Monday, 16 November 2020

Sarara massacre November 1993

Sarara massacre November 1993:

Our organization (KWS) had acquired it's first GPS gadgets, and all Company Commanders were  sent to Manyani Field Training School to learn how to use them. We were there for one full week and at the end of the course each one of us was given one of the gadgets to take with for practice. We left the school in high spirits thinking that the implement would help us end poaching ASAP . I took a bus to Nairobi and went to one of our preferred joints in Ongata Rongai in the Kajiado District for the night, but I called our operation room (OCH) first to let them know my location. At some minutes to 1500hrs, a vehicle was sent from the HQ to pick me and I was directed to report to the staff officer operation ( SOOOPS) for briefing , and he informed me that there were reports from Samburu that elephants might have been poached in the Sarara area near Wamba.

I did not come with my official car , so i used public transport to Meru town and reached there late and went straight to bed. The Opps room had contacted the warden in Meru to book me a room in one of the hotels, and he was also instructed to provide a vehicle to pick and drop me at Lewa Downs where one of our patrol planes was to pick me early next morning. We were very efficient , and everything went as planned and by fast light we were airborne towards the Mathews ranges where we had more than 3000 Elephants but they were ever in threat of being poached by armed poachers from Isiolo and Marsabit  who then transported the tusks through Moyale into Ethiopia .
 In those early years, the local population was not involved in actual killings of elephants , but they would innocently give out information on elephant  and rhino movements to the Somali poachers. Two Somali families in Baragoi were known poachers but we visited them once, and I believe that they took us seriously and another family in Wamba was also suspected but again they were small timers and they required little bugging , and fear did the rest.

Sarara, is the current Namunyak conservancy , and it occupies all that prime game country from Lerata to Ndonyio Wasin, which is on the boarder of Marsabit and Samburu districts. It has fairly good rainfall , plenty of rugged hills which include Ndikiro eelkimaniki, lejas, kumomoyog, soito naarok to mention just a few . This is the elephant country, and you could find hundreds of them moving together in great noisy herds, grazing and flattening every bush on their path. There were hundreds of mud pools in the open bush land and water was in every lugga. Yes , this was haven for the mighty kings, but we also knew that the hills could hide too many secrets, and of out most interest were two Somali families that had just settled  in Sere olipi center thus our antennas were always aimed at them. They were a real threat, and we knew it , but they were Kenyans and had a right to live anywhere.

The out post in Kitich camp which was on top of the Mathews had reported having received information from the locals that gun shoots were heard in Sarara , and had requested that a patrol plane be sent there to verify the info, but the Meru plane was in Wilson for a hundred hour check and would not be available for the next two days , so Meru adviced the officer in Kitich to send in home guards to see what was killed , and it was they who saw and reported that six elephants have been killed and a patrol section from the Samburu Complex was sent in through Sabashi hill to verify the information and this is the team we found close to the carcasses . We spoke to them via the aircraft radio on the direct channels for they were on VHF, thus transmission was limited due to surrounding hills. It was the first time for me to see so many elephants killed in one place, and it was really a very sorry site.

 We discovered two more carcasses eight miles away and that is when I knew that there must be more so i called Meru on the plane radio and instructed them to send in another section and that my official transport was to pick me in Wamba that same day. I could not miss in on this one.

The pilot dropped me in Wamba air strip and proceeded to Kina for refueling and i latter met the second team at Ndikiro eelkimaniki pass where we followed the only road in to the killing fields. The road was build by the kenya army while escorting the herds that belonged to then army commander; Major General Lengess and the road was named after him. We drove to a dam between the hills and camped there for it had started raining and the night became very cold yet we could not light a fire to make tea. The place became flooded and we feared that we could be swept by the water flowing down towards us from the hills on three fronts. The rains must have stopped in the wee hours of the morning, and we could not sleep but cradled in our seats in the land cruisers.  We knew we could not make tea in the morning, so we sent two teams of three rangers each to climb the hills, first to try and make contact with the other team, and also to scout the area. They Failed to  make contact with the team, but we at least met the locals and they gave us crucial information concerning the poachers.

We were led to another carcass by the locals, and they told us that there were four armed men of Somali origin and that only one of them spoke Kiswahili and rest of the poachers were reported to be always quite and avoided contact with the local people.  We  finally met the other section latter that evening and we made camp at the start of the Suyan lugga where we compared notes and came to conclusion that the killing of all the carcasses we saw were three days old and were executed by marks men, for they all had head wounds and they only killed big mature elephants .

We tuned our Racal HF radio and sent our situation reports to the operations room in Langata, and retired for our first sleep in two days.  I was lucky to escape with my life the next morning when we walked in to a herd of about twenty elephants in the early hours. 

   They must have stopped for a rest and were asleep when we walked right through their midst in the dark without noticing, and they were only trying to run away from us. We were four and we were lucky ,  there was a small hill to our right, and we scrambled up the hill in company of some young bulls who might have wondered why we were running alongside them but they all stopped running as from a signal, stared at us and run back down the hill to probably tell their kin how stupid and scared the human beings were.  My team was lucky, but another team was forced into a galley by three menacing bulls who actually chased them and they could see their trunks hanging in to the trench trying to reach them but lucky for them, the trenches were very deep. One of the rangers had a thorn go straight in to his knee and we had to evacuate him to Wamba for treatment.

We discovered three more carcasses in two different places to bring the total to eleven dead elephants, and we followed foot prints of a lone person to Wamba town were he must have gone to call up transport and we latter established from the local morrans that they had seen the Swahili speaking poacher use that trail to Wamba. 

Findings:
  • We established that the poachers took the tusks and vacated the area on the day the first patrol team reached the six carcasses. 
  • That  the vehicle had dropped the poachers near the Sabashi hill , then went to Wamba to wait. 
  • We also learned that due to the high number of elephants in the area, the poachers were selective and only targeted the big tusks.
  • We knew that they had a contact in Wamba,  and  we broke that connection latter.
  • The tusks went through Marsabit and the guys paid their way through two road blocks.
  • We managed to get the names of two of the gang members and both were later neutralized in the Nkuronit area while on a mission to poach the only remaining rhino at Kenno area then.
It is important to mention that there are now two local community conservancies in this area and they have greatly helped in conserving wildlife . These are Namunyak and the Kalama conservancies.   

        Dr Richard Leakey was not amused and he made us promise that we would not loose that number of elephants again, and that we should silence a gang soon and offer him their heads for Christmas.  
This particular promise was honored on the 23.December.1993 when we eliminated the Isiolo - Marsabit high way gang at the rock the locals call Naipaipai. 



George Osuri was the platoon commander in charge of Meru , Michael Lenaimado was in Kitich and Dr. Francis Lesilau was in charge of the Isiolo/ Samburu complex.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

THE FOUNDERS OF CONSERVATION IN E.A.

The white population in colonial Kenya were the minority yet they were the only group allowed to hunt in the local traditional reserves they created and Africans were only allowed to use their traditional methods of hunting where they only killed wildlife for the pot , but the ‘ mzungu’ as the natives called them would hunt priced animals and sell or keep trophies because the game laws favored them and made life intolerable for Africans , so hunting of lions , elephants and the huge buffalo was the preserve of the few whites. The colonial government justified its repression by claiming that Africans would wipe out the game if given free licenses to hunt, but it is believed that the undercurrent of racism didn’t bubble over until Uhuru  “ independence “ gave Africans a chance to vent their feelings.

Things got really bad when a new brand of poachers from the mushrooming towns brought in commercial gains into the game war and they would bribe peasant farmers into killing game. There was a distinction between a traditional hunter and the new breed of commercial meat poachers who were mainly town folks in that traditional hunters had boundless knowledge of wildlife and they were undoubtedly part of the romance and mystiques of Africa as held by the white hunters as opposed to the new group who were led by greed and who used firearms to wantonly kill game for money.

Mervyn Hugh Cowie who was a retired army colonel had established himself as a strong believer in wildlife preservation and he had in many occasions suggested the formation of National Parks as the last safe havens for game but the local white population opposed his ideas because they feared that they would be cut off from their fun and ecstasy of trophy hunting, so as a last resort, he artfully planted a letter in the east Africa  standard newspaper siding with the farmers calling for all wild animals to be shot and for the so called Nairobi Commonage { current Nairobi national park} to be turned over as farm land  , and to hide his identity he signed as ‘ old settler’ .  It took a bit of time and plenty of talks amid international and public protests , before the ruse paid off and the government formed a committee to examine the matter and a national parks board was eventually established with Cowie as its chairman. The Nairobi National park was established in 1946 and there after other parks followed including Serengeti which was started in 1951. Mr. Cowie was made the first director of the Nairobi Park.

It must have been due to a reflection of his successes in balancing his needs to the preserve with the needs of the local population that he remained director of Parks after Kenya gained independence, and it was rumored that Cowie chased a wounded elephant away from princess Elizabeths party during her visit in 1952 to the Treetops hotel in Aberdare park.

The whites in colonial EA were apprehensive because by 1955 their government was contemplating handing over the reins of government to the Africans but they were not sure of the future of wildlife , and there could be no doubt that the dividing lines were being drawn, with the natives intent in killing off wildlife they had come to hate and the Europeans who thought of preserving them. It is obvious that conflict between humans and wild animals came into fore in EA when the natives came to realize that only the whites were allowed to kill game and the game department took days or never responded to the cries of the local farmers when wildlife destroyed their farms, but they would respond immediately when natives killed a problem animal in their farms. These was the only reason why Africans hated wild animals, which is why they aided poaching gangs that decimated wildlife for commercial gains.

Human wildlife conflict is an exam that we have failed to pass even today because we have not stopped the fight between man and wild animals . We have failed to spell out the legislation in support of utilization as inscribe in the constitution, yet we are the lead agency in the formulation and implementation of the policies related to wildlife utilization,  and we have decided to bury our heads in the sand hopping and wishing that the conflict will snooze off till we retire.  We are sure to be judged fairly by history, but i fear that history books will not remember us like the legendary Colonel Mervyn Hugh Cowie, for we failed in the commissions and omissions in the performance of our primary duties which is to restore harmony between man and wildlife.


I beg to be corrected.

Friday, 22 May 2020

CADET TRAINING 1992.

It was te second year since the inception of the Kenya Wildlife service ( KWS ) and the elephant poaching was escalating nation wide and the service came up with a strategy of recruiting young and energetic commanders to lead the newly trained rangers in magadi. They conducted a nationwide exercise and twenty eight cadets were recruited and they reported to manyani field school early January 1992 for a platoon commanders course. The team included, Paul Kipkoech, Dickson Lesimirdana, Justus Bartenge, Peter Lekeren, Elema Halake, Abdi Doti, Jacob Nangomo, Elema Saru, Zakayo Leparie, Ruben Lenanguram, George Osuri, Michael Lenaimadu, Samuel Tokore, Kwiriga Babu, Stephen Mageto, Stephen Shani, James Ole Kipuri, Abdi Nasir, James Oundo, Francis Lesilau, John Suge, Oliver Mnyambo, Joseph Kavi, Kamau Ndacho, Jacob Orahle , Ali sugow, Osman Ibrahim, Rashid Noor better known as Cobra and me. Most of us were working in government ministries, some teachers , one was a priest who could not stand the seminary, students who just came out of secondary school and a few others who were working in the service at the time. A complete combination that represented the whole country and we endured the hardships and the cruelty of the trainers, mostly a man called Abdi who taught us parade drills but the greatest humiliation came from our own NCOs who could not understand why we and not them were taking the course.
The cadets on a skills at arm lesson. Zakayo leparie  alias “ crocko”is demonstrating during a skill at arms lesson and the arrow is pointed to the blog author.

Manyani field training school was the old APU camp and the facility was run down completely so the service was in the process of renovating it into an institution capable of training rangers on field craft and other related operations .  For some of us the facility resembled a ghost camp with little human presence due to the bush thickness. I was among the first to arrive and were met by a person who advised us to wait for the rest at the manyani prison place and we found course instructors there who led us to a small pub called  “ pumzika “ where we waited for our transport and they gave us insight of the course  and we were in very high spirits by the time we drove into the gate, but there was a reception party waiting for us at the entrance and my day was ruined. It is important to note here that i worked with the ministry of agriculture for six years as a livestock production assistant after graduating from AHITI [ animal health and industry training institute] Kabete and i had also taken the courses on AI [ artificial insemination ] and on meat inspection , and i was assisting the meat inspector at the maralal  slaughter house prior to reporting to manyani. So i had the characteristics  of a typical civil servant , and i had generated a small beer belly due to the free liver we received every day In relation to the spoils of the trade.


The reception party in manyani refused to listen to my plea and we were directed to climb a stone hill steep enough to be manmade in the assertion that we were to collect our admission letters up there. I tried to remove my coat but one man called Francis Kurgat insisted that i climb the hill with everything that i came with but i refused to carry my suitcase and I scrambled up to catchup with the others. We did not find the admission letters so we struggled to climb down the other side of the hill and when we reached our starting point we were panting and grasping for air but they forced us to jog and i fainted , and they forgot me for a while. What a reception. We were then made to carry our baggage and in a run we trotted to a makeshift store where we were given a mattress, a pillow and a blanket. Some rangers who were on a promotional course were called in to help us erect tents and I personally  remember one who was called shebow who demonstrated to us how to clear the ground using bare hands. I remember this man well because a few years later he disappeared with no trace to date with field  allowance for the special operations base (SOB).

Manyani had a strange collection of instructors and I remember an old man with a foul mouth who smoked a lot and i still don’t remember what his exact duties were but he was fond of drawing landscapes. He was called Kanyi, then there was sergeant Maina who made us to believe that every head of a goat slaughtered there belonged to him,  sergeant Mailu of the “ nyakaa “ fame, there was Cpl Kemei who called us officer kurutu, Cpl Kimani Mweiga [comrade] Cpl Jeremiah  Kurgat, Cpl Francis Kurgat, Cpl Ayienda, the cook called pulei, Heri the footballer [mjomba] and Lewis chege to name but a few. Our course officer was the big GSU man called Marcus Ochola who is currently the Rift Valley Regional Police Commander. We had three commandants during our seven month long course and this included Mr. Mbuthia who died in a car accident along the Mombasa/Nairobi highway near sultan Hamud, Mr Thomas Mailu and Mr. Fredrick  Kiminda. We spend the first three weeks trying to get fit by running every morning , and being at the drill square with corporal Abdi the whole day. The first two weeks were really hard on me that I contemplated desertion and I actually called the livestock office in maralal to inquire if my resignation letter could be withdrawn but I resigned to my fate when I learned that the letter was long sent to Nakuru. I later learned that I was not the only one contemplating the same but junior colleagues who were taking the ranger to corporal course at the school gave us A lot of encouragement With promises of a brighter future.

Corporal Abdi was a brute who got pleasure in other people’s pain and we really suffered at the drill square while he took us through the motions and the squads as he broke the drill into three steps. The whole team would be punished when a member spoiled a step and I tell you very many of the members had never learned of the Boy Scout movement and marching was an act from outer space. Some were swinging both hands forward and I would lie if I described how they moved their feet because in most cases they swing forward the right arm together with the right leg. All this translated to a specific punishment as prescribed by Abdi and climbing the hill behind the office became a norm. We cherished lunch brake not because of the food but it gave us some relief from the monster and from the scourge. I dreaded going to the pit latrines because of the pain in my  thighs when trying to stand after the act, and this I later understand must have been why a platoon of masai rangers Who were referred as “ lot 60 “ brought in for training refused to enter the joints and they did their thing in the surrounding bushes.

We got into the rhythm of training after the first month and we impressed everybody including ourselves to say the least after more lessons were introduced such as field craft, skill at arms and leadership. Only one person left the training and the rest of us bonded with one another , first to evade Abdi but i should also confess that we just felt like we had a responsibility to excel and silence some section of instructors who had a notion that most of us would not complete the training. Skills at arms was a different sensation all together and we worked so hard in preparation for the standard classification exercise which sifted the bold shooters and the first timers. We completed our syllabus in the fifth month and we were taken for the March and shoot exercise that combined all field exercises including close quarter battle night navigation and ambushes , which could only be done in the thickets of Oldonyo nyiekie in magadi. We navigated out of the hills and valleys at night using compasses and maps with stars as strategic beacons, and we overworked our instructors on the magadi plateau during field craft where we would reorganize ( reorg on me ) three kilometers from the charge-through site. That was our best way to give back to the instructors. On our las night in magadi a stand to procedure was sounded at night by our instructors to check on our level of alertness and we all dashed into our kips except Jacob Orahle who was found outside the kip and he was pronounced dead as per the rules but he refused to accept and he kept on claiming that he was still alive. We excelled in magadi and our course officer said as much , before we trooped back to Manyani believing in ourselves and knowing that we would contribute immensely in protecting and conserving our heritage.
The Rtd senior warden Mr.Geofrey Lolkinyie who was the  admin officer then with Dickson in the background and the author in one of our progressive security meetings.

We never sat in conventional class room for the entire duration of our course in manyani and there were no chairs and we took our lessons under an acacia tree which had very broad branches and lots of shade. We had to sweep the class every morning and pour water to reduce dust. We made do with stones as chairs and we wrote on our laps and most of us had holes in our trousers due to the hard surface of the stone seats. The chalk board was tied to the stem of a tree and in windy conditions two students would volunteer to hold it while the instructor wrote on it. We ate our lunch and dinner under a shade less tree near the make shift kitchen and we had benches made of poles as seats. We were made to believe that this was not a punishment, but part of our training.

We all went through an interview held by a board Which was led by the Deputy director security [ DDS ] but we were kept in training for another two months in Manyani due to some administrative issues where the DDS was strategizing and forming more companies to accommodate us and when we finally graduated we went to our duties as posted and I was sent to Mt. Elgon (C coy ) . I didn’t understand why the instructors were feeling sorry for me after the posting and I got concerned and I had to inquire the reasons but I was only told that Mt. Elgon is a very hard place to work but I proceeded to my new station without any reservations and I led my men in to our assignments with the pride of a leader due to the training and hard work that I under went in Manyani.