Cease Wildlife Trafficking: The previous naval officer now leads Kenya’s struggle in opposition to poaching
Last year, for the first time since 1999, Kenya recorded zero rhinoceros deaths from poaching.
“We’re incredibly proud of that,” says Brigadier John Waweru, who left the Navy two years ago to take on the role of General Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). “It’s not just luck, it comes from a lot of hard work and dedication, especially in a pandemic year.”
Elephant poaching has also decreased from 350 five years ago to just 11 in 2020. This is the lowest annual total ever recorded. “I think it is not a pipe dream to bring Kenya’s poaching to zero.”
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Historically, the high levels of rhino and elephant poaching in the East African nation threatened the very survival of both species and fueled the corrupt, caustic illegal wildlife trade.
14 Kenyan rhinos were slaughtered in 2016 and nine the following year. Not only are the deaths decimating critical wildlife populations, but they are also endangering the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on tourism for a living.
The last year has been a year like no other. Waweru said the pandemic caused a 92 percent drop in tourism revenue in Kenya and there were widespread fears of an increase in poaching due to fewer local eyes. However, these fears turned out to be unfounded.
“While Covid continues to be a major crisis, there has been no increase in poaching,” said Waweru. “The animal world has flourished.
“Without tourists, I think poachers might think KWS fell asleep, but instead we did the opposite and stepped up our efforts.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we found there was greater interest in bushmeat poaching, but we were quick to contain it thanks to an ongoing, aggressive campaign aimed at helping people understand that it is not an alternative to beef . “
Mr Waweru says that only by educating and empowering Kenyans to protect wild animals can the war against poachers be won.
“To be successful, there has to be very close interaction with the people who live next to wildlife,” he says.
“The KWS offers training and support to help people live with wild animals and understand their value to us all.
“Poachers don’t work in isolation. Thanks to the interaction with communities, anyone who sees or suspects wildlife crime warns us. In this way we can alienate or arrest potential poachers.
“Wildlife does not belong to KWS, but to every Kenyan. It is our common heritage. “
The Kenya Wildlife Service has stepped up its fight against the illegal wildlife trade, says Brigadier General Director John Waweru
(General Brigadier John Waweru)
One could be forgiven for the camouflaged, highly regimented KWS being an arm of the military instead of sitting under the tourism department.
Founded in 1989 amid widespread corruption and insecurity in African parks, KWS has worked with charitable partners to improve wildlife safety and stabilize the tourism sector.
In the three decades since then, Kenya’s elephant population has more than doubled to an estimated 34,000, along with 1,258 rhinos.
Protecting these endangered animals, along with the mosaic of other wildlife, is an extremely complex and endless task.
Mr. Waweru believes that his military background will enable him to face the challenges as Director General of KWS.
“When I was a naval officer, I patrolled and arrested those involved in illegal fishing or dumping.
“As an assertive poor when you go out and expect to see resistance; meeting someone armed just like you.
“So I understand the dangers KWS troops are exposed to every day. I was shot while I was a UN military observer in Bosnia. “
When Mr. Waweru took up his new position after 36 years in the public service, he announced that there would be changes at KWS, with all employees being encouraged to focus their efforts on executing to match his mission, its former glory restore.
It was also warned that anyone who tried to “pull in the opposite direction” would have to be released. Collaboration, conservation and entrepreneurship are Waweru’s ethos, with an emphasis on mutually beneficial partnerships.
“Kenya has historically suffered from severe poaching and inefficiency and poor morale within the teams that protect and manage wildlife,” says Waweru.
“I think there was a time of lethargy, but now there is a feeling of renewed energy in KWS. And we can see the results of that energy in how we successfully protect wildlife.
“KWS doesn’t work in isolation, but rather through close relationships with the police, secret services and other organizations such as the Kenya Forest Service or the Charity Space for Giants.”
Brigadier General John Waweru, Director General of the Kenya Wildlife Service, officially opens the Bachuma Gate Visitor Office in Tsavo East National Park
“Rangers used to go to great lengths to take the risk of arresting suspected wildlife criminals, but were exempted from court days later because the trials against them were flawed,” said Katto Wambua, Space for Senior Advisor, Giant’s Wildlife Justice.
“The illegal wildlife trade is being defeated in the courtroom as well as in the bush. This is evidence of KWS ‘coordinated approach to fighting wildlife crime and the leadership of the GD, that they have established and continue to support the Case Progression Unit, allowing the law to be the strong deterrent against wildlife crime that it should be. “
According to Waweru, KWS feels “privileged” to be working with Space for Giants on this groundbreaking initiative and welcomes the work of The Independent’s “Stop The Illegal Wildlife Trade” campaign.
Mr. Waweru added, “By strengthening partnerships with stakeholders and communities who are committed to safeguarding wildlife in all of the areas we operate – about 18 percent of Kenya’s landmass – we will continue to see the results.
“Nobody has a better job than me. I am one of the happiest people in the world. “