Bush whack: How to turn poachers into gamekeepers

Kapuna Lepele made a relative fortune killing elephants for their ivory until 300 villagers made him change his ways

Share

For 11 years Kapuna Lepele was a poacher. He and his fellow elephant killers would spend weeks in the Kenyan bush tracking the animals before harvesting them for their ivory. His favourite method was to wait by a watering hole, hiding behind a nearby rock, before firing a poisoned arrow as they came down to drink. In total he killed 72 elephants that way.

Compared to the profits made by the criminal overlords he answered to, the rewards were not great. They can command £1,400 per kilogram for tusk sold on the black market to ivory-hungry clients in Asia. Lepele would only receive a few hundred dollars for a successful hunt.

But that was enough to make him a rich man in an area of East Africa where most people struggle to earn as much as £3 a day. He would have been able to buy a house not only for himself but for his parents, as well as luxuries far beyond the means of most of his peers.

The problem was he could not spend it. The local people in the surrounding area were so outraged by his activity they banned him from their villagers, forcing him to sleep in the forest. “At one point 300 members of the local community came to find me to tell me stop,” he said. “They were saying you are a notorious poacher. I knew I was not welcome.”

It is this local pressure that forced him to give up his trade; indeed resulted in the now 39-year-old using his knowledge of the illegal activity, and understanding of the local elephant herds, to help the wildlife cause by becoming a member of the anti-poaching teams at Laikipia’s Lewa conservancy.

“I was wrong to do what I did,” he now admits. “Protecting the animals not only gives me a job so I can feed myself but it also brings money into the whole area, meaning we can feed the community.”

One of the greatest achievements by the charity adopted as the subject of this year’s Independent Christmas campaign, Space for Giants, has been its work with local people in East Africa to persuade them of the advantages that can be reaped by joining the conservation cause.

What I had not previously realised was how separate much of Africa’s remaining wildlife is from the vast majority of people who live there. Increasingly limited to living in highly-protected areas, the animals are often hidden behind electric fences.


This means that the animals have never been seen in the wild by most Africans. As a result they can be perceived as for rich tourists rather than for the local people. It is why community outreach – along with establishing a new conservancy, supporting anti-poaching rangers and developing a better understanding of elephant herds’ movements through GP S tracking – is one of the key areas to which funds raised by Independent readers will be targeted.

Space for Giants and its partners, particularly the Northern Rangelands Trust, have instigated a range of programmes to help rural communities establish their own conservancies so they can live alongside and reap the economic benefits of wildlife.

Educational programmes also visit settlements to explain how conservation – and the money it attracts – helps them. Activities such as this have resulted in poachers being ostracised by those they had lived alongside.

Outside a simple café that stands deep in the bush, I watched a performance of a play by one of the drama groups Space for Giants funds to tour local areas.

The story told of a husband who had resorted to poaching to pay his drinking and gambling debts. Many of his neighbours, who feared how it would threaten the tourist trade and the local schools and health clinics it helped finance, were horrified.

The groups’ theatrical director, Mutugi Kevin Magambo, said: “If you are playing a poacher there might be poachers in the audience. If you are playing a farmer, most likely there are several farmers in the audience. The responses and impact we have had from individuals and  communities have been life changing.”

To donate now, go here

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?