Kenya Arrests Illegal Hunters, Bushmeat Dealers

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 9, 2007 (ENS) - Kenya Wildlife Service rangers have arrested seven professional Tanzanian hunters and their Kenyan guide for illegally hunting around Tsavo West National Park.

The rangers who had laid an ambush at Koranze in Taita Taveta District recovered firearms and ammunition in the Saturday arrest. The suspects have been booked at Voi Police Station and are awaiting prosecution.

At the same time, three suspected game meat dealers and their driver are being held at the Athi River Police Station on the outskirts of Nairobi for illegal meat trade and poaching.

The three suspected dealers in game meat, also called bush meat, were intercepted with 213 kilograms (470 pounds) of meat in five plastic sacks before dawn Saturday morning at the Toll Station police check on Mombasa-Nairobi highway, barely 10 kilometers (six miles) from Nairobi.

A herd of zebras in Nairobi National Park, a protected game reserve within the boundaries of the city. (Photo courtesy NASA.)
They will be charged with wildlife and public health offences once investigations are complete. One member of the group escaped while police were inspecting what the dealers had initially claimed to be "rice."

Kenya Wildlife Service and public health officials found the meat to be that of two wildebeests and a young zebra. The animals were killed between Kitengela and Isinya in Kajiado District in a wildlife dispersal area adjacent to Nairobi National Park.

KWS investigators have found that this trade has been going on for the past two months and the target markets are popular meat-eating places like Kenyatta Market and City Market.

The game meat dealers sell their meat, passing it off as beef, at a low price of 65 Kenya shillings (US$1) per kg at these markets, said Paul Udoto, Kenya Wildlife Service communications manager.

The Kenya Wildlife Service officials are "concerned that this illegal trade is not only wiping out priceless wildlife but also posing great health risks to people."

"The uninspected meat has a very high risk of transmitting diseases like anthrax and Rift Valley Fever to people," Udoto said.

The suspected poachers were carrying the meat at 4:30 am, a time outside the legal requirement of 6 am to 6pm, the officials said they were carrying the meat in plastic bags, which makes it "unhygienic for human consumption."

Legally supplied game meat is safe to eat. Here, chefs prepare zebra and eland at Nairobi's Carnivore Restaurant, popular with tourists. (Photo credit unknown)
KWS investigators also have found that poachers turn to cattle theft when they fail to get livestock.

"We would like to appeal to land owners in dispersal areas to report hunters for wildlife because they not only kill wild animals but also resort to stealing cattle," said Udoto.

"We have intensified our intelligence gathering on game meat and will do everything humanly possible to protect wildlife and people from the dangerous trade in game meat," Udoto said.

The two major arrests in one day follow heightened surveillance by Kenya Wildlife Service in collaboration with other government security agencies and communities near wildlife areas.

After losing several elephants to poachers in the recent months, Kenya Wildlife Service special operations personnel have stepped up security along the Tanzania-Kenya border.

The Tsavo West National Park incident is the second involving professional hunters straying across the border to shoot wildlife in Kenya.

In several other incidents, KWS says its rangers have exchanged fire with Tanzanian poaching gangs, leading to the recovery of many weapons and the elimination of several gangs.

The hunters cross over from Mkomazi Reserve in Tanzania where hunting is legal into Koranze area in Taita Taveta District. Kenyan officials believe that these incursions could be a result of a lack of wildlife in many parts of Tanzania caused by "abused licensed hunting."

Kenya Wildlife Service and Tanzanian Wildlife Authority work closely on wildlife security through a cross-border agreement facilitated by the Lusaka Task Force.

The Lusaka Agreement Task Force, sometimes called the African Interpol for wildlife, was established under the Lusaka Agreement, to fight wildlife crime in Africa. To date, six governments are Parties to the Agreement, which entered into force in December 1996.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.