Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 8, Part 1: Wildlife and Poaching

On the eighth day of my trip, I joined the Africa Network for Animal Welfare on a three-day trip to remove poacher's snares. Each day, we saw a ton of wildlife. Here are some photos from the first day.

On Monday, January 13, we left Nairobi with a car full of camping gear and several pairs of wire cutters to go remove poacher's snares. The team was led by a man named Isaac and it included Peter (the driver), Johnson (known has "the Hawk" for his amazing ability to spot snares from afar), and Kate, the photographer and communications guru. We drove on the road toward Mombasa and stopped in the vicinity of a town called Machakos. Along the way, we picked up Paul, the cook.

Our team as it left Nairobi, standing in front of the Land Cruiser. This vehicle can and does go off road.

Typically, ANAW patrols three areas for snares - this area, Naivasha, and Tsavo. This is the closest area and thus the cheapest to patrol (their monthly desnaring trips are unfortunately limited by budget). It is also the only area they go that does not have elephants and/or buffaloes, making it the safest to patrol. A typical trip lasts a week, but this one was a gift to me, so I could see how desnaring is done, and it was just for three days.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) provides heavily armed rangers to protect ANAW on these trips, and to arrest any poachers they come across. ANAW itself could not arrest a poacher if they found one but KWS can! It's relatively rare to catch a poacher in the act and apprehend him (or her) before they run away, but they have done so on occasion. However, on this particular day, KWS was busy with an issue we'll soon discuss, so we could not do any foot patrols. We spent the day running errands and doing a few patrols around fencelines in the car.

Fences are easy places for poachers to catch animals, but they are also easy places for ANAW to patrol and find snares. After years of having their snares removed from fences by ANAW, the poachers in the areas ANAW patrols changed tactics and began putting snares out in the bush where they are more difficult to find. But ANAW continues to check the fences each trip because they are easy to check and the poachers might return there.

As we drove, I was surprised to see so much wildlife from out the window. Here is some of what I saw, one after another, all in one small area:

Thomson's Gazelle
Thomson's Gazelle


Zebras and gazelles

More wildebeests

A little further up the road, we stopped at a university, where Isaac left the car to speak to the locals. He came back holding a poacher's snare. A man there had found it and told Isaac he knew where to find more.

We drove a little further and saw a pastoralist (livestock herder) grazing his animals. Isaac got out of the car to talk to him. When he returned, he said that the man had not seen any snares, and anyway, they would have harmed his animals so he would have removed them if he saw them.

Isaac talking to pastoralist
Isaac talks to the pastoralist

The pastoralist's herd

Then we went for lunch:

Pilau, a dish that my colleagues were all craving.

As we continued driving, I saw a giraffe and shouted, "Holy [obscenity], a giraffe!" I wanted to stop for a photo but Isaac assured me we would see lots of giraffes. I hoped he was right. Here's a photo I snapped that was meant to be of the giraffe but ended up as a nice picture of the landscape:

Not a giraffe

A little later, we turned into an area owned by the International Livestock Research Institute that was home to a lot of wildlife and plenty of poachers. The car was immediately full of shouting and pointing "Ostriches!" "Warthogs!" and more. They opened the top of the car so I could stand on my seat and look out the top while taking photos as we drove. They looked for snares, and I looked for critters.



A pretty tree full of bird's nests. Tons of trees here are this full of nests, which makes me wonder why the trees in the U.S. are not. Have we really killed off that much of our wildlife, or removed that much of their habitat?

We passed ILRI's cattle, which were in their enclosure for the night. They would go out to graze again in the morning.



We passed a Kori Bustard (the heaviest flying bird) and a Kongoni, also known as Coke's Hartebeest, which ran away. The landscape was dotted with very thorny trees, including the whistling thorn. I wonder if the trees all adapted to have thorns because the huge numbers of grazing and browsing mammals would entirely strip them of their leaves otherwise.

Whistling thorn

Then Isaac spotted a dam and decided it was time to do a patrol on foot. Kenya has two rainy seasons - the long rains (March and April) and the short rains (November). We are in late February and the land here is about as dry as it's going to get. All of the seasonal rivers have run dry, and the animals flock to the few available water sources they have left. So do the poachers.

Isaac and Johnson looking for snares

Johnson looking for snares

All of a sudden, we heard a noise in the bushes. Kate had disturbed two spotted hyenas, who ran away.

Spotted hyena

Near the dam

An animal skull. Poachers kill animals, cut off the head, and take the meat.

We got back in the car and saw a few more critters on the way out.

A bird


On the way out, a Kori Bustard (the heaviest flying bird) and an Impala crossed the road in front of us. It's the first time I've had an impala in front of me on the road and it wasn't a car.

Kori Bustard

On our way out of the ILRI facility, we had a problem:

Apparently this is common, and this time wasn't even that bad. The men had the car out of the hole in under 15 minutes while Kate and I enjoyed the sunset.

We found no snares on that first day. Not a bad thing, I suppose, if it means that there were no poachers in this area.

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