Rhino ranger Harrison Kamande puts his life on the line to keep black rhinos away from the hands of poachers, so as to protect these critically endangered species for the next generation
Rhino ranger Harrison Kamande on protecting wildlife for the next generation
Elephant ivory, tiger penis and rhino horn — the demand for nature’s oddities has seen a spike in the illegal wildlife trade. In fact, overexploitation is the number two cause of loss of species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Three of five living species of rhinos are critically endangered, thanks to the poaching of their horns, which purportedly cleanses the body and blood of toxins, cures cancer, and is an aphrodisiac. Rhino horns are being smuggled out of Africa to Asia, with China and Vietnam as their destination, and Singapore is a major transit hub. Over $1.5m worth of black rhino horn was seized here in 2014. On the frontline in this fight against illegal wildlife trade is Harrison Kamande, patrol leader for the Kenyan Wildlife Service in Nairobi National Park. Two-thirds of the 1,000 rhinos in Kenya are the critically endangered black rhinos. Only 5,000 remain in the wild, as compared to 20,000 of the white variety, Africa’s other rhino species. Of these, 90 black rhinos and 16 white rhinos reside in the Nairobi National Park, under the protection of Kamande and his team. “We want to ensure that the black rhino population stays healthy. We’ve heard about dinosaurs before they became extinct, but they’re now only fiction. We’ve a reality with these rhinos, so why not take care of their future?” Kamande, who was here as part of World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore’s campaign against illegal wildlife trade, talks about tackling poaching head-on.
What is a day in the life of a rhino ranger like?
A typical day starts at 4am when we get the night patrol updates. Teams are assigned to various “blocks” while we are out in the field. We conduct foot patrols twice a day in the early morning and late evening—these are the times when poachers generally strike, so we are on high alert. Two teams are on standby at night. We ensure the security of the wildlife and visitors in the park, and also account for the number of rhinos we have. When we know where the rhinos are and how they are doing, we are more likely able to ensure their safety. It takes a day for poachers to succeed, but our work requires 365 days.
Who are these poachers and what are the tactics they use?
They are mostly locals who are part of well-organised cartels. They hit the different national parks all at once, so you can imagine the resources needed: from vehicles to food, and even bribes for the villagers. They act quickly—you may hear a gunshot just before dark, but it is already nightfall when you get to the location so you won’t be able to pursue the enemy effectively. But now that we’ve heightened security, poachers are opting for “silent” methods—they put out snares and hunt for the animals to lure them in. They use poisoned arrows and spears, and even poison water points, which kill other animals too.
You not only face the danger of poachers but also the animals you protect. Why do you do what you do?
There are risks—lions hunting in the park, laughing hyenas and poisonous snakes, just to name a few—but we want to protect the national heritage of our country for future generations. Our forefathers took care of these animals—humans and wildlife coexisted peaceably— and they passed the baton to us. But because of unsubstantiated beliefs, the demand for wildlife products has spiked, and our animals are disappearing today.
What do you want to say to the consumers of these wildlife products?
Whenever they consume them, remember that it could be at the expense of a ranger being killed; or a ranger might have lost his job, putting his family in suffering because securing another job would be difficult; and an innocent animal on the brink of extinction was killed.
What can we do to help curb illegal wildlife trade?
If there’s no demand, you don’t have a market—that’s a win-win situation. Voice your support for any action against illegal wildlife trade to lobby for stronger laws and enforcement. For example, when you see wildlife products being sold, report it to the local authorities. Poaching’s not a Kenyan problem; it’s not a Singaporean problem; but a global problem that should to be addressed by each and every one of us.