KWS ranger as the key suspect in the disappearance of the two, who are said to be his former accomplices in ivory and horns trade.
The disappearance may also be linked to a number of unsolved killings linked to a poaching ring operating in the vast Solio Ranch in Nyeri.
The reports of the involvement of the senior ranger to poaching emerged as relatives of the missing men admitted that they could have been involved in illegal activities.
According to statements filed with the investigators, the rogue ranger had been named as the central player in a poachers’ ring that may have been behind a series of previous executions.
The claims came at a time when the wildlife agency, after a fairly quiet 2016, had been fighting the resurgence of poaching at Solio.
This year alone, three rhinos have been killed at the heavily protected ranch between Nyeri and Laikipia counties. In the most recent incident, a pregnant female rhino was shot with a tranquiliser and her horns removed while the animal was still alive.
A KWS officer who spoke to The Standard described the frustration of watching helplessly as the animal died.
“It was the most traumatising thing I have ever seen. We called for a vet who came immediately and you could see that the animal was in pain,” said the ranger.
Detectives now say the missing men were in constant contact with the suspected game warder and that they acted as brokers in ivory trade.
A senior officer who is privy to the report made on Monday afternoon said relatives reported having met the rogue officer at their home in Thika when he had come looking for their son.
“The relatives knew what business they were involved in but chose to keep it under wraps,” said the officer who requested anonymity. “His mother said that when her son left, he said he had gone to work.”
According to a statement from one of the relatives of the missing men, an unidentified man had approached with a business proposal with lucrative returns.
The unidentified man later sent pictures of wildlife trophies to the missing man, whose father confirmed to our source that he had seen the pictures.
“I told him that this business was not good and he shouldn’t go on with it,” the man stated.
Because of the knowledge of their kin’s involvement with poachers, they suspect Wanjohi and Mungai could have fallen in a mafia-style execution to tie the loose ends and avert revelation of the ranger’s involvement in poaching.
Some of the theories that the police are following include that the two were middlemen linking the poachers to the market and that they made away with a share of proceeds from the illegal trade.
Another is that the duo could have severed their links with the poachers and had been abducted and possibly killed to silence them.
A report made on Saturday by a close family member of the two pointed to the first theory – that the group had fallen out with dangerous men over money.
“They were middlemen in an ivory trade but could not pay one of their associates since the one who had the money had been arrested and charged in Nyahururu,” one relative said.
“They made plans to bail him out so that he could leave custody and ask those who took the package to pay up, but the title deed they presented was rejected and there was a disagreement,” he added.
The kinsman claimed that the KWS officer was at the Nyahururu Courts.
Kieni West OCPD Joseph Ombijah confirmed police had established that the missing men had links to poachers but could not say if they were investigating any wildlife ranger.
The police boss said they were probing the men’s phone records to determine what numbers they were in contact with before they went missing.
“We have so far discovered that they had ties with poachers, but we cannot say that they were KWS officers,” he said.
But the men’s family members now fear that time may be running out for their missing relatives. They claimed they had been receiving threats from unknown people, and that on June 6, before the two went missing, some strangers ransacked their houses.
KWS Aberdare National Park Senior Warden Catherine Wambani said she was not aware of any ranger’s involvement in poaching or being linked to the men’s disappearance.
“I have not seen the statements from the police, and I am not aware about such information,” she said.