On Saturday, we planned for our normal patrol in the forest. Often, we respond to intelligence information from local sources. On this day, however, we had no new intelligence so we decided to patrol an area where we suspected there might be illegal activities happening.
It was early in the morning when we set off. We drove our vehicle until the road ended, and then began patrolling on foot. After walking a short distance, we saw human and dog footprints coming from the forest. We followed them so that we could determine what sort of activity was taking place.
Since it was the dry season, tracking the footprints was difficult. At one point, my teammates and I almost gave up after being unable to find any more tracks. Luckily, we spotted other signs of human activity, like machete cuts in the vegetation, which helped us to continue on the trail. It was particularly difficult at times when we reached dry, grassy fields, so we had to rely on our past tracing experience to continue onwards.
At one point, we found ourselves in a new and unknown location that none of us had been to before. We checked our GPS and discovered that we were 11 kilometres inside the forest! We decided to take a break because we had completely lost the trail. We decided to retrace our footsteps to get out of the forest because it was getting late and we did not bring flashlights.
While my colleagues were taking a break, I decided to take one last look around for signs of human activity which would help us continue on our search. After searching for about twenty minutes, I found a path with some barely visible footprints, and so I called out for my colleagues. They could not hear me because I was so far away, but, thankfully, there was cell service so I was able to call them. When they arrived, we agreed to try our best to follow the path since our mission for the day was not over yet.
We set off and my colleague who was in the front of the group noticed a dry bamboo stick placed near a tree and stopped to check it out. At first, he wanted to grab onto it but I yelled at him to stop. Our rule is to always remain as quiet as possible because we never know what might be in our surroundings. I asked him to jump back from where he was, and he did so very quickly. I was trembling as I pointed up into the tree. We all saw a trap hanging from the tree designed to kill an elephant. We all ducked to a safer area behind another tree nearby so that if there was somebody monitoring the trap they would not be able to attack us from that direction.
After some time, I crawled towards the tree where the trap had been set and called out to my colleagues. We looked around to make sure there were no other humans or wildlife in the vicinity. After determining that the scene was safe, I began to explain to my colleagues how that type of trap works. The trap consisted of a large piece of metal that had been sharpened at one end and embedded into a heavy log, which was then suspended from the tree. When an elephant triggers the trap, the log with the sharp metal is designed to fall directly onto the elephant. We cut rope suspending the trap and it came down with a big thunder. Everyone was amazed! With much difficulty, we removed the sharp metal from the log so we could easily carry it with us out of the forest. Luckily, we had a machete that made it easier to break off the nails that attached the metal to the log. We were extra cautious as we worked because poachers have been known to poison traps so they are more likely to be lethal.
It was a bittersweet day. We were joyful that we were able to save an elephant from this deadly trap, but disappointed that we were unable to find the culprits. This shows that it is important to be alert at all times while on patrol since danger can come at you from all
This year, the Joint Wildlife Protection Team has been fully supported by the IUCN Save our Species co-founded by the European Union, which has patrolled Mt Kenya since 2008.