‘Stop killing the elephants!’ Worry as rampant poaching threatens wildlife (Kenya)


Jacob Walter, The Nation

Date Published

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The killing of two elephants in Kalacha this week has once again shone the spotlight on rampant poaching in Marsabit County, which is threatening to wipe out wildlife in the region. 

Authorities recovered two rifles and four rounds of ammunition in a security operation following the incident. County Police Commander Martin Kibet said a bullet obtained from one of the carcasses would be subjected to ballistic testing. 

The two elephants were killed when they strayed from Marsabit Forest via Hurri Hills into Kalacha. A third elephant was rescued by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers. A week ago, residents raised concerns over the establishment of a Kenya Defence Forces camp in Kalacha. They claimed the camp had interfered with the elephants’ migratory corridor.

A local conservationist, Prof Elizabeth Pantoren, said the camp risked worsening human-wildlife conflict as the elephants now strayed into schools and villages. 

Economic Consequences 

The elephant population in northern Kenya stands at 177, according to the last census that was carried out in 2020. [Please note that this figure of 177 is erroneous given that it refers to the Marsabit population rather than that of northern Kenya. —STE editor]

Upper Eastern Regional KWS Director Robert O’Brien said Marsabit is at the heart of the country’s illicit trade in wildlife. “We fear all the Big Five could become extinct if nothing is done to curb poaching and other cultural practices that promote the killing of wild animals,” Mr O’Brien said. He added that elephants are prized for their tusks, tails and hides — assets that have pushed them to the brink of extinction. 

Mr O’Brien pointed out that, since the country relies on wildlife tourism as one of its sources of income, poaching had adverse economic effects. He further noted that the negative impacts of poaching also extend to culture as extinction of species will rob future generations of the chance to experience wildlife, thus depriving them of their cultural heritage. 

He observed that local communities rely on wildlife for their cultural identities as they used various animals’ body parts for traditional rituals. 

Cultural Heritage 

For instance, the Rendille and Samburu use lions skins during rites of passage of boys into manhood, while the Turkana use ostrich feathers and the Daasanach leopard skins. 

Young men from the Borana and Gabra communities present the girls they are wooing with elephant tails and ears as a symbol of might and virility. The Wayyu have composed songs in praise of the delicious ostrich meat. 

Mr O’Brien observed that, as these communities continue to kill endangered wild animals, they also destroy their cultural heritage that should be passed on to future generations. This destruction will leave an ecological and cultural vacuum that might be impossible to fill, he said, while expressing concerns that elephant deaths over the decades have exceeded their birth rate. 

He cited the example of Hurri Hills that is no longer inhabited by elephants.