Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said the government is considering allowing trained and vetted community rangers carry firearms to help secure wildlife outside protected areas.
KWS says scenes of 1970s and 1980s when poaching was a serious menace, and led to the depletion of wildlife including elephants, lions and rhinos are back, threatening many years of conservation efforts and animal population that had started to balloon.
"Community rangers are vulnerable to attack by ruthless and armed poaching gangs. We are petitioning the government to allow them carry firearms to help secure wildlife resources within county authorities, private and community owned conservancies," KWS chairman David Mwiraria said in a statement issued in Nairobi on Monday.
According to Mwiraria, to date 1,075 community rangers have been trained at the facility in a bid to capacity build wildlife security and management personnel from conservancies across the country.
The subsidized training covers wildlife management, Management Information System (MIST), Basic paramilitary skills, fire- fighting skills among other areas.
It is envisaged that this training equips them with skills in addressing wildlife conservation challenges in the 21st Century. The announcement comes at a time the country is experiencing a resurgence of poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.
While there are many solutions being implemented to reverse the trend, Kenya wildlife enthusiasts are banking on the passage of the new Wildlife Bill 2011 that was singed into law by President Mwai Kibaki on Saturday to get part of the solution.
The law proposes severe punishment for poachers and people-led wildlife conservancy efforts. KWS and Community rangers conduct joint patrols that guarantee a force multiplier in wildlife security operations.
The proposed wildlife law also requires establishment of wildlife conservation areas and committees within the counties that will start operation under a newly devolved governance system that will become fully operation after the March 4, 2013 general elections.
Mwiraria said over 50 percent of wildlife resides outside protected areas. These landscapes are an important part of Kenya's conservation efforts, and generate both economic and environmental benefits.
"By recognizing and enhancing collaborative partnerships between the government and stakeholders, we can improve the benefits that accrue from this sector," he noted.
Besides training of community rangers, KWS has dispensed 1.8 million U.S. dollars in the past year to fund community initiatives for provision of water, health facilities and education through construction and upgrading of school infrastructure.
Already KWS Law Enforcement Academy is conducting training for security officers from Kenya Airport Authority, Kenya Port Authority, and Kenyatta National Hospital.
Rampant poaching incidents have forced KWS to embrace the use of modern technologies under its force modernization program to counter the problem and other poaching-related threats.
KWS said it has introduced the Canine Unit with sniffer dogs on a 24-hour basis at the Jomo Kenyatta in Nairobi and Moi International Airport in Mombasa to detect movements of illegal ivory. The unit has since 2009 netted more than eight tons of raw and worked ivory.
KWS Deputy Director for Wildlife and Community Service division Ben Kavu noted that the enactment of proposed wildlife bill will herald a new chapter in the governance of wildlife resources in the country.
He pointed out that wildlife industry governance framework, mitigation of human wildlife conflict and enhanced penalties for illegal poaching are significant provisions in the new dispensation.
Human-wildlife conflict, poaching, declining space for wildlife, limited technical and financial capacity to manage wildlife, limited wildlife education and awareness and slow implementation of land use policies are key challenges affecting conservation outside protected areas, said Kavu.