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SOS Rhino : In the News : Bushmeat demand lures poachers

Bushmeat demand lures poachers

  02/06/2005 09:52  - (SA)

Tsavo East National Park - As the sun sets over the acacias and tall grass in Africa's second-largest wildlife reserve in Kenya, game wardens brace for the nightly onslaught of wily two-legged invaders: poachers.

Driven by a drought-sparked surge in demand for illegal bushmeat and hampered by stepped-up efforts to protect trophy species like elephant and rhino, organised poaching rings are turning to increasingly devious and brutal methods to hunt smaller game, officials say.

"The bushmeat trade is taking a commercial trend due to insufficient rains in the last four years," said Michael Kipkeu, Tsavo East's deputy chief whose undermanned rangers struggle daily against the growing conservation threat.

"It is a well-co-ordinated business," said Samwel Andanje, a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) research officer at the park some 350km southeast of Nairobi. "The poachers can come in very fast and disguised."

Second in size on the continent only to South Africa's vast Kruger National Park, the 13 747-square-kilometre Tsavo East poses an enormous challenge for wardens policing Kenya's strict hunting laws.

Poachers want the freshest meat possible

Eager for the freshest meat possible, many poachers are turning away from traditional snares -- which can leave a trapped animal lying for days and prone to the vagaries of scavengers -- and have begun to "spotlight" their quarry.

Singling out a lone animal, they blind it with a bright light and sound an air horn to further stun the terrified creature and swiftly slash off its legs with a machete, officials say.

In the past two years, KWS officers have arrested five men with the carcasses of nearly 100 dik diks, the smallest species of antelope, that had been killed in this manner, officials said.

Another newer method involves setting upturned nails in bits of wood that are partially buried along well-worn game paths. An unsuspecting animal that steps on such a device, hobbles away and is easily tracked before it is caught or dies on its own, they said.

A worrisome trend

The meat, especially from small animals, is mainly for local consumption, but as demand rises it is increasingly being sold in Kenya's coastal towns of Mombasa and Malindi, they said.

"We lose between 10 to 20 animals a month," he said, recalling the vast damage poachers did to once-massive elephant and rhino populations in Kenya's Meru National Park in the 1980s and 90s.

After patrols aimed at saving larger beasts were boosted three years ago, poachers in Tsavo East killed only 14 elephants in 2003 and 2004 and no such deaths have been recorded this year.

But park security officials say they have in the past month collected 200 snares from one 50-kilometre stretch in the reserve, where some 10 000 were found in 2002.

Edited by Fidelia van der Linde

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