Poaching cartels linked to powerful politicians could be taking advantage of the herders’ invasions in Laikipia ranches and conservancies to kill wild animals as they advance their illegal trade, the Daily Nation can reveal.
Independent investigations by Nation indicate that criminals, who are said to enjoy the support of powerful politicians, have identified loopholes in the security operations within the conservancies, which they continue to exploit for their gain.
Majority of the interviewed security managers and employees within the animal sanctuaries painted the picture of a well-connected cartel that is targeting wildlife, particularly elephants, giraffes, buffalos, and zebras.
In Mugie conservancy, one of the largest in Laikipia North covering 49,000 acres, more than 30 Grevy’s zebras, 25 buffalos, eight elephants and 10 giraffes, among other endangered species have been killed.
According to Mr Solomon Epokor, a security manager at the conservancy, the invasions by pastoralists, mainly from the neighbouring Samburu, Isiolo and Baringo counties, now threaten wildlife in the animal sanctuary.
“Animals are now endangered as their habitats have been encroached by an estimated 50,000 livestock.
“But the most disheartening part is the killing of wildlife in the conservancy, which is among the most protected areas for rare species in the world,” Mr Epokor told the Nation team when it visited the conservancy that rolls across the Laikipia plateau on the edge of the Great Rift Valley.
The poachers, he said, have identified private animal sanctuaries as soft targets for their illegal trade.
“Poachers supported by selfish politicians are behind the killings of wildlife in the conservancies because the pastoralists only kill dangerous animals for defence when they are confronted. But the trend of animals being killed every day is worrying,” said Mr Epokor.
The Grevy’s zebra — a threatened species in the world – and elephants have been the hardest hit.
“Laikipia, which is home to more than 6,000 elephants and other animals including lions and the rare Grevy’s zebra, is a renowned stronghold of wildlife outside Kenya’s national parks and reserves.
“The rich diversity of wildlife is currently under threat,” said Mr Martin Evans, the managing director of Ol Maisor Farm.
Mr Jammie Manuel, the wildlife manager at the Mugie conservancy, noted that the animal population at the once vibrant sanctuary has declined due to the invasions.
“The more than 50,000 cattle, goats and sheep have greatly contributed to loss of habitat of rare wild animals and that may lead to extinction of some species,” he said.
The Grevy’s zebra is also found in other conservancies in the area including Loisaba and Suiyan, both in Laikipia North.