An armed wildlife ranger inside Kipini Forest, Kenya. Image: Mauhoobah Butt

Anti-Poaching in Kenya’s Eco Frontier


Wildlife poaching remains a persistent global menace that has also cast its long shadow over East Africa. The insatiable appetite for ivory and rhino horn on the international market has for long driven a devastating spiral of decline for animals such as elephants and rhinos across Kenya, Tanzania, and the wider African continent.

In Kenya, as in many other African nations, the landscape of wildlife crime has undergone a metamorphosis over time, ushering in fresh challenges to wildlife conservation. Pangolins are increasingly threatened for their scales and meat.

Kenya boasts a rich tapestry of iconic wildlife, including what early colonial settlers coined as “the Big Five”; the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the black rhino, the lion, and the leopard, which were deemed as the strongest and most difficult African creatures to hunt. Kenya is also home to the last two female Northern white rhinos in the world, among other majestic creatures like elegant giraffes and speedy cheetahs. 

According to Kenya’s official wildlife census conducted in 2021, the country’s diverse ecosystems were home to significant populations, including 36,280 elephants, 897 black rhinos, and 842 white rhinos. Other charismatic species recorded included 41,659 buffalo, 13,530 Maasai giraffes, 121,911 common zebras, 2,649 grevy’s zebras, and 57,813 wildebeest.

Other species counted included 1,788 hippos alongside critically endangered species like mountain bongo whose number stood at 150 and sitatunga antelope which numbered 473.

Notably, about 83.7% of the wildlife counted in the Maasai Mara Ecosystem thrived in community conservancies, with only 16.2% residing in protected areas within the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Mara Triangle. The most abundant wildlife species in the Maasai Mara Ecosystem are wildebeests, common zebras, buffalos, impalas, and Thomson’s gazelle.

There are an estimated 2,595 elephants in the Mara ecosystem. Among the waterfowl birds that were counted were 97,805 lesser flamingos, 523 great white pelicans, 963 Egyptian geese, 57 African fish eagles, and 720 yellow-billed storks.

Image: Mauhoobah Butt

The 2021 wildlife census revealed encouraging trends, with population increases observed among several species. However, it also underscored ongoing challenges, particularly human activities encroaching upon vital habitats. The Maasai Mara Ecosystem, in particular, faces mounting pressures from activities like charcoal burning and land encroachment for domestic and commercial use, which degrade habitats and impede wildlife movements.

In 2023, it was reported that a few newly constructed lodges in the Maasai Mara were built on wildebeest migration corridors, disrupting their natural movements during the annual great migration.

To combat poaching, the Kenyan authorities as well as enthusiastic non-governmental organizations such as Ulinzi Africa Foundation have undertaken a proactive approach by training community rangers and supplying security patrol vehicles to various groups, including those in the Maasai Mara and Tsavo Conservancies, as well as more forgotten parts of the country, like the Tana River Delta.

The past half-century has also witnessed mounting pressures on many animal species, fueled in part by the illicit wildlife trade. Government authorities and conservation advocates have waged a tireless battle against these threats. The surge in affluence and economic expansion across Asia has fueled a heightened appetite for Africa’s abundant natural resources, spanning from wildlife to their associated products. This escalating demand has driven up the value of ivory, pangolin meat and scales, and rhino horn in illicit markets.

Centuries-old cultural norms, where these items are esteemed as symbols of status or prized for their purported medicinal properties, further bolster the profitability of the illegal trade. Bushmeat poachers also pose a growing threat as they target helpless wildlife such as porcupines.

Kenya’s role as a transit hub for illegal wildlife products further exacerbates the conservation plight. Various African countries, including Tanzania, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, contribute to the flow of contraband such as ivory and rhino horn through Kenyan territory.

Established in 1990, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) shoulders the legal mandate of enforcing wildlife laws and regulations. Its responsibilities encompass combating poaching within protected and other wildlife areas. To this end, KWS has devised targeted security strategies and fosters collaboration with law enforcement agencies, local communities, and other conservation stakeholders. Enhanced engagement with judicial authorities strengthens the enforcement landscape, ensuring the full implementation of wildlife laws across the country.

In the ongoing battle to safeguard Kenya’s wildlife, conservation organizations like Ulinzi Africa Foundation and its allies play a pivotal role in conservation. These groups are actively engaged in fostering community-based conservation initiatives to combat wildlife crime effectively. Ulinzi Africa Foundation particularly focuses on protecting remote wildlife zones such as Kipini Forest at the Tana River Delta. These organizations contribute significantly to the overarching mission of preserving the country’s natural heritage.

Mauhoobah Butt

Mauhoobah is a Communications Associate at the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, where she is responsible for developing communications and public relations strategies. She previously worked on wildlife and ecosystem conservation projects in Kenya. She holds a MA in Communication Management from Universitat Pompeu Fabra-Barcelona School of Management and a Bachelor of Commerce from Strathmore University. She is fluent in English, Swahili and Punjabi, and is an avid photographer passionate about sustainable development and advancing human rights.

1 Comment

  1. Very informative article. It is heartwarming to know that so much is being done for conservation of our heritage. Beautiful photos by Mauhoobah.
    Well done and thank you

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