Sources say the KWS board, chaired by veteran conservationist Richard Leakey, met on Wednesday and reportedly asked Mr Mbathi to either resign or risk being sacked.
The director-general is said to have opted to take his annual leave and his fate remains unclear.
On Thursday, the board apparently designated the deputy director in charge of parks and reserves, Mr Julius Kimani, as the acting director-general.
Uncertainty has rocked the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) after conflicting reports emerged on the fate of the director-general and one of his deputies.
The Nation has learnt that the board of trustees has moved in to shake up the management, recommending the sacking of Director-General Kitili Mbathi and the transfer of the deputy director in charge of Security, Mr William Sing’oei, back to the General Service Unit (GSU) from where he had been seconded to KWS.
Mr Mbathi was appointed in February last year for a three-year term following a controversial process marked by delays and allegations of favouritism, while Mr Sing’oei has served in the position for barely two years.
Dr Leakey did not want to be drawn into any discussion on Saturday on the board proceedings but he said Mr Mbathi had not been sacked.
“He (Mr Mbathi) confirmed to me on Friday that he had started his leave. He has not been fired, I am 100 per cent sure of that,” he said.
Two terse circulars from Mr Mbathi to KWS staff gave a glimpse of the intrigues at the State corporation that conserves and manages wildlife.
RECALLED TO GSU
“I would like to inform you that (Mr) William Sing’oei has been recalled to the GSU. In the meantime, Mr Francis Lesilau has been appointed acting deputy director, security,” he wrote in the first one.
A second communication by Mr Mbathi on Thursday afternoon read: “Dear colleagues, I am proceeding on my annual leave and, in my absence, Mr Julius Kimani will be acting DG. I wish all of you a peaceful campaigning period and would urge each one of you to exercise your democratic right and vote wisely on August 8.”
Troubles for the director- general have similarities to the exit of Dr Julius Kipng’etich, who was forced out in September 2012.
Dr Kipng’etich — who joined Equity Bank as chief operating officer before being appointed chief executive officer of the troubled Uchumi Supermarkets — was said to have had a difficult working relationship with then Wildlife and Forestry minister Noah Wekesa. There were also concerns about a rise in poaching, including in protected areas.
LOW STAFF MORALE
In the latest saga, KWS sources who spoke confidentially said tension between the board and the two top officials had escalated in the past one year following concerns of low staff morale and stalling of crucial operations.
Many planes and vehicles are said to have been grounded in some areas — including the expansive and sensitive Meru and Tsavo national parks — affecting patrols.
Other concerns by the trustees include re-introduction of manual ticketing to replace electronic smart cards at key revenue collection points in some parks, according to sources.
The changes also come in the middle of an ongoing process to develop a wildlife conservation policy aligned to the 2010 Constitution.
KWS acting director-general and director of communications Paul Gathitu did not immediately respond to our enquiries.
When reached for comment on Friday afternoon, conservation secretary Gideon Gathaara, under whose oversight Forest and Wildlife conservation affairs fall, and who represents Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu on the KWS Board, said he had just arrived from an overseas trip and had not been briefed on the matter.
Mr Mbathi was plucked from his job as CEO of CFC Stanbic in a convoluted recruitment process that saw two advertisements, and two sets of interviews that knocked out many applicants for the director-general’s job in 2015. Mr Wilson Kiprono had been the acting director-general after the departure of Dr Kipng’etich.
“Mr Kitili is a development manager with high level knowledge in financial and leadership matters. We were looking for the right person.
That calibre of person is the one we recruited,” Dr Leakey said at a press conference in Nairobi to unveil Mr Mbathi last year.