Community Elders Take Matter Into Their Own Hands After the Killing of the Only Black Rhino in Northern Kenya
Isiolo, May 2nd, 2013 – On the 2nd of April 2013, Omni, the only black rhino on Il Ngwesi Group Ranch (and in northern Kenya), was speared to death by poachers. His carcass was found two days later, with a poisoned spear lodged inside his body. His horns were intact.
Translocated from Lewa in 2002, Omni’s presence to the people of Il Ngwesi was very symbolic. It was a first for rhino conservation in Kenya when the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) agreed to return a black rhino back into a newly established community-owned rhino conservation area. Until the 1970s, the area had a very large black rhino population that disappeared after the massive slaughter of the years that followed. Omni’s boma was in a sanctuary situated in an area known as osar lemuny, Maa for wilderness of the black rhinos, a spot that was a favourite of the early rhino population.
Omni’s significance in Il Ngwesi could not be overstated; he was the only black rhino to live on the land since the 1970s, and his presence offered the possibility of reintroducing the species to their previous homeland as well as a way to share with the world at large the community’s interest in using conservation to promote the welfare of their people and open up new commercial and employment opportunities through conservation.
Investigation into the poaching
Devastated by Omni’s death, the Il Ngwesi community with help from other stakeholders (KWS, NRT, Lewa and Borana Conservancy) immediately launched an investigation into the killing. Community elders called for a meeting on the 15th of April, and decided to use modern as well as traditional methods to catch the poachers. The elders gave the culprits 10 days (from the 15th to the 24th of April) to confess or face dire consequences, including curses.
On the 24th, during the second community meeting, two men confessed to killing Omni. Three other men were also identified to have participated in planning the act. The community has since pressed charges. One suspect is still at large, but four of them have been arraigned in court and have all confessed to the crime. The first hearing was on the 26th of April in Nanyuki law courts. The second hearing will be on the 4th of May (to be confirmed).
The entire investigation has been a community-led initiative, using the arm of the law alongside a traditional cultural approach to expose the culprits within this small society. The entire process has been driven by the community’s deep pride in Omni, recognising the benefits he attracted through tourism and a desire to see an expanding rhino population thrive on Il Ngwesi.
Il Ngwesi was the first community-led conservation initiatives in northern Kenya, set up with a vision to sustainably manage the environment in order to both graze livestock and conserve wildlife, which it was hoped would in turn, encourage tourists. Visit www.nrt-kenya.org/ii-ngwesi/ for more information.