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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
Kenya hunts for elephant killers
Kenya is opposed to ivory trade
Poaching has ravaged Kenya's elephant population
Kenyan authorities say they have deployed a crack anti-poaching squad to track down a gang that has killed 15 elephants in one of the country's game reserves.

The killings took place at the weekend in the Samburu game reserve in north-west Kenya - just a few days after the slaughter of another 10 elephants in Tsavo Park, south west of the country.

The authorities say they fear the new killings were a calculated build-up of ivory ahead of an international meeting in South America on the ivory trade.

Ban


We feel something needs to be done urgently

Victor Mutuma, Kenya Wildlife Club

The meeting of the Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species (Cites) is to take place in Chile, South America, in November, where Zimbabwe and South Africa are expected to renew their demands for the lifting of the ban on ivory trading.

Officials of Kenya Wildlife Service said the gang used AK-47 and G3 assault rifles in the Samburu killings and the poachers were now being pursued by a special unit trained to deal with sophisticated bandits in Kenya's national parks.

A spokesman for Kenya's Wildlife Service told Kenya's Daily Nation that a suspected leader of the gang has been arrested, together with three pieces of ivory.

A contingent of game rangers in Kenya
Leading the war against poachers in Kenya

Orphaned

Some of the killers were believed to have fled to the nearby district of Isiolo, while other members of the gang are believed to be still at large in the sprawling Samburu park, the newspaper reported.

The killings come amid fears among local conservationists that poaching in Kenya is once again on the increase.

They include Dr Daphne Shieldrich who runs Africa's only sanctuary for orphaned elephants outside Nairobi National Park and Mr Victor Mutuma of the Kenya Wildlife Club, who told the Daily Nation:

"We feel something needs to be done urgently. Something needs to be addressed."

Wildlife officials say Kenya has for the past few years managed to maintain the level of its elephant population at around 30,000 and a new census is expected later this year.

Poaching

 A haul of ivory seized from poachers
Reopening ivory trade could trigger increased poaching

Kenya has been leading a group of elephant-range countries strongly opposed to the reopening of the trade, which they deem premature.

The group has warned in the past that renewed sale of ivory could sent out the wrong message and might trigger increased poaching.

The international community has remained deeply divided over the future of ivory sales and the row is looks set to dominate the Chile proceedings in November.

See also:

30 Mar 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Identity problems in Kenya
18 Mar 02 | Africa
Merger shakes up Kenyan politics
05 Jul 00 | Africa
Internet fever grips Kenya
30 Nov 00 | Africa
Kenya's war on banks
02 Oct 01 | Business
Kenya sugar market turns sour
24 May 00 | Africa
Kenya's Asian heritage on display
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