Hirola Conservation Programme:

saving the world's most endangered antelope

Promotes the conservation of the hirola antelope and its fragile habitat in partnership with communities in eastern Kenya.

Friday, 21 April 2017 11:50

Ranger’s battle to keep hirola and giraffes off the Kenyan dinner tables Featured

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It looked like something was holding its neck about sixteen feet above the ground. It was struggling to get it off. With curiosity, Siyat and his colleagues nimbly approached the scene to determine what was happening. They knew they had to save it before it entangled itself to death.

Earlier in the day, the hirola desnairing rangers had started their routine anti-poaching patrol in groups of three. There was a total of six groups which had split when they arrived at the core area of Bura East Conservancy. This was aimed at patrolling more ground.

The sun was half-way up the sky and its rays shone directly over the vast hirola range as Siyat led a group of three through the dense scrubby vegetation moving northwards from Bura village. The afternoon heat was so intense that the hirola rangers decided to take a break under the shade of one of the invasive acacia trees that encroaches large parts of the hirola range.

As the team rested under the tree, sipping from their jungle green water bottles, they noticed a group of the majestic reticulated giraffes dotting the horizon, approximately a mile away. The browsers nibbled on the acacia trees that patched the degraded landscape. The giraffes seemed peaceful as they plucked the tiny leaves from the acacias. Suddenly, one of them seemed to struggle but the rangers couldn’t immediately realize what the problem was. As they moved closer, they noticed that the giraffe had a snare around its long neck. Somehow, after a horrendous struggle, the giraffe managed to snap the cable and free itself. This one was lucky! Most wildlife after being caught in a snare usually end up dying.

Unfortunately, snares have become very popular amongst poachers operating across the hirola’s geographical range.

In an effort to curb these threat, the hirola conservation programme has set up a desnairing team under our anti-poaching unit. The team comprises of six goose-stepping rangers led by Siyat Bethul (42 years) who is second in command of the whole anti-poaching unit in Bura Conservancy. He is a well-trained ranger with over ten years of front line conservation effort under his belt. Prior to joining our team, he had worked with several multi-sectoral research projects, and also as a research assistant with the Kenya wildlife service (KWS) thus acquiring important skills in data collection and monitoring of wildlife species. Siyat leads his team on daily patrols in groups of three each. They comb the vast hirola range looking for human tracks, snares, wires, disturbed branches or dead animals.

Poachers set about 20 snare traps each day, particularly along the Tana River flood plains. This is because preferred hirola grasslands lie within ancient rivers and lakes adjacent to the Tana River. These riverine areas stretch up to 7 km wide over parts of hirola range, allowing poachers to have large areas and suitable habitat to set their traps. These is further complicated by the hydrological regime of this river that includes biannual floods which peak in May and November making these habitats attractive to both hirola and other wildlife. It is therefore vital that we conduct our patrols on a daily basis in order to weed out the poachers and remove the traps.

“We also look out for wildlife that have been caught or injured by the traps and require urgent attention. I have rescued a lion, buffaloes, baboons and ostriches that are currently recovering in various animal rescue centers” Siyat explains. He says that within the hirola range, most of the wildlife are hunted for their meat which end up (as bush meat) in butcheries within the region. This is why snares traps are popular among poachers in the region.

“The poachers prefer antelopes like hirola and dikdiks, and the gentle giraffes which they consider to be tender and sweet. The giraffe that managed to entangle itself from the snare would have found its way to the locals’ plate by mid-day the following day. It would have produced about 600lbs of bush meat and sold for as little as $40” he adds.

In the last three years, Siyat has accumulated approximately 5625 hours, covering 14,063 km in 900 patrols, and has helped confiscate hundreds of snares all by himself. He says that they do their best on this but the hirola geographical range is wide and therefore very difficult for them to cover much of it. The poachers know this and therefore take advantage of this gap.

In less than a week, poachers can set up more than 100 traps over a wide area. They do this knowing that it is virtually impossible for us to discover all the traps meaning that we are occassionally outnumbered by the poachers. It is therefore our responsibility to track these poachers in the hope of ambushing them or discovering all their traps. We sometimes camp in the bush for several days tracking the poachers and rescuing the trapped wildlife.

More recently, Siyat helped in the arrest of one notorious bush meat dealer in Ijara town and has been receiving threats to his life from the family of the culprit. “I have been confronted many times by the family members of the bush meat dealers and openly threatened to stop investigating them” he vividly narrates. “For example, and in the last month, I received a hand-written letter delivered at my door warning me to stop confiscating the snares or else they would do something bad to me or my family members” he said. “But these threats will not stop me from curbing the poaching menace in my area” he added.

In the month of February, this year, Siyat mobilized and led his team to patrol one of the poaching hotspots in the area and also mobilized the communities in the neighborhood to report any suspicious activities which are a threat to wildlife in the area. The last two months alone saw communities reporting one poacher, and also 12 dikdiks killed in the area. In addition, the desnairing team is highly motivated and passionate of their work despite the looming dangers, thanks to Siyat’s leadership skills. “We all know him as a dedicated and passionate individual and his anti-poaching crusade is unassailable” says Khalif, the deputy warden in the Bura east team. In fact, his efforts have resulted in a more open community that is conscious of the wildlife around them.

Read 3491 times Last modified on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 14:09