Richard Leakey had dreams and worries about the future of mankind

Richard Leakey in 1977 with two crucial skull discoveries — Australopithecus, left, and “1470,” Homo habilis. Credit…Marion Kaplan/Alamy

Last week, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta announced the death of Richard Leakey, age 77. As obituaries proliferated globally, touting Leakey’s roles as renowned conservationist and paleoanthropologist, his commitment to serving his country with distinction took precedence locally. Kenyatta commended him for his work as head of the Civil Service, considered the most powerful position in the country, effectively running the government on behalf of the president.

He also held the position of Director of the National Museums of Kenya. The wildlife is there,” he told me one day over lunch in Karen, a leafy suburb in Nairobi. “But it’s fossils and politics that play the bigger part of my life.”

He died in Nairobi having just returned there after spending Christmas at his family compound in Lamu, on Kenya’s coast. He is said to have died of complications from COVID, which he’d told friends he contracted at a meeting with Chinese engineers.

I met Leakey during my first trip to Kenya, in 1993, at his house on Champagne Ridge in the Rift Valley. He was recovering from a plane crash that resulted in the loss of both legs. He told me he was sure that henchmen of then President Moi had sabotaged the plane he was piloting. At the time, as chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service, he was on a campaign to eradicate corruption in order to keep Moi’s “sticky fingers” from grabbing money he’d raised for conservation. Leakey publicly resigned as head of Kenya Wildlife Service after the Moi government accused him of corruption and mismanagement.

I last saw him a year ago, when we lunched in Karen. His already fragile health was even more tenuous, due to the covid pandemic He struggled with his cane to navigate the tables at Hemingway’s restaurant. He said he felt better than he had in 2016, promoting the biopic (never made) that would star Brad Pitt and be directed by Angelina Jolie.

What, I asked, was his big message of the day? “Racism is rotten. The world is a mess as far as nature preservation. It worked before there were humans. We are headed toward species extinction.”

Given all that he’d achieved I wondered how he’d been overlooked for a knighthood. “The Brits don’t like me,” he said. “My father was pro Mau-Mau,” referring to the violent uprising that led to Kenya’s independence in 1963.

Leakey’s grandparents were missionaries from the Church of England in what was then British East Africa. His parents, the legendary paleo-anthropoligists Louis B. Leakey and Mary Leakey (of Olduvai Gorge fame). But it was Richard Leakey whose fossil discoveries further proved that the evolutionary origins of humankind are to be found in Africa.

His roles extended beyond science to the most important aspects of Kenya’s national treasures and heritage. In response to the international outcry over poaching of elephants, KWS, under his direction, became one of the best-funded and best-armed paramilitaries fighting poaching in Africa. Leakey initiated and enforced a shoot-to-kill anti-poacher policy that is still active today.

Richard Leakey in front of a pyre of burning ivory, Nairobi National Park, 1988.

In 1988 he led the famous and internationally televised ivory burn in Nairobi National park. He burned 12 tons of confiscated ivory. Called a stunt by some, his coup borrowed a tactic from Brigitte Bardot’s campaign against animal cruelty. Bardot had burned piles of synthetic fur in a bid to reduce market value of fur in the fashion industry.Leakey’s idea was to shame people into not wearing or displaying ivory, and drive down its value. It worked. The price of ivory plummeted. Leakey made enemies along the way, especially among former hunters who saw the ivory burn as incinerating serious money that could have been used to fund anti-poaching. Some felt he was turning ecosystems into parks which were little more than glorified zoos.

Most recently, Leakey founded the conservation organization Wildlife Direct. 

Leakey’s vocal critics included artist Peter Beard, who was a rival to Leakey on a number of fronts–not least of them fame. They had competing conservation narratives aimed at raising the most money. 

Soon after moving to East Africa, I set about investigating a collection of “rare’ and “ancient” Maasai artifacts that Beard and his ranch manager, British national Gillies Turle, had been collecting for years. 

Both Leakey and Beard admitted a mutual loathing that dated back to 1969. 

Leakey was notoriously territorial about his archaeological sites around Lake Turkana. Beard, the artist, liked to collect natural materials for his collages. Leakey, the scientist, had Beard in his sights when the artist began collecting Nile perch fossils, ostrich feathers, and crocodile skins around the lake. Leakey sent a camel posse of Etonian KWS rangers into the area to arrest him. “I did not trust Peter Beard,” said the scientist.” He’s an artist after all.”

Where Leakey worked at driving down the value of poached ivory, , Beard gave ivory, rhino horn and giraffe bone added value by promoting them in the form of artifacts. . 

In 1990 Leakey raided Beard’s Hog Ranch in Nairobi. As soon as he became chair of KWS he sent rangers to the ranch to confiscate Beard’s burgeoning collection. (The artifacts, alleged to be Maasai, were deemed fraudulent by American anthropologist Dr. Donna Pido. In a 1990 review in African Arts, Pido dismissed the coffee table book Art of the Maasai, authored by Turle and illustrated with Beard’s luscious photos. 

In a joint op with US with Fish & Wildlife officers KWS descended on Hog Ranch for a second time in 1999, this time arresting Turle. In a warehouse at Jomo Kenyatta International airport authorities seized and confiscated several footlockers of the artifacts and a street value of $3m worth of ivory. 

Leakey told me that what bothered him about the hoax as much as the poaching was the fraudulent aspect. Leakey had told me Beard was selling “the Bones” for upward of $20,000 apiece. And he had hundreds more than were revealed in the book. 

“If the market for these doesn’t stop the rhino could be in a lot of trouble,” he told me,. At the time only 400 black rhino remained in Kenya. 

Before leaving our last lunch, Leakey said he was very excited about his latest project,  the Museum of Humankind, to be located in the Rift Valley, not far from his house on Champagne Ridge. The museum is to house a planetarium, feature interactive exhibits, virtual reality, and display life-size dinosaurs;visitors will learn about climate change. Leakey had initially partnered with architect Daniel Libeskind, the master-plan architect of the new World Trade Center. But the two fell out. More recently Leakey had been working with Weta Digital, a New Zealand company that created the special effects for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film he’d consulted on. 

“Turkana Boy will stand up like a hologram. The bones come to life,” Leakey  said. “He talks to the audience, making tools, and smashing bones. Think of the power of that.” 

I gave that a moment’s thought. “Until there’s a power outage.” 

After a few glasses of wine Leakey leaned in to relate an anecdote, and asked me to include in the memoir he’d invited me to consider writing with him. Shortly after he had taken over as head of the Civil Service he attended a meeting with Moi. When he arrived the president told him he wasn’t invited. “But I am your right-hand man.” Moi turned to his aides and said, “Leakey thinks I am a black monkey.” Leakey replied to Moi saying, “I have been trying to tell you for years about evolution, but I am here to tell you you are a black ape.” And Moi stormed out.

At first I didn’t get it either. But of course. For an anthropologist we humans are, in fact, a species of ape.

President Daniel Arap Moi ignites ivory in Nairobi National Park, 1988.
Lunch at Hemingway’s, Karen, January 11, 2021. Credit Margot Kiser

US demands right to attack Islamist fighters gaining foothold in Kenya – The Times of London

The US has a drone base in Djibouti from which it attacks targets in Somalia

Margot Kiser, Nairobi Sunday November 22 2020, 6.00pm GMT, The Times

America is seeking clearance to launch drone strikes against Islamic militants operating in Kenya, according to Pentagon sources, as part of efforts to counter jihadists’ growing reach into Africa.

While US forces have used drones against targets in Somalia for several years, launched from a base in Djibouti, the plan to extend operations to Kenya reflects the growing threat from Islamic extremists.

The plan would involve both responding to attacks by militants and launching pre-emptive strikes against targets identified by US intelligence.

It was drawn up in response to the killing of three Americans, two civilian contractors and a US army soldier earlier this year in an attack on a small American airbase within the supposedly secure perimeter of a Kenyan naval base on the coast.

At the time US commanders scrambled drones, but in the hours that it took for permission for a strike to be given by the Kenyan authorities the attackers had disappeared.

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by al-Shabaab, an Islamist group that originated in Somalia but has sought to spread to neighbouring states including Kenya and Ethiopia.

Colonel Chris Karns, the US army spokesman for Africa, said the spread of al-Shabaab meant that the US was committed to working not just within Somalia but also elsewhere.

“There is a need to apply consistent international pressure on the terrorist organization and to monitor their activity and presence,” he told The Times. “We will continue to actively place pressure on their network and work with partners to prevent their spread.”

Once affiliated with al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has recently aligned itself with Isis, the militant group that has largely been defeated in Syria and Iraq only to re-emerge in Africa.

Isis has seized on an insurgency in northern Mozambique where its fighters are confounding government forces and foreign mercenaries. Scores of locals, including children, who put up resistance or fled have been beheaded or kidnapped.

Isis-linked militants in Kenya have launched raids into Tanzania while further operations have been staged in the lawless, eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, including a massive jailbreak and clashes with government forces.

US forces in Somalia have carte blanche from the authorities there to carry out airstrikes, which under the Trump administration increased from 46 in 2018 to 63 in 2019, and 47 so far this year.

US drones operating out of Djibouti have also hit a smaller number of militant targets identified in Libya. The aircraft would be at the limit of their operating distance if they went after targets in Kenya which lies about 1,000 miles south of the base.

If a drone base were to be set up in Kenya itself, a significant commitment of resources and manpower would be needed to mitigate extremist attacks against US personnel and infrastructure.

Lieutenant-colonel Anton T Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesman, told The Times: “We are constantly evaluating and — where needed — utilising available authorities and capabilities required to provide force protection.”

American drones were deployed to Niger following the 2017 killing of four US servicemen there by local militants although there have been no confirmed strikes launched by these aircraft.

2 Men Found Guilty of Aiding in 2013 Kenya Mall Attack

The timing of this verdict is interesting given the imminent US presidential election.
Since the attack in 2013 the Kenya and US govs have presented zero evidence (to the public anyway) that any of the four attackers as seen on CCTV were killed. If there were (DNA evidence) the Kenya gov would have been reminding us every day in the media for the last seven years.
I believe the gunmen were long gone by the time Kenya Defense Forces and various police units entered the mall and allegedly spent four days looting it, and shooting at each other.
So now they’ve probably convicted a couple of small time Somali criminals for a big time terrorist attack that left a lot more than the reported 67 dead.
All to help re-elect Trump #propaganda

Why is the U.S. Military Authority Seeking to Expand its Counterterrorism Drone War to Kenya?

The New York Times has reported that the U.S. military aims to broaden its counterterrorism drone war in Kenya.

Why now?
A couple of things come to mind; damage control (publicity) ahead of presidential elections, and competition with China’s expanding military footprint in Africa.
Seems to me that the US conducting drone strikes inside Kenya is alone scandalous politically because it could in effect define a large part of Kenya, a democratic anchor state, as a war zone. Parts of northeast Kenya are already a no-go zone, and will likely provoke al-Shabaab into carrying out more retaliatory attacks thereby destabilising Lamu county’s already fragile tourist industry.
In January Al Shabaab attacked the US military base in Lamu county because it was an easy target — the perimeter of the base was poorly secured (asleep at the wheel, individuals within host nation’s military compromised by militants) — and because US surveillance aircraft are indeed launched from the base to glean intelligence on “suspected terrorists” in Somalia for targeted killings.
U.S. Military Seeks Authority to Expand Counterterrorism Drone War to Kenya

A Coal-Fired Power Plant in Lamu? 

In 2017? If it goes through it will be the first in East Africa.
A consortium of Kenyan and Chinese companies is proposing to construct a 1,050 MW coal-fire power plant, only 13 miles from Lamu town. A mega-port now under construction is bad enough but nowhere as degrading to the environment and livelihoods as a coal fired power plant. If it materializes Lamu town risks losing its UNESCO world heritage status.

I asked a former county commissioner to tell me something positive about the coal-power fire plant. He said Kenyans and tourists from abroad will come far and wide to marvel at the 400 meter high chimney, the tallest structure in East Africa.

(Obviously, the scale of my superimposed chimney is off but hope you get the point) #paradiselost #unesco #lamu #paradise #stopcoal #coal #kenya #china @unescoworldheritage @unescoworldheritagesites

Remembering the August 7th 1998 Al-Qaeda bomb blast in Nairobi

I had just returned to Kenya from the US. I’d attended a party at Peter Beard’s ranch in Montauk, after interviewing him on a story.

On August 7th I was meant interview Beard’s nemesis, Dr. Richard Leakey at his office in the Nairobi suburb of Hurlingham. But on the flight from London I became violently ill. (I always thought it had to do with Beard’s weird and intense energy). When I landed I headed straight downtown to see my then GP., Dr. Soman, whose office happened to be just a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy. (The embassy was a squat building that sat MGH next to the Cooperative House, an ugly-ass white building shaped like a pair of bell-bottoms.)

Dr. Soman told me I was dehydrated and sent me to the Nairobi hospital. I reached the hospital at around 9am. Just as Dr. Silverstein plunged a hypodermic needle in my arm and connected me to a saline drip an explosion of some kind occurred.

We both looked out the window at a clear blue sky. My only frame of reference was a massive thunderclap. The comparison fell short by more than a mile, literally. Silverstein remarked that he hadn’t heard a sound like that since the Norfolk hotel was bombed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1980.

Minutes later I was wheeled into the patients wing and phones began ringing all through re hospital. The wall-mounted televisions were switched on showing images of bloodied and charred victims of a bomb blast that targeted the U.S. Embassy, near where I’d just been. I was given a sedative but recall sirens blaring. Thirty minutes later some of the same people who’d I’d seen on television were being wheeled into my room.

Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden was already being blamed for the truck bombing that killed over 200 people. I will never forget learning that then U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell was in a private room nearby. When I felt better I took a peak into her room. I could only glimpse her short dark hair and fair skin as she lay in bed. As far as I could tell she didn’t suffer a scratch.

U.S. Embassy, Nairobi, Kenya, 1998

Notes on the abduction and ransom of Sylvia Aisha Romano

While a ransom was paid to Al-Shabaab, the militant group may not have been aid worker Sylvia Aisha Romano original captors in Malindi two years ago. Reports have suggested that Kenya Wildlife Service personnel were arrested in their connection with the abduction and that they hid the aid worker in the vast and dense Boni forest near the Somali border. From there she may have been sold on to Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab has had a presence in the forest in northern Kenya since at least 2014. Other reports quoted police as saying the aid worker was involved in illegal ivory trafficking. KWS has been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings in Tana River area, not far from Malindi, where Ms. Romano was kidnapped.

2019 in images

Herbert Menzer is one of the great connectors and influencers on Lamu Island. Herbert hails from Hamburg, Germany, and over the years has constructed several large, luxurious, modern Swahili rental villas in Shela village. He’s also the mastermind behind the annual Lamu Hat Contest, and The Painters Festival. Both will be held February 1-16, 2020.

Suavissimo Lee Harvin will be 79 years old next year. Inshallah. Seemingly ageless, he identifies himself with Dorian Gray. Lee is originally from Harlem, New York. Shela has been his home for 15 years. If he’s not wearing a Panama hat you’ll spot him by his usual turbaned head.

Azhar Ali Mbarak aka “Watermelon” Member of Lamu County Assembly (MCA)

Political graffiti from 2017 general elections

Watermelon is so powerful he can move heaven and earth — and even motorbikes for you.

Shela village, Lamu Island

The Lamu Yoga Festival, conceived by Banana House, is now in its seventh year. The venue offers five days of yoga classes, meditation, and workshops in Shela, Lamu town, and on Manda Island.

A few years ago, following a spate of security incidents in the region (on the mainland only), then Lamu county governor, Issa Timamy, hired a British PR firm and rebranded Lamu as “The Island of Festivals”.

Never mind that some of the more conservative locals refer to the throngs of mostly women attendees as “little devils” for their strange salutations toward the sun while lined up on the beach. The Swahili community is accommodating. Lamu is safe and idyllic as can be.

Low-level flying with Fuzz Dyer of Northern Rangeland Trust

July 9, 2019 World Heritage Committee calls for the Government of Kenya to stop the Lamu coal plant project until it assesses it’s impacts on Lamu’s environment, heritage, and culture, and submits reports for review – Natural Justice

“Hey, it’s me!” Tourist

Kenya’s Worst Rhino Massacre Was the Work of People Trying to Save the Species

Kenya’s Worst Rhino Massacre Was the Work of People Trying to Save the Species


Published Oct. 08, 2018 5:22AM ET 

NAIROBI—You may have missed World Rhino Day last month. Even here in Kenya, many people did. Such events rarely raise the public’s consciousness the way they should, and this year, certainly, there was not much to celebrate.

Kenya is home to many of the rhinos surviving in the wild, but it is still reeling from a veritable massacre in  July and August at one of the country’s most famous national parks: 11 eastern black rhinos dead out of a population of 750. And those responsible for the shocking deaths are not poachers, but the very same organizations charged with saving the species: World Wildlife Fund-Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.

The tragedy began on July 13, when Kenyans woke to the news that at least seven black rhinos had died mysteriously, not killed by hunters. The death toll reached 11 in less than six weeks. All had lost their lives in the same sanctuary, where they had been relocated, precisely, in order to ensure the species’ survival. 

Some conservationists called this the worst tragedy in the history of wildlife conservation. 

Paula Kahumba, CEO of the non-profit organization Wildlife Direct, told reporters this was “a complete disaster.” Many people might think of the loss as incalculable, but for those less sensitive to the fate of wildlife, Kahumba put a figure on it: “Each animal is worth about a million dollars. It’s like $7 million just vanished into thin air.”

In the 1950s Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park was home to an estimated 2,000 eastern black rhino. By the 1970s, this population had dwindled, almost entirely as a result of poaching for the international rhino-horn trade, to an estimated 400. 

As of early 2018, due to anti-poaching efforts and to conservationists’ work to grow viable rhino populations, the World Wildlife Fund counted the population at 750. The new Rhino Conservation Strategy (2017-2021) of the Kenya Wildlife Service hopes to achieve 5 percent growth and attain a population of 830 by 2021. The mandate of almost all rhino-centric conservation organizations—state or non-state—is keep those numbers growing. 

In the 1950s Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park was home to an estimated 2,000 eastern black rhino. By the 1970s, this population had dwindled, almost entirely as a result of poaching for the international rhino-horn trade, to an estimated 400. 

As of early 2018, due to anti-poaching efforts and to conservationists’ work to grow viable rhino populations, the World Wildlife Fund counted the population at 750. The new Rhino Conservation Strategy (2017-2021) of the Kenya Wildlife Service hopes to achieve 5 percent growth and attain a population of 830 by 2021. The mandate of almost all rhino-centric conservation organizations—state or non-state—is keep those numbers growing. 

When Kenya’s parks get congested,  animals are sent to other areas in a process known as translocation. They are captured, transported, and released.

Nairobi National Park, in sight of the capital’s skyline, has proved to be a prime rhino breeding sanctuary in Kenya. Rhino reproduce there at an optimum rate, producing one calf per female every two years. But the Nairobi park can no longer sustain the growing population, and neither can the Lake Nakuru National Park, which has a similarly successful breeding record. 

Another aim of translocations is to move endangered wildlife away from poachers, but the core purpose is to get them far away enough from other rhino populations to establish, over time, new bloodlines and genetically diverse populations.

The balance has to be just right. If there are too many animals in a confined area they either don’t mate or become inbred. If there are too few in a vast park they may not find each other to mate. 

In 2011 WWF-Kenya teamed up with the Kenya Wildlife Service to establish a rhino sanctuary in Tsavo East. The service had a proven track record. It had successfully moved 149 rhinobetween 2005 and 2017. Only eight of these died, and over a long period of time. 

Moving rhino to establish a founder population in the 5,307-square-mile Tsavo East seemed like a good idea. It’s big sky country, with a lot of room for the beasts to move around. But rhinos, while they may look like four-legged battle tanks, are in some respects remarkably fragile, and water quality is, for them, a critical issue.

In 2011 an Environmental Impact Assessment was conducted in the Tsavo East sanctuary to determine the suitability of this habitat, especially its water and vegetation. The result showed high levels of salt in the water. 

So, between 2013 and 2015, with funding from WWF-Kenya, the wildlife service hired a private supplier to drill for fresh water in the proposed sanctuary. WWF-Kenya then brought the $1 million proposal for a translocation to the Kenya Wildlife Service board, at the time chaired by renowned paleontologist and wildlife warrior Dr. Richard Leakey. 

Leakey vetoed the project three times, on the grounds that Tsavo East had suffered a long drought and the habitat was unsuitable—its water had tested too salty for rhino consumption. Leakey recommended that WWF-Kenya return with the proposal when conditions improved.  

Despite the high salinity of the water WWF-Kenya went ahead and continued building the sanctuary, with a 38-square-mile rhino territory enclosed by a solar-powered electric fence. Within the sanctuary WWF-Kenya established a boma (a more localized holding enclosure), where vets and rangers would look after translocated rhino for two weeks before releasing them into free range.

Paul Gathitu, a spokesperson for the Kenya Wildlife Service, says a lot of planning was done to ensure the rhinos’ safety in their new habitat. “There has to be sufficient food, it has to be correct in terms of weather, in terms of water that is available, so all those factors had to be put in place including even the issue of security of the rhinos themselves. All that put together, we felt that the conditions were about right.”

But the 2011 assessment showing high salinity was never revised. Moreover, Dr. Benson Kibore, chairman of Kenya’s Union of Veterinary Practitioners (UVP), said tests of the water in drilled boreholes were conducted multiple times, up to May of 2018, and these tests revealed a saline content five times higher than in 2011. 

In April of 2018, the three-year tenure of the KWS board of directors, including Leakey, terminated. Soon afterward WWF-Kenya’s preparations for the translocation were set in motion. TheBigMove, as it was billed, would be a feather in the caps of WWF-Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service. 

On June 25, @WWF_Kenya tweeted: “Our family has grown and we need to move some members to a new home. Stay with us as we kick off the journey tomorrow at 7 am #TheBigMove.”

Our family has grown and we need to move some members to a new home. Stay with us as we kick off the journey tomorrow at . #TheBigMove

The morning after the tweets went out, a crowd of politicians, senior staff from WWF-K, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and media gathered to launch The Big Move of 14 rhino to the new sanctuary at Tsavo East. 

The kickoff’s location was symbolic: the site in Nairobi National Park were, in 1989, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi and Richard Leakey torched tons of confiscated elephant tusks and rhino horn. Another such dramatic bonfire blazed in 2016. 

These events ignited worldwide focus on efforts in Kenya to stop the slaughter of elephants and rhinos, and to help their populations grow once again.

“Today marks the coming together of a dream that has been in the making for over seven years,” Najib Balala, Kenya’s Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, declared as The Big Move began. 

An unspoken message was that Richard Leakey was out of the way. Those now in control of Kenya’s wildlife establishment could work free of the constraints Leakey had imposed. 

At the event, WWF-Kenya presented the park with two Land Cruisers, three motorbikes, night vision cameras, tents, radio equipment, binoculars and boots. “This donation of two vehicles and other vital equipment.” Minister Balala added, “will go a long way in ensuring that our rangers on the front line are adequately equipped to carry out their duties.” 

The first three rhino slated to travel were camera- and social media-ready, complete with names—Carol, Cheptei, and Bolt. After the fanfare, KWS sharpshooters darted animals with a light tranquilizer, and the animals were pushed into crates. They then left the park and sped along a bumpy road 200 miles to their faraway new home. Cheptei, Carol, and Bolt’s arrival at the boma was the subject of confident tweets put out by the translocation’s organizers at WWF-Kenya on June 27: “Carol, Cheptei and Bolt arrived safely at Tsavo late last night they are among 14 black rhino forming founder population.”

No news seemed like good news.

The “hear-hear” tweets indicate that there was, at least at this stage, communication between KWS and WWF-K. The remaining 11 rhino were scheduled to travel, in stages, over the succeeding two weeks. 

By all accounts the capture and transport phases of the translocation were going well. Veterinarians are typically in charge of these, while rangers and wardens are tasked with caring for the animals on their arrival at the release site, including the adaptation period in the boma.  

According to a report made later by the Union of Veterinary Practitioners, the senior warden for Tsavo East accompanied the first lot of rhino, bringing enough fresh vegetation and water to last six days. (The Daily Beast’s repeated efforts to communicate with this senior warden have been unsuccessful.)

Rangers assert that they provided fresh leafy vegetation—called “lucerne” and also “sugarcane straws”—and fresh water from a 500-1,000 gallon water container known as a “bowser.” 

Dr. Kibore from the Union of Veterinary Practitioners reports that a week after release, the warden called KWS headquarters to report peculiar behavior by the rhinos, and dispatched rangers with the bowser to the Galana River,  several miles from the sanctuary over rough terrain, to bring more fresh water. En route, the bowser broke. 

Rangers and wardens, observing increased water intake among the rhinos and hyper-urination, suspected snakebite. 

Four days passed before those dispatched with the bowser returned with water. Kibore cites the failure of rangers to act promptly on the broken bowser as the crucial lapse in the operation. The lack of adequate food and fresh water in the boma would have killed the rhino eventually, Kibore notes, “but full-blown salt water will kill you first.” 

On the sixth day after their arrival, the veterinarians’ union report notes that rangers decided to give water from a nearby borehole. But the nearby borehole was the one that was making the rhinos sick to begin with. On July 3, seven days after the first three rhinos arrived, Bolt died. When vets arrived and scanned the corpse for snakebites, they couldn’t find any. On the eighth day in the boma, two more rhinos displayed symptoms like those seen in Bolt. These two also died, as vets tried to treat them. Supposing that snake bite was killing the translocated rhinos, the vets released all but two of the remaining animals from the boma. The veterinarian union report indicates the rhinos’ dehydration was attributable to trauma. “With trauma and stress of undergoing the capture process the rhinos feared the newly placed water points, thinking it was a trap.” Kibore explains that the borehole water points are lined with black plastic, about which the rhino are skittish. He said “the key reason” the animals died, noted on the postmortem, was dehydration.

By the time the vets understood that, sure enough, salt water was the problem, it was too late. According to Kibore, the warden wasn’t aware that rhinos could die from a high intake of salt water. 

While a vet was present, he was coming and going between the sanctuary and the other parks, where the rhino embarked. Kibore told The Daily Beast that vets are usually not in attendance during the initial days following release because the wildlife service’s budget doesn’t provide for that kind of post-translocation care. 

By July 13 a total of at least seven rhinos had died, and news of the calamity broke to the outside world. Yet there seems to have been little communication in the intervening days among rangers, wardens, and vets in the sanctuary or at KWS headquarters.

Minister Balala, who was outside Kenya at the time, claims to have learned of the deaths only when the public did, and only via media coverage.

Leakey asserts that whatever communications there were between the boma and Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters have been suppressed. He adds that he has reason to think the rangers at Tsavo East had not even been informed that the rhino would be arriving. 

Balala quickly issued a statement announcing suspension of the translocation of the three remaining rhino from Lake Nakuru. On his return to Kenya, he held a press conference and announced that he had called for an independent investigation. He later cited an independent post-mortem report stating that salt poisoning may have caused the rhinos to perish as they struggled to adapt to saltier water in their new home. Within six weeks of the translocation’s launch, all the rhinos moved to Tsavo East were dead. One of these was attacked, post-translocation, by lions. Though this death has been attributed to the attack, that rhino, given its dehydration and impaired health, was likely in no shape to fight. The irony that more rhino died in the translocation than were killed by poachers in 2017 was not lost on informed observers, particularly wildlife conservationists.  

The public, in Kenya and outside, demanded answers. With many Kenyans agitating for Balala to resign, the bloodletting shifted, figuratively at least, to the human side of the equation.

Conservationists have blamed the rhino deaths on greed, negligence and the nebulous, growing role of NGOs in the wildlife conservation sector. Angry Kenyans wanted proof that the dead rhinos’ horns had not found their way into the illegal trade. They demanded photos of the corpses with the horns in place. At its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya Wildlife service displayed what it claimed were all 22 horns—two cut off each rhino corpse.The Kenyan government has compiled but not yet released results of an initial inquiry, which sources say states that there were areas of “clear negligence by KWS.” Both Mohamed Awer, CEO of WWF-Kenya, and  Minister Balala acknowledgednegligence in the translocation.The operation’s outcome came as no surprise to Leakey, who cites saltwater and mismanagement as prime ingredients in a recipe for disaster.  He places responsibility squarely with WWF-Kenya and on Balala, whom he referred to as CS, or Cabinet Secretary Balala.

The Kenya Wildlife Service “would have only acted on orders of either the [KWS] board or the CS,” Leakey told The Daily Beast. “They would not have gone to WWF, so the must have given them the go ahead.”

Balala, Awer, and their organizations insist that Leakey, when chair of KWS, had given “provisional approval” for the translocation. Leakey denies having given any approval, provisional or otherwise. “Over the life of this project, one of the major donors, WWF, had variously expressed its views about the non-completion of the sanctuary,” Leakey said in a press statement. Speaking with The Daily Beast, he added, “The emergency, I think, was that WWF spent a lot of money building this sanctuary. They wanted the rhinos released in it so they could tell donors ‘job done,’ ‘ribbon tied,’ ‘more money please.’” 

“WWF have no legal culpability here,” Leakey observes. “But this does raise questions about foreign assistance to countries. As in: who is the tail and who is the dog?”

“WWF needs to be accountable and put the animals’ welfare before finances,” says Dr Kibore. 

Leakey said that Balala had implied that a new KWS board of directors had met, which was a surprise since as far as he was aware a board hadn’t been established. “The absence of a board for the three months has left weighty decisions of the kind concerning discipline and direction entirely with the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife… It is unfortunate that the Minister’s statement failed to reflect the fundamentals behind this tragedy and perhaps dig deeper into the real problems at KWS.” 

This absence of a KWS board, said Leakey, provided the window of opportunity for WWF-Kenya to push the translocation through with Minister Balala. Leakey explained to The Daily Beast that KWS is a parastatal organization structured like the military. “You cannot run that sort of military organization without chain of command, if you break the chain of command at the top.”

Offended by the recriminations aimed at him, Balala went on the offensive, accusing Leakey of trying to destroy KWS. The minister cited a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers audit of KWS funded by USAID, blasting KWS for poor management under Leakey’s chairmanship. 

While the battle between Leakey and Balala has raged in public, WWF-Kenya and KWS have for the most part kept mute. WWF-Kenya has not responded to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. KWS has vowed to take disciplinary action against its rangers if it is found that negligence played a part in the deaths. However, it remains to be seen whether the findings of the investigations will be made public, as promised by the government.

Claus Mortensen, who manages Mugie Ranch in Laikipia, moved 23 rhino from Laikipia to Ruma National Park in 2012. He worked closely with several of the wildlife service officers involved in the Tsavo East translocation. “They’re very competent in the job of the transferring,” he said. Since the 2012 move, only two of those rhino have been lost to poaching. “Rhinos are incredibly tough,” Mortensen says. “They lived all these millions of years. But they’re also super-fragile, especially when they get man-handled.” His conclusion about the fatal Tsavo move: “It’s not the transferring that killed them, it was an oversight of looking carefully at the water supply.”

Thoughts on dusitD2 2 Attack

On January 15th, 2019, I flew from Nairobi to Lamu, where I’ve been living for some time. While waiting for my luggage I chatted with a fellow passenger, a young Somali who told mehe was working in the gas fields of Pate Island. We noted the gains Kenya has made in recent years in security and theuptick in international tourism. Other than the odd skirmish between Al-Shabaab and security forces in the Boni, it sure has looked lately as though Kenya had licked the militant group.

When I got home a journalist friend phoned to tell me that an attack was underway at the dusitD2 complex in Nairobi’s affluent Westland’s neighborhood. The action hadn’t been confirmed – it was only an hour into the attack – but Al-Shabaab were the most likely perpetrators.

The dusitD2 attack racked up some “firsts”: 

The Al-Shabaab attackers were all Kenyan nationals, including the two ethnic Somalis. At least two were Kikuyus from Kenya’s central region. (All four attackers who stormed the Westgate Mall in 2013 were Somali nationals.) 

For the dusitD2 Al-Shabaab deployed a suicide bomber, a first in its many attacks in Kenya.

The dusitD2 attack was anomalous in various ways—even outright weird. Several things seemed off (and Im sure many others as well). First, the suicide bomber. It may be a stretch to say the bomb went off “in the middle of nowhere,” as one analyst described it to me, but the bomber wasn’t positioned in a way that would have maximized casualties.

Instead he seemed to be walking away from the intended target — the restaurant verandah — and asking his handler with remote, “Why haven’t I exploded yet?

The time of the attack was also peculiar. The gunmen stormed the dusitD2 security gates at around 2:30 pm. By that time most patrons and staff were back in their offices. The Westgate gunmen by contrast attacked the mall on when it was packed, on a Saturday. And they clearly had an exit strategy. Analysts speculate the attackers got away before security forces arrived.

Al-Shabaab’s official statement about dusitD2, which among other things, tied the attack to Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem seemed irrelevant.

The dusitD2 complex looks too complex for the killers to maneuver. Unlike Westgate with its massive, open, multi-story space, the dusitD2 complex consists of a restaurant, the hotel reception area, and a honeycomb of offices in several buildings.

If the attackers weren’t aiming for high numbers, perhaps they were ordered to kill specific people in specific offices.

Among those killed were employees of various strategic development companies.

Jason Spindler, an American who died in the attack, worked at I-DEV, “a strategy and investment advisory firm focused on supporting businesses and organizations to achieve their impact and growth goals in emerging markets.

Jason Spindler enjoyed spending time in Lamu, a predominately Muslim town on Kenya’s north coast.

Feisal Ahmed, 31, and Abdalla Dahir, 33, two Somalis who were killed, had worked with the British firm Adam Smith International,”an award-winning global company that delivers impact, value and lasting change through economic growth and government reform” At the time of the attack, the two were working for the Somalia Stability Fund, managed by ASI, whose mission is to “bring peace and stability to Somalia”.

Al-Shabaab might view the efforts of a company like Adam Smith International as oriented to anything but bringing peace and prosperity to Somalia.

Rumors circulated that a large group of Americans were scheduled to meet for a conference at the dusitD2 but cancelled at the last minute. (The manager at the nearby Gemstone Suites, where the meeting had in fact taken place, reportedly said they’d never planned to meet at the dusitD2.)

A security source told me the Americans at the meeting at Gemstone Suites were with USAID or with people related to USAID-funded projects.

It is widely believed that USAID projects project “soft-power” tactics not only to win over the people but also for advancing US economic and political interests. USAID is at the heart of the fight to win the hearts and minds of Kenya’s Muslim populations.

Al-Shabaab doesn’t like foreign meddling of any kind.

Diplomatic and security sources confirmed that the dusitD2 Hotel guests at the time of the attack included Ahmed Duale Gelle, President of central Somalia’s autonomous state of Galmudug. He happened to be outside the hotel at the time, and it is unclear whether he may have been a marked target. One analyst remarked that a lot of people having nothing to do with Al-Shabaab would probably like to take Gelle out.

If the group of USAID-related officials and Gelle were intended targets, it seems Al-Shabaab suffered a significant lapse in intelligence. A lapse that luckily saved lives.

Security analysts I’ve spoken with term the dusitD2 operation amateurish, and the militants themselves inept.

If the attack was, from Al-Shabaab’s point of view, a dud it was a success for Kenya’s security forces in terms of rapid response.

Learning from their disastrous and embarrassing behavior at the Westgate attack GSU, the Israeli-trained Recce squad, KDF, and Special Forces have been conducting “synergized operations”simulated responses—in a training area at Embakasi, near Kenyatta International Airport. The training objective, to learn from and close the gaps in response, appears to have been achieved. 

Returning to Nairobi at the end of January, I headed straight to the Dusit. I was surprised by how easily I was allowed in, past battalions of GSU police. Devoid of activity, the buildings comprising the complex, so many offices in them that I’d not noticed on prior visits, were like canyons.

One final bit of weirdness; the headquarters of Frontier Services Group, a security company led by Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater Worldwide, is located on Riverside Dr.

All roads….