The British Army has deployed 25 military instructors to Kenya to train game rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Kenya Forestry Services (KFS) on conducting effective counter-poaching operations.
The deployment comes in the wake of an upsurge in militarised poaching of elephant and rhino in East Africa which has been blamed on organised, trans-national crime syndicates and regional rebel groups like the Somali militant group Al Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which stand accused of using proceeds from poaching to fund their rebellions.
British High Commissioner to Kenya Christian Turner said 25 troops drawn from The Rifles training group of the Third Battalion will train Kenyan rangers in Nanyuki north of the capital Nairobi. Turner said the troops will only provide training to Kenyan rangers and will never be involved in direct operations against poachers.
He said the deployment is part of a continuing, six-week rotational training programme for the KWS and KFS which began last December with the aim of sharing operational tactics with Kenyan rangers following the killing of over 60 rangers on duty across the country by poachers in the past two years.
“The British Army has been conducting its own training programmes in Kenya for years but from December, the UK has offered training support to KWS and KFS. By joining forces with those on the frontline in Kenya, our armed forces will be able to provide training and support to the people who put their lives on the line every day,” Turner said.
The counter-poaching training programme is aimed at sharing operational tactics to assist rangers in the ongoing fight against poachers. British Defence attaché to Kenya Brigadier Duncan Francis said the training programme is part of the UK’s contribution to securing endangered animal species in Africa.
“This deployment is an example of the British Army taking positive action on an issue close to many people’s hearts. The soldiers involved in this training will be making an immense contribution to securing the future of some of the world’s most endangered species,” Duncan told the London Daily Mail.
KWS communications officer Paul Udoto said 60 game rangers were killed by poachers while on duty in 2013. However, he said KWS has not yet found any evidence proving the alleged link between the poaching crisis and the funding of regional terror groups.
“The poachers we have arrested in the past few years have not shown any linkage to terrorism. Poaching has effectively been fought by nabbing poachers at ports and airports through security screening,” Udoto said.
However, the US government and conservation activists argue there is evidence which proves armed rebel groups in East, West and Central Africa are now funding their operations from the large scale poaching of elephant populations due to the success of international sanctions which have choked their access to money and the means to earn it.
Poaching has evolved into a national security crisis in Kenya despite government efforts to improve security in game parks through the employment of more game rangers and the installation of new security and surveillance systems in major game sanctuaries.
Recently police in Mombasa arrested a man who was found with nearly 200 elephant tusks and other ivory-based artefacts as he tried to board a ship destined for Asia. The arrest came less than a month after immigration officers in the same port arrested two suspects who were found carrying 152 kilogrammes of ivory, also destined for markets the Far East.
According to KWS estimates, at least 18 rhinos and 70 elephants have been killed by poachers since the beginning of 2014. Conservationists have accused the service of downplaying the figures following the discovery of 119 old and newly dehorned elephant carcasses in the Masai Mara Game Reserve.
In April, the Kenyan government suspended five top wildlife officials on suspicion of mismanagement and involvement in poaching. The government also took over the running of the organisation for three months but the country remains a source and transit hub for the illegal wildlife trade between Africa and Asian markets.
Senior environment ministry official Richard Lesiyampe said the suspensions were meant to pave the way for investigations into allegations that senior KWS officials failed to make use of the state-of-the-art night vision equipment and weapons ordered by the government last year.
“The poaching and trafficking in wildlife has increased in sophistication and scope. We want to understand why our efforts are not working,” Lesiyampe said.