The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy on Friday celebrated four years of decline of rhino poaching.
Under the theme “Extinction is Forever, Time for Action is Now”, residents and conservationists celebrated the World Rhino Day at Lewa by walking alongside rangers to learn how rhinos are shielded against poachers.
The Lewa-Borana landscape is home to 157 rhinos, 74 white and 83 black rhinos, translating to about 14 percent of the country’s rhino population.
Speaking after flagging off the walk, the conservancy’s chief executive officer Mike Watson said the era of ‘no poaching’ was a major breakthrough for conservation efforts.
“As we celebrate the World Rhino Day this year, we are glad that the rhino numbers are on the rise due to the efforts of communities, conservationists and the government.
“However, insufficient secure habitat for rhinos remains a challenge in Kenya,” Mr Watson said.
He noted that the communities living around the conservancies were realizing the importance of the animals, which led to improved security.
The success of Sera Conservancy in protecting black rhinos, for example, has been a milestone.
Sera is the first community owned facility in East Africa located in Samburu County
It has a sanctuary with 12 rhinos, an increase from 10 in the last three years.
“Sera was home to rhinos but they were all killed by poachers many years ago.
“Since [we] introduced the rhinos with support from Lewa, we have witnessed increased tourist traffic and more income.
“Three years ago, the conservancy was able to share out Sh2 million every year but the amount has grown to Sh6 million this year,” Ms Pauline Longojine, the conservancy chairperson, said.
More importantly, Ms Longojine said that through Sera about 60 locals have been employed and money has been raised to fund community projects.
“The rhino sanctuary has been successful because the community own the wildlife. They protect them like their livestock. This is the way to go in saving the endangered species,” she said.
Lewa’s head of anti-poaching, Mr Edward Ndiritu, who won the Wildlife Ranger Award last year, said poaching lingers but partnership among stakeholders has kept rhinos safe.
“In 2012, we lost seven rhinos and in 2013 six rhinos were killed by poachers.
“Since then we have not lost a rhino to poachers after we brought together other stakeholders including the community.
“In the past few months, we have thwarted attempts to poach rhinos due to working closely with the community and other security agencies,” Mr Ndiritu said.
Speaking during the national celebrations in Nanyuki, Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu said Kenya will continue opposing attempts to lift the ban against trade in rhino horns to promote enhance conservation endeavors.
Prof Wakhungu said Kenya has completed the development of an action plan (2017-2022) that will be launched before the end of the year.
It aims at raising the population of black rhinos from the current 700 to 830 by the end of 2021.
Laikipia holds 52 percent of the country’s rhino population.
World Wildlife Fund (Kenya) operations manager Collins Munene said they remain at the forefront in providing the Kenya Wildlife Service with technologies to curb poaching.
“The measures include installation of thermal cameras in Lake Nakuru National Park and providing forward looking infrared cameras mounted on vehicles in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
“This has so far aided in apprehending more than 10 suspected poachers,” Mr Munene said.
Other efforts include installation of microchips on black rhinos in Maasai Mara and Nairobi National Park.
Kenya Wildlife Service assistant director Simon Gitau said rhino poaching declined in Laikipia this year due to sensitization of communities as well as heavy penalties imposed by courts on convicted offenders.
Kenya has witnessed a decline in rhino population from 20,000 in the 1970s.
A total of 5,703 black and white rhinos were poached across Africa between 2012 and 2016.
There are five rhino species in the world: black, white, greater one-horned, Samatran and Javan, which are all endangered