Independent Voices, Indy Voices

Elephant Appeal: Coming out of the line of fire

Keleshi Parukusa was trusted with protecting rhinos – but the money on offer from poaching proved too tempting for him, he confesses

Share
Related Topics

Keleshi Parukusa was a security guard and had the job of protecting rhinos in Kenya’s Lewa conservancy. Attracted by poachers’ big money, he helped them to kill two of the severely endangered animals, but yesterday admitted to his crime. This is his confession.

The 39-year-old from Lebarua in northern Kenya said he no longer wanted to continue poaching because he saw no profit in it. Disowned by his community and tricked by his friends, Parukusa said: “This is not what I want my life to be about.”

Parukusa became a poacher in September last year, when four men approached him to help them to kill a rhino at Lewa. “I thought it would be easy money,” he said.

“I brought them into the conservancy area and put them into position the night before. I had been observing the rhino from a hill and I made sure they could hide on the conservancy all night.

“The next day, they killed the rhino with two AK-47s. My job was to report the killing, but I gave the scouts wrong information about where the rhino carcass was. This gave time for my guys to escape with the horn.

“The horn [weighed] 5kg and they had to walk on foot for 20 kilometres to get it to Isiolo, the nearest town. From there, I don’t know what happened to it. I got 350,000 Kenyan shillings (£2,450) for my role in killing the rhino. I don’t know what the other guys  got paid.”

Although the pay-off was a fortune for the Kenyan pastoralist, it was a tiny fraction of what the horn was worth. A gunman in Kenya usually gets a million shillings (around £7,000) per kilo. When it reaches Asian markets, its value can be up to 10 times that. Believed to possess magic properties, and falsely thought to be a cure for hangovers and cancer, rhino horn can be extremely valuable.

Parukusa said: “350,000 shillings doesn’t make  you happy when you’re avoiding everyone and lying to  your family.

“Although I wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, word spread quickly in the community about my involvement. I was scared and I denied any involvement. But everyone knew and the community ostracised my entire family.

“I was disowned by my people. I couldn’t carry on living like this. People wouldn’t talk to my family. I was in hiding and I rarely spent two nights in the same place for the next year. I felt my every movement was being observed.  The community wanted me to give myself up. I no longer  felt free.”

Despite the guilt, shame and reaction of his community, Parukusa said he could not resist the allure of the money, and earlier this month, while the Lewa conservancy staff were at a Christmas party, he saw his opportunity to make his second killing.

  An orphaned baby elephant is fed by a ranger An orphaned baby elephant is fed by a ranger

He said: “I bought a carbine from Isiolo for 50,000 shillings [£350]. This time, I worked with three guys I met in Isiolo. I fired the gun, and I took down the rhino. I felt nothing. To me, it was just about money.

“But the guys I worked with tricked me. They took the horn, [which] this time [weighed] 7kg, and disappeared with it. I heard nothing from them for days. I don’t think I’ll ever get paid.

“I quickly realised what kind of business this is. I would never make as much money as I thought from killing rhino. There was no profit.”

When handing in his weapons in front of his community yesterday, Parukusa expressed deep regret: “The whole community suffered because of me. Many people in our community are employed by Lewa conservancy. My two brothers were security guards and depended on the conservancy for their livelihood. The trust between our community and Lewa conservancy was built because of a joined concern for the wildlife.

“Two days ago, I came clean to my family. They were angry but also worried. I had been lying to everyone. They had remained loyal to me and refused to believe the rumours that I was a poacher. When I told them, they were shocked. They had no idea.

“Last year, when they asked me how I had made so much money, I told them it was none of their business. It’s not in our tradition to question the man of the house so they didn’t pursue it. But I betrayed them.

The remains of a poisoned elephant The remains of a poisoned elephant

“I have ruined myself in the eyes of the community. I’m willing to take any punishment they give me. I have already handed in my weapon. I am willing to give away the cattle I bought with the money I got from the first killing. I am willing to go to jail. I feel deep remorse for my actions.”

Dr Paula Kahumbu, the chief executive of WildlifeDirect, said the elders told her “the community meeting was like a celebration. They were relieved. They didn’t want this question… about who was responsible for the rhino’s death looming.

“You could see he felt terrible. Whilst I was speaking to him, a rhino walked past. I pointed it out and asked how he felt when he saw that rhino. He said, ‘I just saw money.’”

The chief executive of Space for Giants, Max Graham, said: “The future of large species that can command such high value in illegal markets such as rhino and, increasingly, elephants, is almost entirely dependent on the people with whom they share their home. In northern Kenya, conservancies such as Lewa are creating real value for wildlife among local communities, creating stewards and conservationists out of local people. This case demonstrates exactly that.”

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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore