For The First Time In 21 Years, Not A Single Rhino Was Killed By Poachers In 2020

For The First Time In 21 Years, Not A Single Rhino Was Killed By Poachers In 2020

The reason behind this was not the pandemic but a coordinated effort by Kenya Wildlife Service.

Representative Image Source: Manoj Shah/ Getty

For most, 2020 has been by far the worst year in their lives. Unless you were in the business of producing hand sanitizers, toilet papers, and indoor games, the chances of you having a good year are quite slim. Rhinoceros in Kenya happened to find themselves in the category of the select few who had an amazing 2020. For the first time in 21 years, none of them died at the hands of a poacher. "We are incredibly proud of that," shared Brigadier John Waweru, according to the Independent. You might think the pandemic, which caused a complication on every aspect of our day-to-day life, could have made this happen but that's not the reason why poaching was down in Kenya. 




"It’s not just luck, it’s down to lots of hard work and dedication, especially in a pandemic year," continued Waweru, who left the navy two years ago to take up the role of Director General at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The corrosive illegal trade of wildlife previously threatened the survival of rhinos in the East African nation due to poaching. Back in 2016, 14 rhinos in Kenya were tragically slaughtered for corrupt purposes, and nine the following year. These deaths not only reduced the wildlife population to a critical level but also put the livelihood of those who make a living from tourism at risk.  




As feared, the pandemic caused a significant dip in the tourism revenue in Kenya. There was a 92 percent reduction in 2020, something that has never been seen in years. In addition to this, there were widespread worries about poaching upticks as there were fewer people on the ground due to the health crisis. But Waweru made sure that the conditions did not compromise the safety of the rhinos. "Without tourists, I think poachers might think KWS had gone to sleep, but instead we did the reverse and enhanced our efforts," he added. "While COVID continues to be a huge crisis, there was no poaching increase. Wildlife has flourished."




Revealing their plan of action, Waweru continued, "At the start of the pandemic we found there was more interest in bushmeat poaching, but thanks to a sustained, aggressive campaign to help people understand it is not an alternative to beef, we were able to curtail it quickly." According to him, the only way to protect these wild animals and their habitat from greedy poachers is by educating and empowering Kenyans. "To succeed there must be a very close interaction with the people that live alongside wildlife," said Waweru.




"The KWS provides training and support to help people to co-exist with wildlife and to understand their value to all of us," he said, according to the outlet. "Poachers do not operate in isolation. Thanks to the interaction we have with communities, anyone who sees or suspects wildlife crime alerts us. In this way, we can alienate or apprehend potential poachers." Apart from rhinos, the poaching of elephants has also reduced to just 11 last year from 350 five years ago. The population of elephants has more than doubled to approximately 34,000, while the number of rhinos has increased to 1,258. 




Now, Waweru plans on continuing this effort and he believes that his military background enables him to tackle the problems that come with being KWS’s Director-General. "When I was a naval officer I patrolled and apprehended those involved in illegal fishing or dumping. As an enforcement arm, when you go out and you expect to see resistance; to meet someone who is armed, just like you. So I understand what kind of dangers KWS troops face daily. I have been shot at when I was a UN military observer in Bosnia," he said. 




He plans to restore his organization to its former glory and is ready to let those go who "pull in the opposite" direction. "Kenya has suffered heavy poaching in the past, and inefficiency and low morale within the teams conserving and managing wildlife. I think there was a time of a bit of lethargy, but now there is a feeling of renewed energy in KWS. And we can see the results of that energy in how we are successfully protecting wildlife. KWS does not work in isolation but through strong relationships with the police, intelligence services, and other organizations such as Kenya Forest Service or charity Space for Giants," Waweru said. 




Space for Giant's Wildlife Justice Senior Advisor, Katto Wambua, explained, "What used to happen was rangers would put in all the effort, and face all the risk, to arrest suspected wildlife criminals, but they'd walk free from court days later because cases against them were flawed. The illegal wildlife trade will be defeated just as much in the courtroom as in the bush. It's a testament to KWS's coordinated approach to beating wildlife crime, and the DG's leadership, that they set up and continue to support the Case Progression Unit. It allows the law to be the strong deterrent against wildlife crime that it should be." 

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