No one can whistle a symphony

(A version of this article was originally published in The Horn, spring 2010. Author: Richard Bonham.)

In the bush, words like the Dow Jones, emerging markets and venture capital have little meaning. When word filters through that thousands of miles away the price for ivory, rhino horn and body parts of carnivores has doubled, we understand the implications immediately. In early 2009 this became a reality and since then our scouts have not stopped, nor have the vehicles which move them over the one and half million acres of the Amboseli ecosystem. Budgets have gone out the window as the radio network gets busier with reports flooding in of yet another poaching incident.

There is nothing like a crisis to pull people together and this year we have seen just that. Our relationship with the Kenya Wildlife Service has strengthened as we work together on almost a daily basis. Our uniformed teams, now an incredible 104 men (including, dare I say it, one woman) seem to have jelled and, although tasked with a myriad of different duties, are stepping forward to support each other. An example is as follows:

  • 8.30am: A radio message came in; four men, one armed and all suspected poachers, have abandoned a broken-down car near the Tsavo border
  • 11.00am: Anti-poaching teams were on site. Two Land Cruisers full of Kenya Wildlife Service rangers; the Tsavo Amboseli Game Scout Association Cruiser, also bristling with rangers; the tracker dog team and me in the air with a Super Cub airplane were scrambled and all were in pursuit of tracks
  • 2.00pm: The ''hot pursuit'' team was well established and heading for Lorika, a small farming village. Two Maasailand Cruisers had been dispatched directly to Lorika to make a cordon and cut the suspected poachers off
  • 5.00pm: My fuel gauges were showing empty. By chance I heard a Kenya Wildlife Service plane in the air over Tsavo. I called him, and in 20 minutes he was overhead and took over the aerial cover as I headed home to follow developments on the radio
  • 8.00pm: It was all over. Two of the four were under arrest

As it turns out, the men arrested were not poachers rather carjackers on their way to Tanzania with a stolen vehicle. The point of the story stands: effective, efficient operations can be achieved when the resources are there. In this case, five vehicles, one airplane, about 50 rangers, a radio network and a tracker dog team all pulling together and working as a cohesive unit achieved two arrests and this success represents one of many made by our scouts in 2009.

In 2009, MPT's game scouts collected over 1,000 snaresCredit: Gwili Gibbon

As I write, the price of rhino horn and ivory continues to escalate. Reports come in daily that elephant and rhino carcasses being found in and outside of parks over much of East and Central Africa and some countries seem in outright denial, failing to rise to the challenge. Here, we are collectively having more than our fair share of success in apprehending poachers. Not many get through the net but, sadly, it is often after the event, after another animal has been lost.

I believe this poaching crisis will get worse before it gets better and we have a lot of work ahead of us in trying to contain the situation in the field. This would not be possible if it were not for the likes of Save the Rhino, which always seems to rally to cries for support.