WHEN POACHING WAS LEGAL-and elephants bore the woe

By Eudiah Kamonjo

It is said that imagination is better than realization. We all imagine what the scene must have been like before there were any fences to keep away wild animals. Imagining further how much wild animala must have been killed while poaching had still not been declared illegal is a picture that’s hard to fathom unless you were alive then to see the real scenes first hand. 

Before co-operatives like East African Wildlife Society were formed, thousands of wild animals were being slaughtered and poached mercilessly. (Poaching is the unlawful destruction of wild animals.)

The poachers were mainly Africans of the hunting tribes whose lives depended on hunting and lived in adjacent areas of the parks, some of whom still exist.  Elephants were most at risk as the ivory from their tusks fetched a hefty amount of money in the market. Agents on Mombasa Road would sell the ivory to middle men who would take it to Mombasa, cut it up and then sell it in the black market. The ivory would eventually find its way into the Far East and Europe.

 A few years ago, Kenya witnessed a shocking scene; an elephant lay dead in the middle of the road and people (both men and women) came with knives and pangas to take home pieces of the elephant meat. Some of the people questioned said that they had not had a taste of any kind of meat in a month. In a few minutes, the villagers had taken all the meat from the dead elephant to cook at home. 

If poachers’ intention was just the tusks for ivory, then what happened to the elephant that died during capture? The meat was used as food. Wealthy tribes and lovers of game meat like the Chagga were always ready to buy it. 

The methods used to catch game were utterly barbaric. Traps were set but remained unnoticed for weeks before the poacher finally returned to find a gross skeleton. Herds of elephants were at one point found having fallen from a deep pit set by poachers. They died of thirst and hunger before the poacher arrived to take away the tusks.

Poisoned arrows were more widely used compared to fire arms. Acokanthera, a potent poison obtained from the bark of a tree known as ‘wild coffee’ was used. It is still being distributed to date. The poison breaks down the red corpuscles of the blood causing cardiac arrest and works quite fast when fresh. When stale it works much slower weakening the animal gradually. In 1952, poaching reached such extreme levels that there was an active consideration. However, at the time the Mau Mau was emerging and this rebellion overtook the poaching scene.

The poachers usually worked in groups of not more than 50 mostly lying in ambush near water holes. They would fire at any elephant within range and then follow the weakest ones until they dropped dead. The poachers would then take the ivory and other trophies and either carry the meat with them or leave it for the vultures to finish off. Mostly, the mother elephants were killed by the poisonous arrows and the baby elephants would die of starvation.  Wardens were also attacked by the poachers themselves as they tried to escape arrest. Poaching of ivory has lead to loss of Government revenues-a least but worthy point to note on the poaching effects. An exhibition was once held to enable people to see for themselves what actually happens during poaching. Photographs were shown exposing the crude methods used ensuring the truth reached people; especially those who thought the scenario of poaching was being exaggerated.  

These animals needed the greatest measure of protection and a couple of Societies and co-operations were formed to fight for the rights of animals.The East African Wildlife Society formerly the Kenya Wildlife Society has since 1961 been at the helm of elephant conservation efforts in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya and hope to extend further a field into other African countries facing wildlife extinction. The society aims to preserve both wildlife and the environment by disseminating information on the unique East African wildlife. The initial establishment, like everything else starting up was a difficult undertaking. A proper basis for its establishment was needed alongside a written constitution based on basic policies. 

EAWS was meant to be a trust but the initiators realized a Society would be more effective.

It relies heavily on financial assistance but if backed by the international public, would go deeper into wildlife conservation efforts.EAWS has also embarked on anti-poaching approaches; joint operations over a large area by monitoring activities of game poachers. The other solution to the poaching problem is the elimination of receivers; without a ready market the poaching business would fail. The laws on poaching need to be reviewed, and a jail sentence written instead of allowing fines.      


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