Thursday, August 28, 2014

Corrupt Kenyan Wildlife Rangers Kill Poachers to Cover Up KWS Officers' Involvement in Elephant Poaching

A Maasai tribesman places his hand on a tusk of a tranquilized elephant in southern Kenya.

It has recently been reported by a Kenyan human rights group that corrupt wildlife rangers are killing elephant poachers to cover up the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers' involvement with the criminals who have been massacring the country's elephants. The Muslims for Human Rights organization, which is one of the most esteemed human rights groups in Kenya, chronicled the disappearance of eighteen suspected poachers over the past three years in Tsavo National Park which is currently home to 11,000 elephants. According to Francis Auma, the group's official, eight of the supposed poachers were last seen in the custody of KWS officers and their bodies were later found in forests after being killed and eaten by wild animals. He further added that ten others were shot dead by rangers, according to witnesses. A report which  consisted of interviews with KWS rangers whose identities were not exposed indicated that officers would deal with the poachers and help them with their illegal activities. In return, the officers would receive a portion of the profits from the poachers and kill them in order to prevent them from informing about the officers involved in poaching. The report further pointed out that in other incidents, officers involved in poaching would introduce poachers to a buyer interested in ivory but then kill the poachers and take the payment. In addition, no investigations have been conducted regarding the disappearances and killings of the eighteen suspects because their families were afraid to make formal complaints to the police. Famed conservationist and KWS founding chairman Richard Leakey stated that the organization is known to carry out extrajudicial killings "from time to time." He indicated that most poachers in the vicinity of Tsavo National Park are Muslim, often from Somalia, and that some members of the KWS could be anti-Somali because of terrorist attacks in Kenya by the militants of al-Shabaab. In March, Mr. Leakey stated that the KWS had been penetrated by powerful people embellishing themselves from poaching. Later, the government placed six senior wildlife officials on leave. Three were cleared of charges, while the other three stay under investigation. A government report issued in June indicated that some staff members of the KWS have been involved in the poaching of elephants and rhinos.

It is extremely appalling and outrageous to see that members of the KWS have become involved in poaching, even though their main objective is to combat the wildlife crime that has been decimating Africa's elephant population between 2010 and 2012. Not only have these corrupt officers become involved in poaching, but they have been killing poachers or having poachers killed simply to cover up their involvement in the crime in order to save their prestige and dignity. This is like having police officers becoming involved in criminal activities and killing the criminals instead of placing them under arrest just so they could maintain their status as "honest" fighters of crime. Even worse is that such poachers killed in the hands of corrupt KWS officers and rangers have been victims of racism, due to the fact that they are Muslim and often of Somali origin. The bigotry towards these criminals stems from the terrorist attacks conducted in Kenya by the militants of al-Shabaab. Ironically, al-Shabaab has been linked to the continuous poaching of elephants along with the Janjaweed and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) who have been known to profit from the illegal ivory trade to carry out their civil wars towards innocent people. The involvement of KWS officers in poaching activities indicates that they are a disgrace to the organization. For this reason, it is absolutely crucial that the KWS must launch an investigation in order to remove officers, rangers, and other staff members responsible for being involved in poaching activities and killing poachers to save their prestige and dignity. Those that are found to be responsible for their actions should be eliminated from their positions. In addition, the KWS must improvise its guidelines when recruiting new trainees for the battle against poaching by enforcing a zero-tolerance policy towards discreet involvement in poaching activities and racially motivated attacks on poachers or anybody suspected of being poachers. Furthermore, shooting towards poachers should primarily be done as a last resort for self-defense. This way, KWS cannot attract negative attention from human rights organizations or any other groups.

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