For the second time in the history of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, we face the difficult task of sharing some devastating news with you. On Saturday, October 30th, in the early hours before dawn, a group of poachers came onto the Conservancy and killed one of our female black rhinos. Her horns were taken and the poachers managed to escape.
At 3.45am gun shots were heard on the western boundary of the Conservancy, which were instantly reported to our ops room by a security outpost close by. Tracker dogs and KPR teams were immediately deployed to the area. As morning light came, the tracks of four men were found coming from within the Conservancy. Our worst fears were realized when a freshly shot rhino carcass was found – the horns hacked off. Road blocks were immediately put in place, and the poacher’s tracks followed into Ngare Ndare village, where the scent was lost. Critical information has since been gathered by our teams, with the support of the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Aged at least 41, Stumpy was Lewa’s oldest female black rhino and one of the Conservancy’s founding rhinos in 1984. She gave birth to eight healthy calves during her long tenure on Lewa – the most recent only 1½ years ago, surprising everyone by giving birth again at such an old age. Her calf was also injured in the attack, and has suffered a minor wound to the neck, but is otherwise healthy. He is being monitored carefully on a daily basis by our rhino patrol units.
The investigation is ongoing, and our security team is following some strong leads, but arrests have yet to be made. Whilst we have enhanced our training regimes since the incident in late 2009, and increased the number of security outposts, we are acutely aware that Lewa’s boundaries are porous, and that several public roads traverse the Conservancy. We do all we can to provide an effective deterrent by maintaining the high profile of our security teams, by the very nature of our response to such incidents, by our strong positive relationship with local communities, and by sustaining intelligence networks. But we are conscious that we can never fully eliminate the risk involved in hosting rhino.
This latest loss is a devastating blow to Lewa’s conservation efforts. But in a country and on a continent that is being overwhelmed by rhino poaching (South Africa is currently losing rhinos to poaching at a rate of one a day), this incident reinforces the severity of the situation we face. We are under no illusion that we have to continue to enhance our rhino protection efforts, and will do all we can to bolster our capacity.
The demand and price for rhino horn is staggering. As a result, no rhino sanctuary, not even one with the manpower and resources of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, is immune from poaching. But we believe that the privilege of Lewa’s lead role in sustaining this remarkable endangered species is worth the risk. And we can assure you that our management team is determined to do their utmost to give rhino a future.
Although the Lewa team is devastated at this second poaching, we are pleased to be able to end on a positive note. On the same day that Stumpy was poached, a rhino was born, bringing our total population back to 117. Lewa is, and will remain, a stronghold for black and white rhino in Kenya.