One cold moonlit night in June in 2010 I was woken by gunshots in the far-off distance. I got up and went outside my tent. Was it a dream? No – because while I was standing in the crisp night air at 2 am I heard more shots. Five of them in short succession. AK47? I stood wide awake and tragic scenes came to my mind of frightened bodies huddled together around their young, as they scream and trumpet in panic and mill arround to try to escape the tearing bullets. The Combretum trees was casting dark and sinister shadows all around me in the moonlight and I felt a chill run down my spine. I went back into my tent and got dressed. I took my flashlight and went to the camp kitchen. The coals in the fire pit at the boma was still hot and I got some firewood to start a fire. My hands were shaking. I am not sure if it was anger or cold or both, but my stomach was tense and I felt sick. As I was fiddling with the fire I heard Ole Monchoni, the watchman cough and spit when he came out of his tent. He walked slowly towards the outer fence of logs of the boma and stood there in the shadows for a while listening – “Andrea?” he called. “Eê kake” I replied. He walked through the log arch enterance just as I got the fire going. The warm light of the sudden flames lit up his ghostly frame wrapped in a thick gray blanket. “Kainyoo nyamali?” (“What is wrong?”) he asked, as he came and sat next to me on the ring of stones as close to the fire as possible, hands stretched out over the flames. “Atoningo orbunduki?” (“Did you hear the gun?”) I asked. He yawned a long yawn, cleaned his throat and spat next to the fire before he said, “Antipoti?”(“Anti-poaching?”) I took the kettle and put it next to the flames and got up to go to the kitchen and got two cups when I replied, “A-a, mme Antipoti” (“No, it was not Anti-poaching”) There was no need to say more. I made us some tea and for an hour we sat in silence listening to the night. In my mind I was repeating over and over the terror I thought I saw in the shadows of my mind’s eye. It will take days for them to die …
The next day I drove to the nearest “Antipoti” outpost. Antipoti is the adopted Maasai word for “Anti-poaching” as the Wildlife Authorities was known during the colonial years. The ranger was at his post and carefully logged my report in his events roster. He then immediately got on the HF radio and reported to Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters at Ewaso Ngiro. From the scratchy reply over the receiver I understood that a unit of rangers was to be dispatched the next day to come and investigate the issue. Back at camp we divided ourselves and scouted the area where the shots most likely came from. We found nothing. The next day a unit of eleven rangers arrived and again we patrolled the wider area with them. Again we found nothing. A few days later the wind brought the news of death in the evening. The pungent smell of rotting flesh could be smelled for more than a kilometer. When the carnage was eventually found I went back to pick up the ranger at the KWS outpost. The ranger explained to me how they are handicapped by a lack of resources and infrastructure. Because they do not have a vehicle at their disposal, they are not able to come and patrol the area regularly. Loita is also not a protected reserve and is therefore not a priority compared to places like Maasai Mara and other parks. As I was looking at the painful sight in front of me, I was thinking – What are we going to do?
An AK47 is a very light calibre automatic rifle. The bullets from this gun rarely kill a huge animal like an elephant quickly. The poachers usually shoot the elephants in a spray of bullets and then track the blood spoor until they find where the animal has collapsed. Sometimes elephants are killed with poisoned spears. The poacher hide up in a tree on a known elephant path and wait on a full moon night until a herd or individuals pass. The poisoned spear is then thrown down into the rump or in between the ribs into the chest cavity. This also cause a slow and agonising death … I once found a carcass of an elephant where the bush was flattened – for 40 meters the dying animal crawled through the shrub, with the obvious help of his comrades trying to assist him to get up.
With the latest poaching incident a friend of ours was staying at the camp with her family. She wrote a poem about it:
Read more on “The Poaching Problem” under the Wildlife page. Please be aware that the pictures are very graphic and disturbing.