Poaching of meat bush is on the rise in Kenya as Covid hunger drives antelopes and giraffes to hunt By Scott McLean , Bethlehem Feleke , Solomon Muingi and Fabien Muhire, CNN Update 1616 GMT (0016 HKT) September 15, 2021 The savanhe wide open and perfect for Kenya postcards is dotted with acacia trees in all directions as the morning fog still fogs the air. Donart Mwakio is making his rounds in a white van when it suddenly stops. The ranger at Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya jumps from behind and stands over an unusual looking carcass. The animal's massive rib cage is still almost intact, while the incredibly long limbs and neck are strewn further into the tall grass - most still covered in pale yellow fur and patches unmistakable brunettes of a giraffe. Carcass of giraffe after attack by poachers.Mwakio assumes it isthere for about two weeks - trapped by poachers and grossly butchered for its meat - the rest is left for birds and hyenas to be plucked by. Lots of meat. She weighs about a ton, he said. 'People are desperate ' Read more Forest rangers patrol twice a day in the 42 square mile nature reserve near the southern tip of Kenya, about 125 miles away. inland from the coast. It is easy for poachers to enter and exit the sprawling village nearby. Currently, the [poaching] situation is worse because most people have lost their jobs and resort to poaching as a means of earning a living, explains Mwakio. It wasn't long before the group of four rangers found a snare hanging between two trees blocking a worn out animal pit. The l hoop is made from electric fence wire intended to preventpoachers to enter. In less than an hour, rangers find two more homemade snares, the third attached to the leg of a moose, the world's largest antelope. The poachers didn't make it back in time and now the stench of the rotting carcass in the scorching mid-morning sun is almost unbearable. New figures from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) shared with CNN shows poaching is on the rise. Seizures of illegal bushmeat - mainly common animals like zebras, elks and dik diks (a deer-like antelope the size of a small dog) - are expected to hit an all-time high. Meet eight Maasai rangers - the first women in their family to find jobs - tackling poaching around Amboseli National Park in Kenya The Problem doesn't look very good at the moment, says KWS General Manager John Migui Waweru. He says many otherwise well-paying job opportunities have been lost during the pandemic. So people found other ways to survive, and that 's with subsistence hunting, bushmeat. His office led a crackdown on bushmeat poaching in 2019, resulting in an increase in foreclosures. The pandemic has only made matters worse. “People are desperate,” he says. More tourists Willie Mwadilo is the general manager of the private wildlife sanctuary and the two hotels built on the remote site that once belonged to the Hilton group. Before the pandemic, things were fine. I would say everyone pulled something out of the tourists entering, he says. Hotels were regularly booked at 90 or 100% of their capacity and even around 80% in low season, according to Mwadilo. The pandemic forced the sanctuary to close for three months forcing staff to take their annual leave en masse. Since then, hotels have not exceeded 20% capacity until recently, when an influx of domestic tourists and East Europeans increased slightly. A lot of people [ask me for a job], says Mwadilo. I have no work to give them. Mwadilo, who keeps a small pistol in its holster on his waist, can often see the glow of flashlights on the horizon - poachers. The safari industry is no stranger to struggles, but what will it take to recover now? At night, a flashlight can disorient and confuse an animal so much that poachers can easily take advantage of it to slash the animal with a machete, butcher it on the spot and take out the meat in bags attached to the rear of a motorcycle - no snares required. Sometimes Mwadilo says he shoots in the air in a vain attempt to scare them. He can hardly blame them though, he says. [People ] sit in the village, in the morningn in the evening they don 't have a penny, they don ' t have any food, he said, pointing to the neighboring villages. That 's why you ' ll see people poaching. Poverty, the rule, no exception The village of Mwashuma is located just off the road that connects the hotels to the main highway. Christopher Mwasi, an elder, takes us for a short tour, past the clay brick and tin roofed houses and basic mud huts. Poverty is the rule here, not the exception. Corona [virus] exacerbated the situation. Initially there were jobs, but now there are no jo bs, says Mwasi. He says he doesn't know of any poachers in his village, but they operate in secret. He admits, however, that when young men on motorcycles are called by poachers, they come to transport the meat. If you don 't take care of the people, they will eat the animals. But if they have a job, they eat as they please, they don ' te will not be involved in poaching, he says. The village was in trouble even before the pandemic - and now many people say they don't know where their next meal will come from. Ibrahim Chombo is Mwasi's cousin and lives in a clay brick house with dirt floors and no electricity. Ibrahim Chombo at the Inside his house. He says he and his family are struggling to have enough food to eat. Chombo is working all the odd jobs he can find to support his wife and two young children. Lately , however, it has been difficult to earn the 800 shillings ($ 7.28) per day he needs to make sure his family has enough to eat.On a typical day, Chombo says he could only earn around 400 ($ 3.64), sometimes 500 ($ 4.55). Most of the time, her children, ages two and eight, eat only one meal. They have become weak because there 's nothing to eat, he said. They 're not complaining, they know, when parents have money, they ' ll have something to eat. He says that before the pandemic, finding odd jobs was easy, but not anymore. That day, Chombo found work digging a latrine - he receives 150 shillings ($ 1.37) for every foot he digs. That morning it took him over 5 hours to dig 3 feet. He was planning to go back there in the afternoon to continue digging. Poaching would undoubtedly bring in much easier money, but he can't afford to take the risk. If I am arrested, who will help my family with food? He asks. He can't afford to buy beef frombutcher, but sometimes says if he has some cash he can afford to buy bushmeat instead, which sells for a quarter of the price, or less. Gabriel Mradrai in his now virtually empty butcher's shop in Bura Just down the road from Mwashuma is the larger village of Bura. Before Corona, there were so many customers and supplies, says butcher Gabriel Mradai which sells meat on commission. The company used to supply local schools and hotels. But this company has dried up. There is only a kilo of beef in the business, so that he had 25 kilos. Almost no one can afford beef, and even if he could, bushmeat costs a fraction of the price. Now Mradai says her children, who are one and three, are hungry. They eat, but I have trouble, I have trouble finding food, he said. Deputy head of local government Sylvester Chombo Mwavula is well aware that many people in his community do not have enough to eat, but, he says, that is no excuse for poaching. Sometimes you can arrest someone and in fact when you visit their house you will find that the person is living on a very pathetic property. But, you see, we have to obey the law, he said. . Forced into poaching If you ask around, bushmeat is not hard to find. A young man who sells poached bushmeat spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity. He says when the pandemic hit, he traded in his struggling little farm for a rental motorbike. The problem is, too many other young men have had the same idea. There is not enoughe paying passengers to earn money. He says he doesn't hunt, but like many young men on motorcycles, he is an intermediary between poachers and the market. Because I need the money, I had to take care of my family and pay the rent for the bike. So I have to take the risk of going back to the bush, he said. We need jobs, that 's the big deal because while most of the poachers are employed by the hotel, they can protect the animals. They cannot destroy the animals. But they are not. employees. A ranger in Taita hils with a trap left by poachers In 2019 he wasreleased from prison after 16 months. It was his seventh poaching conviction, and now he says, his last. He has spent almost a quarter of his life behind bars. He now works as a shepherd for 500 shillings ($ 4.55) a week, a fraction of the 3,500 ($ 31.87) he could earn by selling a single moose. He still dreams of becoming a park warden, getting married and having children. I 've got hope, my star is still shining, he beams. The story of Jesus illustrates the challenge facing Kenyan environmentalists. For most poachers, the only deterrent is the risk of imprisonment. KWS chief executive Waweru is optimistic his agency's efforts can reduce poaching. He focused on closing the markets selling bushmeat by testing the meat sold to determine which animal it came from. Its rangers also patrol the national parks and flush outt poaching hot spots. This does not solve the root of the problem. We have to educate them ... why bushmeat is not the alternative, he says. Perhaps a difficult message to get across, when tourists, jobs and food are all scarce.