The battle of informer networks in Kenyan anti-poaching

By Rosalind Johnson, Care for the Wild Project and Development Assistant

At the beginning of June we rejoiced the landmark move from the Kenyan cabinet in ratifying the Wildlife Bill and Policy by putting up penalties for poaching by a whopping 2500% and increasing jail time by 700%. At the ground level the ‘why’ is obvious: so far the country has lost 117 of its remaining 38,500 elephants, and 21 of its 1,025 rhinos. So on the international scale, it’s a step in the right direction that Care for the Wild’s ‘G8 or too late campaign’ saw success.

In the final communiqué of the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland, member countries placed the fight against the illegal trade in wildlife alongside fighting corruption, transnational organized crime and illicit trafficking of drugs and people by agreeing to “… also take action to tackle the illegal trafficking of protected or endangered wildlife species.”

Poaching is no longer a local issue, it is armed and organised, but this move towards a solution gives the highly threatened and precious Kenyan wildlife a chance. Our anti-poaching teams in Kenya patrol with the protection of armed Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers, but despite this the dense vegetation and increased presence of poaching gangs posed a real personal safety risk and great challenge for the team this month.

The areas with high bandit presence unsurprisingly are also those identified earlier this year using GPS mapping technology as priority active poaching hot spots. It is no secret that poaching of ivory is growing due to the big business gains to be made by incoming criminal gangs. On the ground this translates to two main issues: well-armed poaching gangs and bribed community informers.

Use of our growing network of intelligence is one of the key ways our teams work to enforce and make arrest of criminal poachers – but poaching gangs also have friends in the communities. The teams have relayed that a growing presence of mobile phones within the communities surrounding these key areas has given poachers an edge of early warning, in some cases leading to criminal escape and greatly increasing their own personal risk.

Head of Care for the Wild Kenya Asgar Pathan reports: “There are currently no-go zones, highly occupied by bandits. Patrolling has to be carefully planned through gathered information from KWS intelligence and informers. The poachers are always on high alert and have their associates within the communities who update via cell phones our presence – we always have to be on high alert not to fall into a trap.”

Care for the Wild Kenya recognises the importance of engaging, training and growing community-wide support if we are to tackle the challenges of this growing and technologically equipped enemy to wildlife. We have a number of initiatives in development via livelihood and education incentives. Our committed team this month however came up with a novel scheme to continue to tackle de-snaring in the riskiest regions.

Local Tsavo communities rely heavily on livestock, and the loss of a single cow can have a devastating effect on the security of herdsmen and their families. In the communities, due to food insecurity, small bushmeat is taken via snares and bribes taken from poaching gangs to supplement diet. The Tsavo team are working with these communities, particularly in high risk hotspots, to reduce these impacts and grow our informer groups.

On the border of one no-go zone, currently under heavy KWS armed patrol to deal with a particularly prolific criminal group, the team discovered something very interesting – the herdsmen need to take cattle to wild grazing pastures in this sensitised region. They are not a target to poachers so do not face personal risk but in those pastures they are losing cattle to snares.

By training and working with these herdsmen the teams recruited effective and invested community volunteers to de-snare a total of 62 snares in one month in an area that otherwise would be out of bounds.

We at Care for the Wild know the incredible battle on the ground faced by our Kenyan team every day and work at all levels to prevent the loss of this vital ecosystem and the incredible species that call it home.In order to tackle poaching for good we need your support to allow our teams to target these threats from all sides.

Read about the work of Care for the Wild Kenya here

Find out about our G8 or Too Late campaign here

Hear about CEO’s Phil Mansbridge most recent field visit here

£10 a month would allow us to grow our vital anti-poaching patrols in Kenya – show your support here