Inspired scout helps Kenya Wildlife Service nab an elephant poacher
Jackson Sitonik, a married father of two and a proud game scout on the Kenyan park system’s grasslands, is a hero.
After a 34-year-old male elephant named Stuart was killed by poachers in Amboseli National Park, a team comprised of Kenya Wildlife Service Rangers, Sitonik and other game scouts went to work. Stuart’s identification was provided by Katito Saiyalel, a researcher with Amboseli Trust for Elephants whose director is renowned elephant researcher Cynthia Moss.
They started their investigation at the scene of the crime and followed motorcycle tracks to a manyatta (Maasai homestead). They used tracking dogs provided by Big Life Foundation in Tanzania to identify the homes of the three suspected poachers.
Community members were hush when the team arrived, but later that evening they called to inform the officials that the suspects had returned to the manyatta. An ambush was set up and at 11 p.m. one of the suspects, Leyian Kerigot, was arrested.
Kerigot took the authorities to the site where he and his accomplices had buried Stuart’s tusks (weighing a combined 48 kg and worth more than 1.6 million KES [approx. $18,000 USD] on the black market) 14 kilometers from where they found the slaughtered elephant. They also recovered a python skin, an indication that it may not be the first time Kerigot has been involved in wildlife poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.
Kerigot has given up the names of his alleged accomplices, one of whom is his brother, and they are presently being sought by authorities. The alleged poacher has been charged in court and in remand after failing to raise the cash bond of 800,000 KES (approx. $9,000 USD). He was also required to present a surety of a similar amount.
Sitonik was among the first group of 10 game scouts whose training was facilitated by IFAW. Sitonik says the training improved his skills in speaking to the community and gather information on alleged poachers.
“After the training I was rejuvenated,” says Sitonik. “It has given my work meaning and direction.”
The training he received through IFAW has given him skills that he is now using to mentor eight game scouts attached to Africa Wildlife Foundation.
“This operation to arrest the poachers was a collaborative effort between KWS, the game scouts and the local community,” said KWS senior warden Julius Cheptei.
“KWS appreciates the community involvement and the support we have received from organizations like IFAW.”
While it is good to know that the culprit was apprehended, and IFAW’s training has served a real and direct purpose to those ends, we must remain diligent and work concertedly to curb poaching before investigations even take place.