Tag Archives: Poaching

Elephant ‘Poaching’ in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest: Constructing the History of a Recent Tragedy

On August 16, 2013, a large male elephant in Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve (ASFR) succumbed to multiple arrow wounds it had sustained some months earlier. As Kenya Wildlife Service and the ASFR management team were aware of the elephant’s injuries, its disposal was unceremonious: tusks were hurriedly collected and the carcass burned, to prevent both from falling into the hands of those responsible.

In order to better understand what had happened in this specific case, I recently asked David to accompany me to the elephant’s final resting place. David possesses unparalleled knowledge of the forest, and I was hoping he would have insights into this elephant’s demise, and that I could use this opportunity to initiate a discussion with David on illicit human activities within ASF.

As we rode to the forest’s northern swamp on David’s piki piki, I could tell David was in a good mood that day; he was hyper-attentive, and stopped multiple times to excitedly point out some of the forest’s unique flora and fauna, and to give me a lengthy explanation of history of the sand quarry within ASFR. David had been informed of the location of the elephant’s remains, and we found what was left of them with little trouble. I stood in awe for a few moments—taking in a scene which very well could have contended for a spot in one of National Geographic’s many picture-laden exposés on elephant poaching in Sub-Saharan Africa—only to be brought back to reality upon hearing David suddenly proclaim, “this poaching is now a large problem within the forest…it shouldn’t be like this.” My intentions were about to be realized.

The origins of human-elephant conflict in the region surrounding ASFR can be traced to a series of post-independence developments. Infrastructure projects on the western side of ASFR, particularly the construction of a water pipeline and paved road from the Sabaki River south to Mombasa, served to isolate the forest from similar, inland ecosystems—such as the northern area of Tsavo East National Park. These projects encouraged increased human settlement, and the resulting ‘shambafication’ of the western side of ASFR effectively rendered the forest an ecological island, severing it from the northern Tsavo ecosystem. As a result, elephants and other megafauna that once ranged, unobstructed, from the coastal forest to the interior found themselves confined. Attempts to transverse these newly-developed areas, as well as an increased incidence of crop-raiding (an ancillary consequence of the isolation of ASFR), increasingly brought humans and elephants into conflict. For forty years, this adversarial relationship—which I have very briefly summarized to enable the reader to appreciate the complex political and ecological processes that underly it—was the greatest threat to the elephant population that remained within ASFR. Thankfully, since the completion of the elephant fence in 2009, such conflict has been successfully mitigated.

While a positive development, the completion of the fence brought another cause of unnatural mortality of elephants within ASFR to the fore: ‘poaching,’ for their ivory tusks and large quantity of meat. According to David, while the ‘poaching’ of smaller animals within ASFR (e.g. suni, duiker, Gambian Giant rat) for meat is at an all time high, and thus highly visible—indeed, one is hard-pressed to walk any of the forest’s trails and not encounter numerous snares—it is very rare that an elephant is killed. Very few elephants have been ‘poached’ within ASFR in the past two decades, a testament to the work of Kenya Wildlife Service, David, and others engaged in conservation efforts within the forest, as well as a bit of good luck. (Elephant snares are set strategically along elephant paths, but because of numerous factors it is by no means guaranteed that an elephant will actually trip one and find itself caught.) Yet, David and others are troubled by what they see as redoubled efforts within recent years: last year, a Kenya Forest Service ranger and local community member both tripped poison-laden snares, which are now found in greater number within the forest, and David continues to find evidence of ‘poachers’’ tree hides bordering the Nature Reserve pools.

With the immense amount of publicity directed toward the incidence of ‘poaching,’ as well as reformed, renewed anti-poaching efforts, within Kenya (and Sub-Saharan Africa, more broadly) in recent years, the case of ‘our elephant’ (which had very likely been shot methodically by individuals intent upon harvesting it’s tusks and meat) begs an important question: Is ASFR becoming the new frontier of elephant ‘poaching’ in Kenya?

While only time can provide us with an answer, David is acting preemptively to ensure that this is not the case. Convinced that those who engage in illicit harvesting of animals from within ASFR are impoverished members of forest-adjacent communities, turning to such activities as an income-generation strategy, David is in the process of creating a group of individuals from these communities capable of addressing the underlying cause(s) of the problem. It is David’s hope that this group, which will be made of mainly teachers and meet for the first time early next month, can be utilized to foment bottom-up environmental education within forest-adjacent communities, as well as manage an alternative livelihoods training center for community members wanting to achieve greater income stability without illicitly accessing forest resources. As David’s passion for the forest is infectious and his knowledge of the complex politics of forest-adjacent communities well-versed, this is truly a promising initiative that could benefit both conservation efforts within ASFR and the well-being of forest-adjacent communities.

More updates on David’s work, as well as the results of this first meeting, are forthcoming.

About the author:

Greetings. My name is Zachary Petroni and I have the privilege of joining David after having been awarded the 2013-2014 Wallenberg Fellowship, which provides financial support for a recent University of Michigan graduate to engage in a year of research and experiential learning. In my case, I’ve chosen to focus on the links between conservation governance and justice, and am utilizing Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve as my principal case study. During my time here, I will be assisting David with his data collection efforts, as well as conducting data collection of my own, in an attempt to better understand the relationship(s) between conservation efforts and the well-being of human communities in this region of Kenya. I will also be assuming responsibility of this blog, and look forward to keeping you all updated on David’s daily activities and achievements.

Two tree poachers camps discovered in Arabuko-Sokoke

David  has been continuing with the surveys in the forest while I am still doing the final reports for last year. Last week on 04/02,  David and I went to the forest to do a survey. We went to Komani area to a place known as Munir site, which is in the middle of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest .It was a very rough ride since it is a very sandy road and we were on a motorbike, but David rides well. We arrived safely and started the survey at around 8:30am.

We were very lucky to see a Red duiker from afar immediately. We finished setting the GPS for the survey. This was my very first time to see a Red duiker and I was very excited. I wanted to take a picture, but the camera could not zoom in well ,the duiker was meters away. David explained that before, it was possible to see many of this species but due to destructions in the forest, we were very lucky to see one.

Again, this was a very lucky day for us to see another animal, and, this time, it was a dwarf mongoose. They are very fast animals and we were not able to take a picture, again, since it dashed away on seeing us, though it was very close. As we went further into the forest, we saw alot of destruction on the brachyleana tree species which is mostly used by poachers for carvings.

As we went further, we saw an abandoned camp site which had left overs of the carvings and also feathers of guinea fowl plus lots of paper bags.Abandoned campsiteThis path we took led us to another campsite, which we saw as active and though the poachers were not there. There was clear evidence that they had just left maybe to get other things since they left everything there. Water, cooking utensils, sleeping nets and even few of the carvings were left. We have already reported this to the concerned authorities – Kenya Forest Service(KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), whose support we really appreciate.David and patrick on campOn this day we were not able to finish our survey, as David suddenly started feeling very sick that he had to go rest for 30 minutes. So we ended our survey at around 1:30pm. I had to ride back since David was not well.David resting

More Elephant Poaching in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

While patrolling the elephant trails in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest on the 16th of September, a Kenya forest guard accidentally stepped on a trap set by elephant poachers. The trap (pictured below) is a crude device, which essentially amounts to a poison-covered knife, stuck through a piece of wood and buried in the ground so that only the tip of the knife is above ground.

The guard was rushed to the hospital, where he remained for nearly a week. He returned home on the following Tuesday and is now on his way to a full recovery. As we’ve previously reported, however, a poacher who stepped on an elephant trap two years ago was not so lucky, and was found dead in the forest some days later.

The greater issue here is that there is no way of knowing how many more of these traps are in the forest. This latest trap was found in the northeast part of the forest, near Mida Creek, and the first one was found some fifteen to twenty kilometres from this one, nearer to the middle of the forest, suggesting that there may be a great deal more poaching going on in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest.

David has suggested to the Kenya Wildlife Service that in order to avoid these kind of mishaps in the future, metal detectors should be used when patrolling the elephant trails for poachers.

Tracing the tracks of the dead man (poacher).

Tracing the tracks of the dead man (poacher).

In an earlier blog I had mentioned the story of the poacher who died in the forest after he accidentally stepped on an elephant snare that was set by another poacher who was targeting to kill an elephant. I later on when to do a follow up of that story and retraced the path taken by that poacher. I started by visiting the dead man’s family, I was taken to his family by some community members. I however did not refer to the dead man as a poacher this was to show some respect to the family. The family gave me their view of what they thought happened. I was also informed that on that fateful day the dead man was accompanied to the forest by his elder brother, his elder brother retraced the last moment and he even agreed to take me to the forest and show me the path where it all happened.

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The household of the man.

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The grave.

We followed the path that the dead man took, as we continued following the path I came across 31 snares they seemed to be snares for small animals such as Sunis, however most of them were dismantled. The path we took lead us to the road from Kararacha to Nyari view point. At this particular spot the elder brother showed me the path that he had marked, it was sort of an agreement between him and his brother on which route not to take. Unfortunately it seemed the dead took a wrong path and ended up stepping on the snare. After stepping on the snare he tried to walk for a while however he could not go far as the poison on the snare was quickly running through his body, he decide to sit down and he asked his brother to go get help, when his brother returned with help unfortunately he was already dead. He quickly went back home to inform the rest what had happened and they found a way to carry his body from the forest.

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Me being shown the path.

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The sign.

When I asked his brother what they were looking for in the forest he simply said mushrooms, I was not full convinced that they were looking for mushrooms, as why would they go deep in the forest to look for that and secondly why would they take the paths that are restricted, and why take the elephant tracks? I kept on wondering this but I did not want to raise it up with his brother as it would be pointless to argue with him on that.

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The brother of the dead man holding mushrooms.

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The mushrooms.

Personally I am very sorry that his brother died, am mostly sorry for his family. However I still feel that they had ill intentions especially where the elephants were concerned. The elephant trap has not been found till now and this poses a big risk not only to the elephants but to those who use the forest daily such as researchers, tourists and even me!

It was helpful to be shown the path and to follow it, we now have a clue where the traps could be located for we also took the GPS coordinates, it just a matter of time before we actually locate the them, in as much as we have a clue where to start from, no one is willing to take the risk of going to look for the traps without the proper equipment for fear of being the next victims. We tend to think that they are many snares in the forest.

As we lack the necessary equipment such as metal detectors to enable us to locate the traps quickly, the snare continue to pose a big risk. We are kindly requesting for your help in purchasing a metal detector and good walking boots, to be used for patrols in the forest, these equipment will assist us to remove the metal snare that are normally targeted for elephants and make the forest much safer for them and for people as well.

Yous David Ngala

Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

Conservation Officer.

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14 year old boy caught poaching!

Hi this is David,

Over the past weeks there has been a lot of activity here at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. More and more people continue to poach wild game as well as trees for timber and fuel wood despite the joint efforts of Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service and other support groups such as the Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke forest (FoASF)

Last week I took some forest guards to the western part of Arabuko-Sokoke forest. A place known as Malanga in the local language. I was showing them various paths the locals use, and some that I suspect the poachers use for hunting down game meat.

Accompanied by the armed forest guards, we took to three different transects, and we randomly walked to the three points that I had marked on my GPS. Two of the way points that I had selected had snare activity, poles were tied in ropes at the two places.

We took a visible path along the nature reserve boundary and followed it east wards, about eight kilometres from the edge of the forest, before we suddenly came across two young boys and one of them had a dead female suni (a type of antelope) in his possession. On seeing the forest guards, one of the boys ran away while the other one was caught by the guards.

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The young 14 year boy handcuffed by the forest guards.

The 14 year old boy later confessed to the forest guards that his father sent him to the forest to trap animals. His father had about five hundred different snares which he uses to snare animals such as the suni, dicker, bush pigs and at times buffalos. The boy was later detained and his apprehended.

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Young boy confesses of poaching the suni.

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The boy’s father handcuffed with the suni on his neck.

We are slowly having progress with getting the poachers as we have backing from the Kenya Forest Service, however the illegal activities still continue and the forest continues to be destroyed.

A poacher killed in the line of “duty”

sorry i was not able to load the photos well, here they are…

Hi this is Carol,

Activities at the forest have been quite overwhelming, data is collected daily on the illegal activities in the forest and the results are just overwhelming. Recently there was a poacher who was killed in the forest. The poacher was accidentally killed by a trap laid for elephants by other poachers.

The number of poachers within the forest is increasing, and with Arabuko Sokoke forest having big game such as elephants, there is intense survey of the forest and also of poachers, yet some go unnoticed.

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Map of illegal activities in the forest.

David reported to me that last week, a poacher was killed in the forest when he accidentally fell for an elephant trap that was laid by another group of poachers. The poachers normally lay down the traps deep in the ground and cover them with earth and grass making it look almost normal ground that one may not be able to see the trap.

These traps are normally laid down inside the forest where elephants can be found roaming. It is difficult to lay a trap along designated paths as people often use these paths and rangers are often on patron on such paths hence the traps are hidden deep in the forest away from the designated walking paths.

desgnated-paths2.jpgDesignated foot paths in the forest.

The poachers make the trap using long nails that are pinned on wooden frames and the tips of the nails have poison on them, such that when an elephant accidentally steps on the tips of the nails, the nails will penetrate through the elephant eventually releasing the poison to the animals blood stream fast enough to kill it almost instantly. They later remove the elephant’s tusks and will eventually sell them to middlemen and to the ivory black market.

These are some of the activities that are on going in the forest and that David monitors daily. These activities pose a danger for researchers and others that don’t use the designated paths when going about their business.

David is still carrying out more survey on illegal footpaths in the forest. He has set up a meeting with the chief to discuss how the community can get involved.

That’s all for now, I will keep you updated on any occurrence within the forest.