Monday, 27 November 2017

KWS AT THE INFANCY STAGES:

Wildlife Conservation Management Department ( WCMD ) was a Government department that ceded grounds to the new outfit led by Dr Richard Leakey. This outfit was a special  Government parastatal formed in 1988 and was called the Kenya Wildlife Service ( KWS ). I can't explain the  criteria  used then but 1640 personnel from WCMD were retired officially. The brand new service  recruited more than 400 new rangers whom then went through a paramilitary training in the Manyani Field Training School. This was an interesting lot, in that non of them had any formal education and were all picked from the fearless nomadic tribes of the north. we gave them the code name " maiyolo" , a maasai word which means i don't know. This was a special group  who did not need introduction to guns, wildlife and the immediate job at hand ; tracking down poachers, which was the fundamental reason to their recruited in the first place.

 Trainers from the General Service Unit were brought in on request from their training school in Embakasi to help pump skills and discipline into the new bunch of recruits and a new head of security from the same force was co-opted in to the Service to enhance professionalism .Wardens under the WCMD were a law unto themselves, for they controlled all budgets in parks and stations. They had knowledge on road building , bridge construction, camp setting and all that one would need to start, run and manage a protected area. The Park Warden was the procurement officer, the AIE sole holder and the accounting officer. They were jack of all trades. To say the truth ,  my main dream to be a game warden was  given a new life in  1978 when I met a Mr Wanyama who was then the warden in charge of Samburu Game reserve , when i was working as a translator during a national population census exercises.The game wardens gave permits to government officers to kill wildlife during national celebrations and the administration police men in our team would shoot an impala or two when chiefs failed to give us goats to eat. 

The new DDS ( Deputy Director Security ) had some cards hidden under his sleeve in that for the first time the security operational funds were to be managed by the new incoming company commanders. This was unheard of, and as expected the idea was met by great resistance by the untouchable park managers.  28 of us were recruited from Government departments and were dispatched for a six month platoon commanders course and an initial paramilitary training in Manyani. There were no housing facilities for the officer cadets at the training facility so we cleared bushes to give space for tents, and we sat under tree shades on stones in make shift classes for the entire training period. We took our meals under trees and we were mocked and given funny titles by the old guards who felt that their jobs were at risk.

We ended up staying in training, both in manyani and Magadi soda for seven months and when we finally received our postings to various field units dotted all over the country, we were polished, smart, well groomed and an envy of the service . 27 of us graduated but only 26 reported to the new stations after posting as one decided to abscond duty when he heard that he was being posted to Kiunga in Lamu District . I was sent to Lead the Mt Elgon company which had bases in Cholim, Kaberua, kasawai and Lobokat in south Turkana.

The Mt Elgon Park game warden showed his dislike of me the first day I reported and I shared this with Langata through our compulsory daily morning briefs on HF radios with the operation centre better known as  "Oscar Charlie Hotel " (OCH ).  I was relieved to learn that I was not alone and that almost all of our group were being pushed to the fences. Money for security operations were forcefully deducted from the park funds and handed over to us.  Most of us had to carry this large sums of money in our cars which turned to be our offices due to the work load, and we were adviced by Langata to buy suit cases with combination locks where we kept the cash. We kept this briefcase at the luggage compartment behind the seats in the cabins of our vehicles.

I was the only one who knew the secret combination but my deputy had express orders to break the lock in case  of the unthinkable, like if I happen to be at the end of a bandits fore sight . Most of us failed to proceed for the normal annual leaves for many years due to the work load, but to say the truth we never complained .I once got into a dilemma when my official vehicle required the routine maintainance service check, and i had bought all the spares as per the list provided by the workshop manager, but when I delivered them to him he advised me not to bring the vehicle for service until he finished repairing an old Izusu truck which was not in any immediate need.  We had strict orders from Langata HQ to follow the vehicle maintenance schedule such that we could not use them if they were due for service. 


I informed Nairobi of my predicament after a whole week of waiting and when they contacted the park warden he adamantly said that the servicing of the security vehicle was not an emergency hence it should wait for its turn. The DDS could not hear this and I was advised to take the car into Kitale Town and have it repaired in one of the private garages. Believe it or not, the same park warden wrote to Nairobi accusing me of taking the vehicle for Servicing at a Jua kali garage ( Local )while the park had a fully equipped workshop. After the altercation, the park manager was summoned to the HQ in Nairobi where he was reprimanded.We carted our expenditure funds in briefcases for years before we were eventually ordered to open bank accounts and park accountants became second signatories . 

On one other occasion, one of the patrol land cruiser had an accident in the park during a mud slide and I was advised to take it to a panel beater in town but because I did not know the drills, I requested our intelligence officer who was conversant with the trade to help and I only came in during payment. But It eventually turned out that the payment receipts were inflated and an investigator was flown in from Nairobi. The officer concerned was grilled for days but when I was requested to explain my stand, I exonerated him from the allegations when I honestly said that I did not have a clue on what was going on and that the only thing that Mattered to me was that the vehicle was repaired and it was on patrol.

In-fighting within the  security department did not play out in the open, but it existed all the same. There were two senior wardens under the DDS who were in charge of the WPU, ( wildlife protection unit ) and the CLIC, (intelligence) and both of these senior officers were from the nomadic tribes of the north. Our intelligence  brothers collected information and in many cases they never bothered to sieve through them as they should, and they wrote long radio messages on poachers movement and gang sightings then they would disappear from the radar such that we could not get clarifications on issues they raised . They insisted that their work was to collect and disseminate information and that we had no business asking questions. We were foot soldiers whose sole duty was to track down poachers. 

We tried to make our boss see through our concerns, and we urged him to instruct the intelligence people to give us intelligent reports and not information,  but he would hear none of this , and this hurt us bad, because we knew where his heart was, and we also knew that he was once a foot soldier . But he was extensively protective towards the clic team and he had a soft spot for them. I was branded a rebel in the department because I asked questions, and I remember one time during a quarterly security meeting when it was said that I was encouraging rifts between the two sister units, yet all I was asking for was a little accountability from the others.  I remember giving an example of looking for a  coin in a water pond. I requested that we in the field only wanted to be given some extra directions as to what side of the pond to start with, how deep the pond was and maybe if we would need extra tools for the job. 

The CLIC team always gave us a positive number on members of a gang, the types of guns they carried and sometimes the amount of ammunition held by each individual, but they have always refused to lead us or give us pinpoint information on bandit hide outs.The strained relationships were not exposed to the surface within the department due to the fear that the information could reach our boss but the truth is that at times we could not see eye to eye for months in the field apart from exchanging the radio messages written to OCH and copied to the field commanders. At times we could refuse to follow their leads, and we would take opposite directions, and in most instances we succeed on hits, but woo unto us if anything happened on the direction they gave.  I later learned that the infighting was not localized to us alone at the service, but to every other security outfit including the GSU , and that encouraged us a little.

When I wrote the article on the Sarara Massacre, where eleven elephants were killed by poachers, I failed to mention the fact that I almost got sacked when I submitted the final report on the operation, highlighting what really happened, what we did wrong, and lessons learned. I drafted a situation report every evening giving relevant information on what we encountered during each day, state of the personnel, our intention the next day and what we expected others to do outside the " D " area. 

I mentioned that we wanted intelligence teams to monitor all access roads in and out of the area including all the small villages that dotted the highway between Sere olipi and Marsabit. But all this requests were ignored and I pointed this out in my final submissions. This almost sent me home were it not for Dr Richard Leakey and some senior officers who had seen the report earlier. The final report was forwarded to the Director by my then senior warden in Meru National Park, a Mr Kilonzo who was less than six months old on the job  and he was summoned to HQ to explain why he should not be sacked for forwarding a malicious report from a junior officer. He was advised to come and force me to write an apology letter for castigating a sister unit and that I was to be charged for being a bad boy.  

As expected, I refused to apologize and was ordered to report to the big mans' office in twelve hours. I did just that and by the time I was marched into his office, word had spread that I was being sent home for standing up to the DDS.  I was lucky though, for the Director knew what was happening and that he had intentionally forwarded the report to the  team so that he could personally witness and confirm the White House injustices within the department. ( the security HQ was housed at a building we called the White House ). My reputation as a rebel was written all over me. I might have escaped the sacking , but that was due to the excellent work I did as a company commander and the fact that I was among the few who found pleasure being with the patrol teams in the fields rather than issuing orders from an office desk.

 I remained the black sheep of the department and believe you me, the worst was still to come when I went flying against the wishes of the security team.  After I obtained my PPL (private pilot license). The almighty God works in mysterious ways and as fate would have it, i was completely forgotten and made to wait for three years, until a man named Nehemiah Rotich came in as the Director of the service and when he heard my story, he instructed the Air wing to give me a plane, and I finally wore the wings.

 In many instances I have reflected back on those early days and I have almost all the time concluded that we, the cadet officers were deployed at the right time to lead a very willing and disciplined ranger force. Most of our days were spent in the bush doing what we knew best and only went to the shopping centers and towns for little admins and supplies. 

We were total strangers to towns, in fact we feared them to the point where we were always bunched together in small groups. But the local maids loved us, for we were generous on tips. We occasionally picked fights with other friendly forces, mostly the police who simply loathed our simple and carefree style. The police were used to seeing the old game department rangers whose sails were long deflated but not these vibrant, free spending , smartly dressed youths who spoke very little Kiswahili and nothing of English. How we loved picking fights with the police , and I remember one time  when I took a full armed section into a police station to free two of my notorious trouble shooters from the cells.

We were young, we had good allowances and we wanted to dominate others. We were full of confidence and we believed that a little mischief was good for us all. The truth was we needed to release work pressure from the field routines , thus the mischief.  We could only afford this errands for two days in a row before we trooped back to our niches in high spirits and would talk about them until  the end of the month. We tried not to go to the same town for the next two months or more. We were a very contented lot and an envy to other security forces, but we instilled fear into the hearts of poachers and wildlife was safe in and out of the protected areas.

Monday, 14 July 2014

THE YEAR OF EL NIÑO

The rains got us by surprise as they were not due until mid march, but again it was a welcome sign to both wildlife and to the barren land. The Park was completely dry and the only green leaf was not fit for consumption by animal, insect or bird. 

The wells of Roka on the Tiva River were dry and every living, water drinking animal was concentrated on the Kijito wind pump near the ranger post in Ndiandasa. We had a full platoon of rangers stationed here who patrolled the Tiva River all the way to the Kokani Bridge on the Garsen/Hola road. 

They had fly camps on the Umbi and Mkomwe hills. They also maintained two-man reporting posts in the Orma community centers of Kone and Assa. The Gallana River which was 50 miles south of the Tiva was at its lowest and water was below the surface at some sandy stretches. The most vulnerable within the wildlife species were the old and the young, and they died every day on the long, lonely paths between feeds and water.

It had not rained for many months in Tsavo such that the once yellow grasses had turned brown, then black before they finally withered and were reduced to powder. The nights were cold but we dreaded day break for heat of the day was unbearable to all living things. It was therefore a relief to us all when those clouds gathered, first in slow lazy circles but later into storms which blew in winds preceding the torrential rains. It rained for four days non stop and we were caught off guard. We were not prepared as the Gallana River soared to levels never witnessed before.

The seasonal Tiva River extended its width by ten folds and the Ndiandasa patrol base was completely submerged. The quick thinking of an NCO saved the lives of twenty rangers stationed at the camp by sounding a stand -to alert in the middle of the second night and ordering everybody to vacate camp and to cross the Tiva River while they could. They would have been swept away if they had waited for sunrise. They had no vehicle but they managed to walk for 45 miles to their platoon HQ situated in Ithumba. It took them two horrifying days in the relentless rain and the flooded streams on their path.

The northern part of Tsavo East was a wild frontier even to us rangers but we  were always prepared for rainy seasons by stocking our supplies such as food stuffs , fuel for both planes and vehicles and other necessities at all patrol bases in anticipation of floods, but this time we were caught napping and totally unprepared . Our only luck was that it was month-end and most rangers were on pay parade in Voi. There was only one crossing on the Galana River near Luggards falls which was treacherous during the rainy season and the few who had tried to cross it never lived to tell their tales. Six of our rangers who refused to listen to reason and attempted to cross the raging flow in the late 90s have never been found to date and have since been declared missing in action. The only other route to these parts was via Kibwezi through the Kitui road. A very long route but the most sensible alternative.

I was the security warden for the Tsavo East National Park and Daniel Woodley was the Park pilot and we took off from Voi airstrip seven days after the onset of the rains, first to try to establish communication with field teams who have been off air since the on set of the rains, and secondly to asses the extent of damage on infrastructure. We were up for a very short period before it started raining again but what we saw deepened our frustrations though we managed to raise Kone and the gallana ranch units who reported that they had flat radio batteries due to lack of sunshine on their solar chargers. We managed to land safely in Voi but we remained anchored for a whole agonizing week full of relentless rain.

We were in a hopeless situation and our greatest frustration was that we were totally cut off from ranger bases in the volatile north and the fact that we did not know how they were fairing on. The pilot and i would try to be airborne every time it stopped raining but we would almost all the time turn back to land due to storms. We got a break one day where we flew for a whole hour uninterrupted and we made it to Mfupa ya ndovu, Koito , up to Huri plains then south through Emusaya, grenade valley and into the rhino ranges of Ashaka , Punda milia and the Sobo rock before we sped down to the safety of Voi air strip.

That evening we held an 'O' group with the other security officers and we decided that we had no other open course left to us but to use the Cessna 180 plane to patrol and take care of the protected area. A new 11 kilogram machine gun had previously been introduced to the service but we were shy in using it due to its weight and the ugly fact that the gun was prone to stoppages. We had noticed this set back when the gun was first introduced to us in Manyani during firing tests, but we were silenced by our senior officers who informed us that we had no option of refusing to take the weapon and the fact that the HQ had already bought it.

It was an MG3, chain fed with detachable barrels, a very heavy monster, and the biggest challenge was the fact that we were expected to carry it along as a section support weapon, and the truth that it was shoved down our unwilling throats made it unpopular to the field units. We had to tag along an extra barrel simply because they turned red hot during successive firing such that we had to change them every time one gave the gun a continuous squeeze on the trigger. This was an extra and unacceptable setback that we had to contend with but in time we learned that we could save the barrel from jamming if we gave the trigger short busts of up to ten rounds each. This was the weapon we decided to take along in our plane during patrols and it proved very useful.


Daniel the pilot would have the door removed on the right hand side of the 180 Cessna plane, and I was strapped to the back seat behind him holding the machine gun facing the open door. We attached a cord to the butt and secured it to the seat and the tripods were also connected to the foot step outside the plane. The pilot would then fly till he sees cattle herds or any suspicious activity where he would circle and then he would advice me if I was needed to release a volley. Our main aim was to warn the herders and potential poachers that though foot patrols were reduced to minimal due to flooded rivers, we were still in control and that the plane was just as good as a section patrol. This strategy worked very well for us in that we did not find any poached elephant for the entire El Nino period which was over six months.

One day, I Lost grip of the gun during flight and it would have fallen off the plane if it were not for the attachment on the butt. It was routine that every evening we met all Park officers at the officers Mess to brief them on the days patrol and to plan for the next day. This always translates to beer drinking. That particular evening we over did the ritual such that we woke with a monster sized hangover and throbbing headache.

We took off and headed north as planned and I started shooting as signaled by the serpent holding the controls only that this time my mind and all my reflexes were kind of slow and I completely forgot to give the gun short busts as always and this led to a stoppage. I shouted to the pilot over the engine noise to level the plane so that I could clear the stoppage but the crazy Mzungu kept on circling and my already sleeping mind went into a spin and luckily my unstable mid section gave in to pressure and I released its hot contents through the open door only to be blown right back into the plane. 

The pilot was not aware of the drama behind him until the fumes of stale undigested beer hit him and that forced him to level off before turning to look at my convulsing body leaning over the open door and the machine gun swinging outside the plane, hanging by the single Manila cord attached to the rear seat. It was a sorry sight, a horrifying episode that the crazy pilot who happened to be the son of the legendary Bill Woodley would continue to describe in different versions to every Tom and listening Mary every time he came to the Mess. It took me some minutes to come back to the world of the living and I did not have strength to work on the weapon, but I dragged it into the plane and signaled for the home run. I could hear the dammed pilot chuckling but for the first time since we met some few years earlier, he did not ask questions and we flew without talking till we landed in Voi.

The El Niño lasted a record six months, but it helped change the Tsavo vegetation. We saw a rebirth of some indigenous shrubs which had completely disappeared. We in the security management team devised great ideas back then on wildlife protection such as the formation of the camel patrol team who managed to reach the Orma villages of Waldena , inyali and Kalalani which were deep in the Tana River wilderness and which were the breeding grounds for the elephant poachers of northern Tsavo. This helped to completely stop elephant poaching in the Tsavos. We learned to bond well with our troops during the tough months and the daily evening 'o' group brought us officers closer together.
The months I spent with Capt Dan Woodley ignited in me a burning desire and interest to fly. Finally in 1998 I enrolled at the CMC flying school in Wilson Airport and attained a Private Pilot License (PPL). 


Thursday, 6 February 2014

THE HEROS OF MNAZINI

Tana River was declared a bandit county and every vehicle including ours had to be escorted by armed personnel every time it moves out of camp . The nearest shopping center to us from our camp in Baomo was a Pokomo village called Wenje less than 5 miles from the  camp. We had to send in a section to escort our families every time they go shopping. It was very dangerous to the extent that we could only stop on clear stretches of a road during breaks and two or more sentries had to be posted while the rest relived themselves in the nearby bushes.
 Our sentries were never allowed to stand upright and we had to clear every crossing, road bend and lugga on foot before crossing. We respected jungle rules and in the process we became one and the same with the Jungle and we lived . Many who failed to abide by this rules were pronounced past tense and they were many. I remember one time in Idasa Godana Ranch while on routine duties , we came across a platoon of the Kenya Army resting beside the road and I got genuinely concerned by their care free movement and the fact that they were not posting sentries , so I walked up to the CO, ( commanding officer ) and tried to advice him but he brushed me off, to the effect that he told me to go take care of wildlife and leave people to him. He was a major and I was only an assistant warden , so I tugged my pride and walked away. We got word that same day that a lone gun man had ambushed the army platoon and killed the same major while he stood on the cabin of their truck. Tough luck it was.


Laga Bunna was a  notorious ambush site preferred by bandits . A wooded bridge studded the seasonal river and the road was really bad for 200 meters on both sides of the bridge such that all motorist were forced to slow down to a crawling pace and this was ideal for bandits who would appear from the nearby bushes and sometimes from below the bridge to rob the vehicles. One day I was forced to cancel a planned ambush in Nairobi Ranch to respond to a distress satellite call that came to our senior warden in Lamu from a concerned citizen who saw a bunch of rowdy people welding guns aboard a passenger bus and leading it off road into the bushes some place that sounded like the laga Bunna bridge from the description given. 
The vehicle we were using had a carburetor problem but as luck had it, the warden Hola , a Mr Mohamed was on his way to Lamu so we planned to meet and exchange vehicles near Nyangoro . The senior warden was already in the air to lead us to the bad guys and he called in on the VHF car radio to establish our location. He almost made us kill ourselves when we gave him our location. The communication between us went like this ; " Charlye oscar from foxtrot Oscar Charlie " I replied , " this is Charlie Oscar go ahead sir" and he asked " what is your Lima Oscar Charlie " and I replied " we are now over the laga Bunna bridge over" then came the bomb shell from him," utapigwa sasa hivi, get out of the vehicle now". Boy, the driver did not wait for an order to stop, he went for the brakes and we both jumped out at the same time, he landed on the bridge and I not being so luck ended up landing on the river bed 2 meters below the wooded bridge.
 The rangers at the back of the vehicle were already out and two of them landed next to me as we rolled into cover expecting to be shot at . We stayed in that position as taught, for sometimes till we were sure that we were not in immediate danger then we regrouped  after clearing the vicinity we moved the vehicle away from the bridge into the bushes, then called the senior warden to inform him of our status and to ask him for further instructions.

We were informed that we should hold ground to await a military chopper from Garissa which was en route to help us capture the bandits.When it finally came we were made to walk below it while it flew above to clear more than a kilometer of dense bush. We were used to being dropped by choppers into enemy zones and we would maneuver our way through but having an armed chopper just above our heads with all the noise, the dust and presumed armed bandits ahead made things very very unpleasant to us. I could read from the movement of my men that they were also not happy with this arrangement so I gave a stop sign and we all went down together till the chopper was well ahead of us then we retreated to our vehicle and informed the senior warden of our displeasure. We had to wait for the chopper to clear the place and when it finally landed the crew  reported that they had not seen a soul. We later learned that we were about five miles from the incident area and that we would have salvaged the situation if we had known the exact location.

On another occasion , we were informed that six armed people were seen crossing River Tana near Mnazini by herdsmen and a section was sent to investigate.One hour later they came into contact and two bandits were injured, one was killed and one of our rangers was also injured. I sent in two more sections and by midday a spotter plane from Voi had reached the scene and the pilot was leading us in for the final sweep when another ranger was again shot and injured in an ambush. 
My section  dropped back to cover the group with the injured ranger. We had to crawl on all fours to get into a better position to actually see where we were being shoot from. Once we managed to locate the enemy position, we knew that they had an advantage over us for they were on a raised ground in the middle of a clearing and that they had clear view of all their surroundings. We could not estimate their number for they resorted to firing one weapon at a time. We were pinned down for the best part of the day and the pilot had to land in an empty maize field and join us for consultations. 
We decided to send in two rangers to approach from the east while the rest of us increased activities on the opposite side. A third team started taking distractive shots at the bandits making it sound like  we were ready to mount a big offensive on their position. The two volunteer rangers were forced to crawl on their stomachs for more than 200 meters and because we did not want the bandits to suspect that we had some card under our sleeves.We actually started the final assault on their position and we threw everything their way including thunder flashes.

They must have bought our motive for they started shooting at our direction with three guns in earnest and this gave us all the time and attention we needed for our two men to get in place. 25 agonizing minutes latter we heard two FNs opening up in the eastern side and they sounded so loud such that we all stopped shooting and listened to their pleasant and long awaited onslaught . There were screams from the enemy position and soon all went quite. 
We all stood up not knowing what else to do and the silence was broken when the two rangers appeared at the hill which was previously commanded  by the bandits for the better part of the day. We all screamed as one and scrambled up the outcrop like a liberated lot. We hugged and carried the two rangers shoulder high like the Heros they were. There were two unrecognizable bodies on the hill, another mutilated one in a warthog hole near by and we recovered two AK 47 rifles and a G3. We came to the conclusion that the man in the hole must have been their leader for he had full police uniform including a lanyard and he must have been injured badly and that they were waiting for darkness to sneak him out. The loyal lot died protecting their leader . A very honorable deed indeed.
Our two Heros were non other than ranger Lenguyayo and the late ranger Kutai. Their bravery saved the day for all of us in the Baomo Platoon and though we had no medals to award them, then our silent prayers, the constant stares and trumpeting of elephant herds when they pass close to our camp on their way to the mighty Tana River for a dip and drink, would be received by our maker and are sure to give them credit when they eventualy end their tour of duty on earth. In shaa Allah.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

THE MAREMBO INCIDENT

We were building a fence around the air strip near our camp within the Tana River Primate Reserve to stop the Orma livestock and people from traversing the air strip. We have had scares in the past when planes bringing  in our supplies land  at the strip. We were also preparing to receive our Director; David Western who was expected to kick off repatriation of the local Pokomo community members who were being relocated from the reserve to Kipini areas. There was too much pressure exerted to the primates environment by the locals and the Government was given a grant by GEF to buy 5 acre plots for each family. Fence materials were delivered from Nairobi  and i was required to look for ballast for the works to start, so I was picked by plane from the new air strip and flown to Wilson.

The truck I was to use was still being repaired at the central workshop and the directors visit was scheduled to start in a weeks time so I was given one of the newly acquired two ton canter trucks to transport some ballast to help kick start the fence line. It was a Toyota Dyna and it was very new that it was  not yet painted with the KWS green. It was white, so we filled it with the pebbles and started the 1000 plus kilometers ride to Baomo. We were four in the vehicle ; the driver named Gele, ranger Ngorongoro who was coming to the platoon on transfer , the mason and I , all of us crammed in the small cabin and it took us more than 13 hours from Nairobi to Malindi were we had to rest and wait for our escort. 
We left Malindi some times past mid night and proceeded with the escort team trailing us but we were heavy so they would drive past us then wait for us ahead, then we would pass them and they pass us again and we continued like this till morning found us some  miles out of Garsen town. We stopped beside the road for a short rest and the rangers chose to drive in to the town for breakfast while we in the truck continued on our slow pace.

I dosed off as soon as we started again and had to raise the window glass for we were cramped in the cabin and needed to lean my head on the glass. I must have slept for a long time for when I was woken up by the ranger and cries of the mason, I saw the MAREMBO sign post in front which is normally more than 20 kilometers from the Garsen - Hola junction. I did not have to ask why my group was exited for two shoots fired in succession rant the calm morning and a tall light skinned youth came out of the bushes to my left and ran along the slow moving truck. I could see his face clearly for he was less than 80 meters from the road and his head and part of his face was covered by a blue scarf . He was carrying a G3 rifle and he was not shooting directly at the truck but in front of us which was a polite way of  asking us to stop. We had no intention of doing so as requested and the driver needed not be told that we were not armed and that we should never be at the mercy of high way bandits, more so now that I was on board , yes I was on board and every highway robber and bandit in the Tana River and Lamu Districts would love to have my heart for lunch. He changed gears and the nose of the truck pitched up and started gaining momentum gradually and this must have stunned  the man who was trying to stop us for he came to a sudden stop and started taking aimed shots at us.

KWS had officially joined the police in fighting highway hijackers. It was only three weeks since the Witu ambush where the driver of our escort team was killed with five bandits neutralized  and here I was on a lonely road not knowing where my escort team was while seeing death in the form of a young, G3 welding, not so handsome bandit firing shots at me . In normal circumstances I would gladly have welcomed such opportunity to engage a much sought after contact with a lone bandit but I was not armed, not even with a pistol which has never left my side since I graduated from manyani field training school in July 1992. It was not that I forgot packing my side plate, no, but I flew to Wilson and I knew that I was to board public transport, and experience has taught me that commuters on public transport don't welcome such wares and we have witnessed people literary jump out of moving vehicles when they know that you are carrying one, mistaking us for car thieves. 

I felt naked, totally helpless but curiously I was not afraid  and I  turned in my seat to watch the man shooting at us till we were out of range. I could just imagine the dejection and utter disbelieve written all over him. We stopped to examine the vehicle when we were 10 miles from the ambush site and we found four bullet holes in the canvas which must have been stopped by the pebbles we were transporting for they did not reach us in the cabin. We resumed our journey to camp with no more incidents and waited for the escort team to arrive. They came half an hour later and they reported that they had stopped at exactly the same position where we were shoot at after they smelled gun powder in the still morning air and the same guy who shot at us appeared from the bushes but he despaired when he saw the rangers. We dispatched two sections to search for the bandits and their foot prints led the team to their hide out 5 miles from the main road. They were not found that day, but word soon spread out that the white truck shot at belonged to KWS and that I was actually in it. This caused panic in the district and emissaries were sent by the local leaders to assure us that the people concerned would be identified and brought to us.

The gun which was used during the ambush was surrendered to us in a weeks time and the owner was arrested soon after. The local community was fed up with banditry and their resilience was evident when they handed over the man responsible for the ambush. This was a big achievement to our efforts in wildlife conservation in the region. It proved that we in KWS were a major partner in security  and that our direct and mutual approach to issues concerning the communities was accepted and appreciated by them . The service was not impressed by my actions by not packing a side arm , and I received a stern warning letter from the Deputy Director Security ( DDS ) to the effect that I will be charged the  next time I endangered my live . I felt loved , and touched by his affection , and I promised me never to leave my tools of trade behind again. This was the service at its best. The HQ cared for our well being and our well fare was awesome. We in turn did our bit and more.We exceeded expectations. We were happy and we loved our work.


Monday, 9 December 2013

COMMUNITY SOCIAL RESPONSOIBILITY

The Kenya Wildlife Service is mandated by an act of parliament to protect and preserve flora and fauna  within the boundaries of the republic of Kenya and to ensure the security of all visitors to the nations protected areas . Wildlife thrived in community lands outside our areas of mandate and the poachers could only enter the national parks with assistance from bad elements within the communities, so we found it acceptable to work with the locals and in many times we defended their interests. 
We were always conscious to the fact that we lacked protection from the law out there and that we could face prosecution if we took the slightest detour off the line. It was a very thin line for sure, because security is nothing more than taking risks and there was no way we could be confined within the park boundaries waiting for poachers to come. 
We had to reach out to informers out there. There were no mobile phones then so we had to sneak out to meet them in the mosques, churches, market places and at miraa joints.

There were two assurances that we banked on every time we pursued poachers outside protected areas; one was that we relied on what we called "hot pursuit " which was imprinted in the law and it cleared us to pursue poachers when they leave the park and find refuge in the community areas after committing a crime.
The second one was that we had a silent understanding with the police that we could do the job after which we had to hand over the case and the exhibits to them and they always claimed credit for the work done. We were really good in the elimination method such that we never left trails behind and we did our jobs without thinking of consequence . 
Elephant movements into Tana river District was seasonal and we had to follow them deep into Baridi areas near Assa or drive to Haroresa forest near Wayu village just to see and count them as expected routines .  It was therefore a relieve to us when the then senior warden who was based in Lamu, gave us unwritten orders that we should stop highway robberies between Garsen and Lamu forthwith and that we should treat buses as our elephants .


This was police work. They used to board buses while escorting them but the bandits were not afraid of them and buses were stopped and robbed every day as the gangs wished. 
They became very bold such that they could stop a whole convoy in broad day light and rob each and every passenger individually before sending them off with messages of dire consequences to the police , mostly of death if they dared interfere with their operations. The security forces had reasons to believe in the threats for many a times escorts were shot dead then butchered like goats in the presence of the people they were escorting. There was total relieve from both the security forces and the public when we announced our intention to join the Frey. The year was 1994.

We did not board the buses as the Police did , for we knew all ambush spots on the highway, so we got in early into these spots and laid in wait for the bandits to lead in their pray.  We ambushed the hot spots of Lagga Bunna, Lango la simba and Nyangoro bridges on our first stint and we silenced 8 bandits that single day. We took them by total surprise and we were ruthless in execution . Well what would one expect?
 They were not trained soldiers and had no discipline but they murdered people with impunity. They knew that the local police feared them, so they did not clear their ambush sites and we watched them from our covers as they came in and just stood in strategic points while they waited for their team members manning the makeshift road blocks  to lead in the buses to them. 
We could not wait for the passengers to alight from the buses for fear of hitting them, so we picked out the bandits as they rushed to welcome the vehicles and this took them completely by surprise as very few of them saw their assailants and only one or two of them remembered to release some wild shots with no aim. 
 All three ambushes were successful that first day. No buses were robbed that day, everybody celebrated our success and we were happy that we had no injuries on our selves, but again we knew, that the people we were hunting would not give in easily and that things were only getting sticky. 

All vehicles were expected to assemble at the police road block at Kanagoni in Kilifi District on the Malindi- Garsen road and were to be escorted by police to the Garsen- Lamu junction.They were not allowed to cross the Idsowe bridge until noon. 
Rangers would be in position by first light on the possible ambush sites and a chase car commanded by an officer would ride in the convoy to help keep us on radio contact and also to help us monitor movements. In most days the senior warden would over fly the convoy all the way to Witu town . 

On one fateful day, I was in Idasa Godana ranch to check on some reports and the platoon comander  in-charge of our Mukowe team was leading the convoy. The plane was patrolling the Boni and the Dodori Natural Reserves. Every body else was doing normal routines. It was a normal hot and humid day with a typical coast weather. The escort team was in an old four gear Toyota land cruiser we nicknamed " Nine Nine ", it had no top and on this particular day the wind shield had to be raised to stop dust from the convoy from getting into the men's eyes . 
The ride from Minjila was smooth and all vehicles were to stop briefly in Witu for refreshments. Some buses were already full and did not stop but continued the race towards their destinations. 10 miles out of Witu, the first three buses were stopped and directed towards the small road leading to Kipini village where each passenger was robbed of every thing including watches. Some were beaten with no particular provocation and to cap it all some women were molested and abused then forced to go naked into the buses. The message given to all was to tell KWS to get out of the escort duties or passengers will be killed next time round.

The vehicles that stopped in Witu were not aware of the hijacking and they streamed past the ambush spot in full speed and were not interfered with until the KWS escort vehicle came into view, then all hell broke loose. 
Eight AK 47's loosened up , all of them shocking on automatic fire directed on the open cruiser. They were on both sides of the Tarmac road and they would have razed down the entire unit had they respected the rules of setting up ambushes, but they were not a disciplined lot, so they rushed the oncoming car. They started shooting while they were still more than 300 meters away and by the time they came to the effective range, their magazines were empty and they stopped to reload. 
By that time the escort car was in their midst and tables were over turning. The escort commander was seated in the front seat next to the driver and when he realized that they were under fire, he shouted to the driver not to go off the road but to drive straight into the oncoming volley and by doing that he saved his men, for he did not expose their flanks , and he narrowed  the angle of attack. 
The bandits did not expect this move, so most panicked and started running to the nearby bushes, but by that time the  vehicle  engine had stopped  and the rangers jumped out as in a drill, rolled on the hard Tarmac in union and as commanded by their officer, pushed safety catches into the singles position and picked out the now retreating bandits one by one until there was nothing left to shoot at. 
Many of the vehicles they were escorting zoomed past the action zone without stopping and many passengers were injured by the flying lead but luckily none was fatal. It was these vehicles that got into Mukowe village and reported that the entire KWS escort team has been massacred . This is how the message was transmitted to us via our VHF car radios. Three sections reached the scene within an hour after the report was broadcasted.

All the six rangers and the officer in the escort unit were safe, but they were covered by bruises and cuts they sustained while rolling on the Tarmac.  Their ranger driver was not lucky. He must have been hit by one of the rounds that killed the engine of their vehicle  and he must have died trying to slow the car, for he was found dead in his seat with his right foot on the break pedal. 
He was discovered when a ranger was sent to the car to pick the first aid box  when the fight was over and this stopped the rangers from pursuing the bandits into the bush. We found them sitting around their vehicle with dejection written all over their faces and after attending to their injuries using the few understocked first aid boxes in our possession, we spread wings, cleared a kilometer radius on both sides of the highway and in the process we found four dead bandits as one of the teams finished off the fifth after milking information out of him. We also recovered six AK47 rifles and more than 400 rounds of live ammunition . The injured men were treated  in Lamu hospital and later discharged .

This contact proved to be very costly to organized highway robberies. Although we responded to isolated incidents else where in the two districts of Lamu and Garsen , peace eventually reigned. We continued to serve our stakeholders through the CSR initiative and wildlife was assured of space in the community areas. 
The officer who led the escort unit that day is currently a senior warden with the WPD, ( Wildlife Protection Department ). 
The whole company assembled in Mukowe to see off the convoy which took our departed colleague to his final resting place the next day. We presented arms, gave him a final salute and prayed to the Gods of his people to grant him easy passage to the next life. That was one of the many rangers I lost to poachers and bandits during my active years in service , but this has never discouraged us , rather it gave us more resolve , more energy , and the urge to pursue wildlife killers every where and any where. 
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Sunday, 1 December 2013

Kakamega Forest Reserve.

Kakamega forest is a National Reserve which is managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service. In 1993 I was requested to send in men to arrest charcoal merchants who had invaded the forest.The warden in-charge of the reserve  had only three rangers and he lacked transport. We had never been there before so two rangers from the reserve joined our patrol. Back then there were no roads in the reserve, so we packed our back packs with dry ration which would last us for three days. 
All other self belongings were packed into the vehicles which then were driven and parked in the park head quarters. We were twelve in total and we walked slowly for in most places we had to cut our way through in the forest thicket.  I have led patrols before in Mt Elgon forest for many years but it was totally difficult to walk in the kakamega forest as there were no big game which could open up paths. 
So we were forced to use machetes to clear paths and this took almost all our time. We managed to cover only five kilometers that first day before it rained and we were forced to make camp.


We were used to ants, but the kakamega ants were big and were everywhere. They did not bite but they got into our nerves for they found their way to our food, our clothing and eventually into our eureka tents. They were quite a nuisance , and though they were running away from the tormenting rain , they had no business coming to us.we expected them to go climb trees. 
We had a sleepless night and we could not light fires due to rain, so we covered our bodies with the tents and prayed for the sunrise which took long to appear. We could not make tea that morning but we took biscuits and gulped them down with water then we started from where we left the previous evening. 
By midday we came to the only river that cuts across the reserve and it took us time to find a place to cross it for it was swollen and had no bridges. We found a huge tree that had fallen across the river and two men had to clear the branches and make some foot holds before we eventually trooped over it to the opposite bank. 
30 minutes after crossing the river, we smelled smoke and we heard someone singing, so we stopped and sent in two rangers on Reece missions . It took them one full hour but they established that there were two camps and they saw only six people who were very relaxed for they were sure that no security men have ever reached these depths before.
 We consulted and it was agreed that due to lack of sleep the previous night, we could not guarantee the safety of the prisoners during the night so we chose to enjoy our sleep and do the rest in the morning. So we let them be, and we slept without posting sentries for the first time in many moons.

We were up before sunrise and found occupants of the first camp still asleep. The three were roped together and tied to a tree where we posted two rangers to guard them then we proceeded to the second camp which was a kilometer away. The paths between the two camps were well used meaning that they have been there for a long time and this was confirmed by the explanation given to us by the occupants of the second camp.
We heard them shout to each other in loud voices which told us that they were not in the same place. One man was seated near a burning tree while smoking a joint.We could not see the second man for he was in the bush probably fertilizing the forest floor , so we waited until he emerged still trying to tie his worn out belt.
 The guy in the bush was explaining to the one seated at the fire that they were sure to harvest three bags of charcoal every day for the next three months from the burning tree. We later realized that they had cut down a mature Elgon Tick tree whose trunk took six of us to circle while holding hands.  It was quite a shame to see a monster of a tree like that being felled for charcoal. Elgon Tick tree has some of the very hard timber in the world and it must have been there for over a hundred years.

The two men we arrested refused to tell us where the third member had gone, so we ambushed the camp and waited for him to come. We waited for more than three hours and when he finally came he took us by surprise , for he refused to surrender and attacked the rangers with the machete he was carrying. 
The man rushed the armed men while welding the sharp weapon above his head and did not heed the warning shots fired at his feet. 
The rangers shouted at him to stop but he kept on coming giving us creeps and hints that he was possessed.He tried to cut off the head of the lead ranger but he ended up cutting the FN rifle the ranger was using to block the  blow. 
The rest of the group , me included , did not wait to see who the man would try to behead next,  so  we all raised our weapons and opened up on him. He stood there shaking for a whole minute , gazing at us with his mouth wide open in disbelieve. I failed to see his eyes for there were bullet holes all over his head and by the time I called for a cease fire, his own mother would never have recognized him. He was quite a site, and he was in a mess, I felt sorry for him.

We dosed the fire and destroyed the kilns, then forced the guys we arrested to dig a shallow grave and bury their dead before we tied them to each other and marched them towards kakamega town. 
It took us two hours to reach the town and we booked them at the police station where we recorded statements on the  dead man. The police were amused when they saw the rifle cut and warned us never to try and arrest such people .  
They told us that the weed they smoke was not the normal one , and they always mix it  with other additives . Well,  he met his match that day and though we might have cut short his supply here on earth, he might as well get plenty more where he was heading to , but of course that also depended on where he was destined for.

We patrolled the forest for a whole week but never managed to arrest any more timber poachers, for  word had gone out that the Kenya Wildlife Service rangers were in town and not the Normal game department rangers from the kakamega station they were used to, and whom lacked muscle. 

We took a different route out on our way back and we went through Bungoma to Malakisi where we zeroed our weapons at the police range grounds before checking into the Cheptais wonder land for active engagement .

Nakwamoru incident. South Turkana National Reserve. 1993

 Charley coy, had its head quarters in Cholim on the slopes of Mt Elgon, which was 27 kilometers from Kitale town, but it had platoons based in Kaberua on the western side of the mountain taking care of the new Mt Elgon district to cheptais, and the whole of Kapsokwony.  The second platoon was based at Sarmash which was at the boarder of Turkana and Pokot , but was latter moved to Lobokat. There are two National Reserves here; the South Turkana National Reserve  which starts at the Wei Wei river near Kainuk, to the Kerio river as its eastern boundary. The second is the Nasalot National Reserve which is found between the Wei Wei river and the Turkwel river which emanates from the now Turkwel hydro electric dam. 
The platoon also takes care of the Rimoi and the Kamnarok National Reserve towards the south. There has ever been a resident herd of elephants numbering 200 between these two reserves which are threatened by the ever increasing population of people migrating from the high mountains raising from both sides of the reserve.

South Turkana is surrounded by the Loturuk mountains and the Kailangon hills to the east, and has pure plains of Kaadengoi ,and Kaakong which are teemed with all types of wildlife during the rainy season before they take refuge at the towering mountains during the dry spell. 

Two incidence took place here during my tour of duty ; one was the Nakuamoru killings , and the weiwei poachers. 

Reports were received from the local people that an elephant was killed near the Nakuamoru rock, and the reserve Warden who was based at Sarmash decided to take his own PAC ( problem animal control unit ) without informing the WPD ( wildlife protection department ) rangers based at Lobokat to arrest the situation. It is important to note that PAC rangers are trained to deal with human wildlife conflict , but the WPD group are more conversant in security management and are more equipped to handle security complexities . The warden took four rangers and visited the scene where they found many people cutting away meat of the dead elephant, and for reasons best known to them, they opened up fire on the group and killed two of them on the spot. 
They were then led to where the tusks were hidden and they decided to arrest the two people who took them to the loot. The team then proceeded to Lobokat to report their success and recorded it in the OB, ( observation book ) and they wrote a radio message to be transmitted to Nairobi as required, then proceeded to Lodwar police station to commence prosecution.

The HF ( high frequency) radio had a microphone problem thus the rangers failed to dispatch the written message but the company command in Cholim was informed through the VHF radio and this prompted my need to drive more than 200 kilometers to verify and confirm the incident. I got to Lobokat in the night and after repairing the microphone the written message was transmitted and we retired to bed. 
Early the next morning I visited the scene and found the dead elephant , then we were led to the two bodies and we placed them together in a makeshift grave and buried them. We then patrolled the Turkwel basin and went back to meet the OCS (officer commanding station ) at the Kainuk police base and he was shocked to learn that two people were killed by our rangers. We failed to understand the actions of the warden and I had to call him to come and explain his actions. 
We later learned that the officer was advised by his able sergeant to do what they did. They even tried to erase what they had written on the OB and they also destroyed the radio message form they had early written. What they failed to know is that the message had already been transmitted to Nairobi and was latter used against them. The officer and the Sargent were arrested and charged for the murder of the two alleged poachers. The case took one year and the two were latter acquitted for lack of witnesses and evidence.

In the weiwei incident , rangers on patrol came across two people skinning an antelope they had previously killed and they opened fire upon seeing the rangers. The patrol shot back and one of them was gunned down and the other injured but managed to shoot his way through. A Kalashnikov was recovered with 80 rounds of 5.56 mm and this were taken to the Kapenguria police station but the police  refused to keep the gun at their armory claiming that the local community ( Pokot ) would overrun the station looking for the gun. 
We took it to our main armory in Cholim . The next day there were demonstrations in Marich pass by the Pokot claiming that KWS were their enemies and that they should be moved out of their land. They declared that they would shoot every KWS person on site and that grenades should be fired at our vehicles. Such threats are never taken lightly mostly when they are issued by the Pokot .

 I immediately assembled two full sections together and drove straight to Lobokat to reinforce the platoon. I  had five vehicles and a total of 45 men to face the challenge and I wanted to show off my strength , what we call show of might, to see if I could force the community to the table.  
For two days we traversed the entire place, from Tot to Sigor to Lomut , Chesogon and back to Marich pass without interacting with anyone.  At the police road block in Marich pass , I left a message for the senior chief, that the ball was now in his court and that he should plan for us to meet. He requested us to meet the next day at his place.

I took  one section to the meeting but  left them at the police lines and walked alone , without even a pistol to their meeting. You see, I am a nomad just like this people , and I know that stupid courage , and naked boldness , has great impact to them , and it is a pure sign of manliness and everything else associated to courage. I was only a boy to them , light skinned and very slim, and my actions took them by complete surprise , and they gave me the floor to explain things, and this I did very well,  for all those who were facing the other side simply because they disliked me , turn around to look at me,  and those who were laying down as they normally do when they don't like the speaker or the topic, rose up and listened, and when I eventually sat down, they did not talk for a very long time, and when they did , it was only to request me to walk back to my men , and that they would contact me latter. 
 On our way back to Kainuk , we found the man we had injured previously , and his foot had a big gaping hole and that the wound had turned septic and he was dying. We drove him to Kapenguria hospital for treatment then we informed the police. The simple act of taking this man to hospital rather than killing him was passed to all corners of the Pokot lands and it changed their perception towards us over night. 

A delegation of elders was sent to meet us two days latter at Amolem, and our differences and misunderstandings  were solved to date. My gamble bore fruits and the Pokot and the Turkana communities agreed to work with us in developing the two Reserves of Lobokak in Turkana district, and Nasalot in Kapenguria district. The wardens office has since been moved from Sarmash to a site very close to the Kengen Electric Power Company and the Lobokat base now has permanent ranger houses