NAIROBI, March 25 -- Kenya's wildlife authorities on Tuesday praised China's contribution in the fight against rhino and elephant poaching, saying the effort is invaluable.
Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) Director General William Kiprono said the East African nation has been engaging China at the technical and political levels in the areas of conservation and has received China's support to combat wildlife poaching in the country.
"The Chinese government is supportive of Kenya's conservation efforts. They are genuine people ready to work with Kenya and who are not happy with what is going on regarding poaching of elephants and rhinos," Kiprono told journalists in Nairobi.
"China has offered to improve surveillance around Kenya's national parks and game reserves alongside also assisting with capacity building to enable the KWS to deal with poachers," Kiprono said.
Last year, Kenyan president got an assurance from China regarding the provision of latest equipment and technology to enable security agencies to undertake their mandate effectively.
In August 2012, former NBA basketball star, Yao Ming paid a conservancy visit to Kenya against elephant and rhino poaching where he filmed a feature-length documentary on the subject.
During the visit, Yao pledged to create public awareness in China, which is the leading consumer of ivory products.
China took bold steps in curbing the poaching menace when in 1989 the country banned illegal trade in ivory during which period dozens of people have been punished for engaging in the practice.
Kiprono pointed out that rhinos and elephants have increasingly become vulnerable to poaching because of high demand for their horns and ivory respectively.
"Pilfering for the prized wildlife has become more organized, sophisticated and international in nature and is occurring even in those areas hitherto considered as safe havens," Kiprono said.
"Poachers not only use sophisticated weaponry, they are now using silent poaching methods that are difficult for rangers on patrol to detect."
Kenya has lost 18 rhinos and 51 elephants to poachers this year. In 2013, the country lost a total of 59 and 302 rhinos and elephants respectively compared to 30 rhinos and 384 elephants in 2012.
Kiprono said 13.5 tonnes of contraband ivory was seized at the port of Mombasa last year and added that majority of smuggled contraband had entered Kenya from neighboring countries.
"There has been a decline in the desire by smugglers to use Kenyan ports since we heightened surveillance there and with the enactment of a more punitive new wildlife law," Kiprono said.
Describing the fight against poaching a process, not an event, Kiprono said that a wildlife forensic and molecular laboratory will be commissioned in May 2014 to boost the prosecution perpetrators of poaching.
He said since the beginning of the year, law enforcement officers have arrested a total of 249 suspects who have since been prosecuted for various wildlife offenses during which 21 rifles and 79 ammunitions targeted at wildlife have also been recovered.
In its fight against poaching, he said, Kenya has placed wildlife security on top of its agenda by the KWS in the National Security Advisory Council alongside other national security agencies.
KWS Deputy Director in Charge of Wildlife Conservation, Patrick Omondi said the current elephant and poaching crisis is not only confined to Kenya but is a global phenomenon.
"The menace is worst in central, western, eastern and southern Africa in that order and it needs support in term of modernizing the force to combat it," said Omondi, who is also a specialist in elephants.
He said the stockpile of ivory and rhino horns amounts to over 100 tonnes and that an annual audit is done by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) annually to ensure the cache remains safe and is not sold.
Kenya has an elephant population of over 30,000 -- the fourth largest in the world and a rhino population of over 1,041, making it the third largest globally.