NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 4 – Twelve people have been arrested by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials with two rhino horns valued at Sh2.1 million.
KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich said on Monday that the suspects were arrested in connection with poaching of a 10-year-old female rhino at the Mugie rhino sanctuary in Laikipia West District last week.
“We hope they will be arraigned in court this (Monday) afternoon,” he said of the suspects who were also arrested with Sh647,000 suspected to be part of the transaction money.
He said six of the suspects were intercepted near Loruk trading centre in Baringo East district in a four-wheel-drive vehicle carrying two rhino horns weighing a total of 7.2 kgs believed to belong to the poached animal.
“A kilogramme of rhino horn can cost anything from Sh300,000 and the horn of a mature rhino weighs about seven to 10 kilogrammes,” Dr Kipng’etich said.
He said a follow up raid was conducted in Luonyek trading centre at the residence of one of the suspected poachers who sold the two rhino horns to the six arrested suspects and five other subsequent arrests were made.
“For us as Kenya, we have the third largest herd of rhinos in the world so even the loss of just one means a lot to us,” he said.
According to the KWS Director, the Kenya black rhino population now stands at 600, while the white rhinos are 240.
Before the rampant poaching of rhinos in the 1970s, Kenya had about 20,000 black rhinos but poaching reduced the numbers to less than 300 by the mid 80s.
“The poaching season is normally in April but it seems the poachers have changed tactics. They thought because it was a holiday season we would relax our surveillance but they were wrong,” he said.
Dr Kipng’etich said the poached rhino horns were mainly sold in the Asian and Middle East markets, particularly Yemen.
Kenya aims to conserve at least 700 black rhinos in the wild by next year with a long term vision of at least 2,000 animals in the wild.
“With continued commitment and concerted security and scientific efforts, this vision will be achieved in 25 to 30 years,” he said.
Globally black rhinos are estimated to be 4,200 while white rhinos are 17,500.
Poaching in Kenya hit the critical one percent of the rhino population in 2009 for the first time in 25 years. Twelve black rhinos which represent two percent of the black rhino population and six white rhinos were killed last year and most of the poaching incidents were recorded in the private ranches where 13 rhinos were poached.
The rhino poaching gangs are said to be armed with high caliber semi-automatic weapons.
South Africa and Zimbabwe have similarly been affected by the rampant global rhino poaching and the two nations lost more than 250 rhinos last year.
Dr Kipng’etich pointed out that the illegal trade was being driven by Asian demand for rhinoceros horns where they were used in traditional Asian medicines for thousands of years and together with other concoctions is prescribed for fevers, convulsions and as an aphrodisiac.
“However scientific studies have found no medicinal properties in the rhino horn,” the KWS Director said.
Kenya now hopes that the affected countries will come up with specific actions and commitment to protect the rhinos in the wild when they meet in March in Doha for a high level CITES meeting.