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Rhino Poaching and an Eye Clinic

October 12, 2004 Sara Spendrup

Since Lewa's involvement in April this year in anti poaching patrols inside a Laikipia Rhino Reserve, the severe rhino poaching pre-April 2004 has almost been contained. Initially, rhino's poached were believed to have mainly been snared to death, using thick wire cable on game trails leading to water or to a rhino midden. We realized that the poachers would probably change their system of poaching and that it was only a matter of time before firearms were used to kill rhino.

Sure enough, on Sunday 10th October a fresh white rhino carcass, shot just a few hours before, was found by a vehicle on a game drive in the Game Reserve in Laikipa. The poachers had obviously been interrupted whilst trying to cut the horn off and fled to the nearby thick bush, without the horns. Lewa received the report late that evening. We sent an armed team, led by John Pameri, immediately by road.

At first light on the 11th, Ian and Richard flew to Mugie and collected their two blood-hound tracker dogs (who we felt would be better in this situation then our own). Arriving at the Reserve, the Lewa team along with excellent support from the Kenya Wildlife Service tracked the poachers for several hours, finally ending up in a small group of houses near a town some miles outside the Game Reserve. The tracker dog immediately showed much attention to one house and although there was no man inside, the he was later caught and is now in Police custody.

On the 12th, KWS back-tracked the route we had followed the previous day in an effort to find the weapon. Luck was with us all and a G3 automatic weapon and 21 rounds of ammunition as well as a rucksack were found under a bush close to where the two poachers went through the game fence. We are waiting now for finger print tests on the weapon.

If the tests are positive and match the man in custody it will be like 100 Christmases in one and major breakthrough in this syndicate of rhino poachers.

Meak Eye Mission Visits Lewa

Over the period 7-12 October Lewa was visited by the Meak Eye Mission - a charity based in the UK that mobilises medical support for needy areas. In this case they brought an eye team from the Kwale Medical Centre in Mombasa to examine and where necessary operate on needy eye cases. At first we were not too sure of the need but as the word got out a large number of locals (and some from as far north as Wamba) came to visit the Lewa Clinic where the temporary operating theatre was set up. Over the 5 days the team of 4 examined 1014 people with eye problems. Of these patients 57 needed operations - mainly for cataracts - and they were done on the spot. The patients then spent the night here at Lewa before going home - in some cases with sight restored. There were some wonderful cases: a 12 year old boy who has not had sight for 6 years had one eye completely repaired to 20/20 vision! Another old man similarly had vision restored to both eyes as a result of cataract removals.

The team even helped our wildlife by treating "Chuma" the white rhino who had an eye damaged in a fight with another rhino!

The visit was highly successful and much appreciated by all. Dee Billiere arranged the whole trip and managed to get a lot of sponsorship and support. Lewa's costs were supported by this year's marathon proceeds. The clinic is hoping to come again next September.

Whilst writing this a further report has just come in of a snared rhino with a horn gone in another sanctuary in Laikipia. We are dispatching a team there right now.

The interest for rhino horn is clearly increasing and we are stepping up our efforts to try and prevent any further incidents