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Friday, March 6, 1998 Published at 16:30 GMT


Saving Kenya's tuskers
image: [ Kenyan rangers keep watch over the country's elephants ]
Kenyan rangers keep watch over the country's elephants

Wildlife authorities in Kenya fear that a relaxation on the international ban on ivory sales next year will lead to widespread poaching of elephants. Kenya, which opposed the relaxation being allowed under the Cites agreements, says even speculation about the trade leads to more poaching. The Kenyan authorities are trying to get local people, who often help the poachers, to act as guardians, as our East Africa correspondent Martin Dawes reports.

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The threat to Kenya's elephants has never gone away. Poaching has continued despite the international ban on the sale of ivory.

[ image: On guard for poachers]
On guard for poachers
An elite cadre of rangers is on constant anti-poaching patrol. But they work for a service that is under acute financial pressure.

Increasing numbers of elephants mean that in Kenya the animals are foraging far beyond the more easily guarded national parks.

A rising population means that the elephants are spreading out and, as they do so, they are coming into contact and conflict with more and more people.

These wild animals and people cannot easily be mixed. When we got too close to a mother and calf, she charged. No animal or person was hurt.

New approach neeeded

The director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service believes only a new approach will safeguard both animals and local people.

He took us to the scene of the latest poaching incident.

In a remote valley, carcasses are rotting. The poachers, almost certainly bandits from Somalia, took the tusks.

[ image: A brutal business]
A brutal business
"They just let loose, probably AK47s, fairly randomly and as you can see over there they even took out a calf," Dr David Western of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) told me.

" So while they've got five in a group, it is fairly unselective of how they did."

Poachers used to be welcomed by communities that saw elephants threatening their land.

Now the wildlife service has established a tourist lodge that pays financial dividends to local people.

Scouts are being recruited to watch and warn. Local communities have become elephant guardians.

"It's very painful to see poachers coming to interfere with our economical life of which we realise that is more important than even keeping of livestock," said one of the scouts, Edward Kiperus.

Hunting to be reintroduced

Even the strictly limited ivory trade which is to be allowed next year by three southern African countries is likely to lead to more poaching in Kenya.

The pressure is on to get local communities involved in the conservation partnership.

[ image: Rhino horn is highly valued]
Rhino horn is highly valued
"If it succeeds," says David Western of KWS, " then our elephant population can continue to expand and we will not be subject to heavy poaching.

"If we don't get that support, the elephant will be very heavily poached in the coming years."

Community protection will also benefit other species. Poachers can get a lot for rhino horn. But for now the focus is on one of Africa's most magnificent survivors.

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