Wildlife rangers in Kenya arrested five suspected poachers after they were found allegedly killing zebras at Endonyo Rasha, in Narok county, yesterday.
The arrests came as the Kenyan Government announced a special inter-agency task force to combat rising poaching in the country.
Rangers with the Kenya Wildlife Service, acting on a tip-off, found the poachers slaughtering a zebra. Two suspects fled.
Local reports said one of the poachers tried to take a firearm from a ranger, but was overpowered. A ranger was injured and taken to Tenwek Mission Hospital.
Rangers said the poachers had been using motorcycles to chase animals, meat from which would be sold on the black market.
There is growing concern in Kenya over rising levels of poaching, with both giraffes and zebras being taken for meat. A recent interception uncovered 6000 kilograms of giraffe meat.
Tourism authorities have voiced concern, with elephants also being killed by poachers for ivory.
The government’s response is the new anti-poaching unit, comprising security officers from the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Administration Police (AP) and the General Service Unit (GSU).
The government says the unit will be deployed to poaching hotspot areas in Narok, Tsavo and Isiolo.
Cabinet secretary Judi Wakhungu, speaking on behalf of the the principal secretary for environment, water and natural resources Dr Richard Lesyiampe, said the government has now taken the fight against poaching a notch higher.
“Urgent and decisive action now needs to be taken to eliminate the escalating poaching crisis which has now become both a national and economic issue,” Wakhungu said.
The government also intended to deploy aerial surveillance, she said.
Lesyiampe said the fight against poaching was no longer a Kenya Wildlife Service affair, and appealed to every Kenyan to help the government curb the menace.
“The message we are now sending out is that poaching has to come to a stop.”
A total of 190 elephants and 34 rhinos have been killed so far this year, while the service has lost two rangers in encounters with poachers.
Plans are under way to recruit an additional 1000 rangers to overcome these challenges and effectively tackle poaching. Judges are also being urged to mete out deterrent sentences.
The two rangers were killed in mid-July in two separate gunfights with poachers while responding to a poaching incident in Kipini Conservancy in Tana River County. A poacher also died in one of the shootouts.
An AK47 rifle, three rifle magazines and 208 rounds of ammunition were recovered in the incident.
The first incident occurred when rangers on a patrol mission in the area encountered a poaching gang believed to be on an elephant-poaching mission in the dense forest.
The rangers came under fierce gunfire, which killed the first ranger, forcing the team to retreat.
Six hours later, in an attempt to recover the body of the slain ranger, the team of rangers and a reinforcement team including the Kenya Police, moved into the scene oblivious that the gang had laid an ambush.
They came under fire a second time, which killed the ranger commanding the unit. It was not immediately clear whether the gang members who escaped were injured in the gun battle.
The bodies of the slain officers were later removed to Malindi Hospital mortuary.
Six rangers have been killed by poachers since December 2011.