Kenya suspends wildlife officials in poaching crackdown

Kenyan official marks confiscated ivory Conservationists fear Kenya has become a global hub for ivory smuggling

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Kenya's government has suspended five officials from the wildlife service, amid growing concern over the poaching of endangered elephants and rhinos.

The officials were suspended as part of an investigation into mismanagement.

The government will directly oversee the running of the wildlife service, responsible for Kenya's national parks, for three months, a spokesman said.

Kenya has been facing growing condemnation over its failure to tackle an apparent rise in poaching.

Veteran conservationist Richard Leakey, a former boss of the Kenyan wildlife service, said last month that the country had become a global hub for ivory smuggling.

Dozens of poaching bosses had been allowed to act with "outrageous impunity", he said, in "a national disaster" that could result in the extinction of elephants and rhinos in the country.

Elephants in Kenyan reserve Kenya's national parks are famed for their wild elephants

According to officials, at least 18 rhinos and more than 50 elephants have been killed so far this year - a similar rate to that recorded last year.

However, some conservationists argue that the true figure is much higher.

The wildlife service recently denied that it was losing the battle against poachers.

New recruits

On Friday, a senior environment ministry official, Richard Lesiyampe, said it had "become necessary" for the government to assume direct control of the wildlife service.

Mr Lesiyampe said the five officials had been placed on leave so as to pave the way for an investigation into the management of the service.

The AFP news agency quoted him as saying that the investigation would ask why sophisticated equipment - such as night-vision goggles and weapons - had yet to be deployed against the poachers, despite having been paid for.

"The poaching and trafficking in wildlife... has increased in sophistication and scope," he said. "We want to understand why our efforts are not working."

He also told reporters that the service would be restructured and equipped with 50 new vehicles and hundreds of new recruits.

The demand for ivory and rhino horn is being driven by China and south-east Asia, where these products are marketed as ornaments or so-called medicines.

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