Eighty elephants were killed by poachers in Kenya during 2016. Since 2013, a total of 642 elephants have been killed—none during daylight hours.
AWI has been working to help the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) suppress nighttime poaching. Some months ago, we shipped a consignment of quality Gen III night vision goggles to KWS, and these are now distributed among ranger units responsible for intercepting and arresting poaching gangs. The goggles provide an important advantage and have contributed to a reduction in poaching.
Night really isn’t the poacher’s favorite time to go hunting. It is dangerous for anyone, including poachers, to wander around out in the bush after the sun sets. These are the hours when buffalos and hippopotamuses are most aggressive, and lions, leopards, and hyenas are on the prowl.
The only reason poachers do their dirty work at night is because their risks are even greater during the daytime. A key factor in KWS’s suppression of daytime poaching has been an effective air-ground strategy. KWS Airwing launches patrols above the country’s 59 national parks and reserves and over the countryside beyond park borders. A pilot need only sight an indicator of poacher presence—human footprints, for example, along a muddy river bank—and an immediate radio call providing GPS coordinates to the nearest ranger patrol on the ground can activate a very prompt response. This response is so effective that poachers essentially have abandoned daytime poaching.
KWS flies light, two-seat patrol airplanes into harm’s way. These flights are the nemesis of the poacher. KWS patrol flights have been shot at, and some have been hit by ground fire from poachers. Fortunately, none have been shot down.
The risks accepted by KWS pilots can be mitigated somewhat by providing good, reliable equipment and regular in-service training in flight safety and proficiency. As this issue goes to press, AWI is in the final stages of acquiring and shipping three aircraft engines from the Lycoming factory in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to the KWS Airwing hangar at Nairobi Wilson Airport. There, the engines will be mounted on three Husky patrol airplanes that have worn out their previous engines after thousands of hours on patrol.
Chasing poachers is not the only mission assigned to KWS pilots. They are key to counting the herds of wild animals, and reporting the location of these herds to park management—which can then deploy ranger units more effectively. Airwing Huskys can land on a surprisingly short stretch of open ground and deliver the vital 3Bs (beans, bullets, and bandages) to ranger units on patrol. They also pick up sick, injured, or wounded rangers who need prompt medical evacuation. And often enough, they’re called upon for search and rescue operations—finding tourists who have gone astray, suffered flat tires, gotten stuck in the mud, run out of gas, or simply gotten lost in the vastness of a beautiful African park. KWS Airwing pilots—protectors of wildlife and domestic humans alike—always come to the rescue.