Not only are wildlife criminals heavily armed and extremely dangerous, the threat of violence from poachers is not limited to the slaughter of animals. Recently, the gruesome murder of a young man in Maungu Ranch has put an entire community on edge.
The body of motorcycle operator William Kiroka Mambo was discovered near the Maungu Ranch in June, 2013. According to one of the other boda boda (motorcycle) operators, “At around eleven o’clock on Thursday night, two people of Somali origin made a stop at the motorcycle stage where they requested a ride to their destination.” Reportedly, many of the boda boda operators were not eager to take up the men’s offer, but after hushed negotiations with one of the passengers Mr. Mambo, against the advice of his peers, agreed to taxi the two passengers to an undisclosed location along the power lines (roughly 1 kilometer from the motorcycle stage).
That was the last that was seen of him until he was discovered the following morning, with a bullet hole to the forehead.
The motivation for such a grisly murder is unknown, but residents can only speculate that during the drive, Mr. Mambo may have got word of some information that his passengers would have preferred to keep secret.
The murder comes in the midst of a government security operation to flush out nomadic livestock communities from the ranches in Taita-Taveta County. Most of the ranches in Taita-Taveta County form the major migratory routes for elephants and other wildlife moving across the Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. Over the past ten years, the ranches have attracted nomadic herders, most of who are of Somali origin, driving their livestock across the land. Kenya Wildlife Services and various security agencies have begun cracking down on poachers masquerading as herders to gain access to wildlife migrating across conservation land.
Concerns have also been raised over a possible connection between the herders and the poachers, with some residents alleging that the nomadic herders help to conceal the activities of the poachers. Our own Wildlife Works rangers have faced difficulty attempting to track the footprints of known poachers after the tracks have become mixed up with those of the herders, or obscured by the hoof prints of livestock.
The Kenyan government’s operation has created a volatile environment around our project area, and residents of the towns around the parks have been warned to be particularly careful and to avoid putting themselves in compromising situations. Recently, Wildlife Works’ Head Ranger Eric Sagwe led a security meeting with the police, Marungu Ward County Representative Paul Waweru Kang’ethe, the area’s administrative chief and Wildlife Works security representatives to discuss security concerns in the area and advise attendees on how to keep themselves safe.
During the meeting, it was brought up that wildlife poachers have been using some motorcycle operators as getaway channels. The tragic death of one of their own, coupled with the warnings and advice given at the security meeting, has served to reinforce the serious danger that boda boda operators may be putting themselves into by engaging in illegal activities.
We at Wildlife Works encourage our people to avoid risks, stay safe, and hope that the Kenyan government’s efforts will be effective in reducing violence for both people and wildlife alike.