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Kenya suspends top wildlife officials in poaching probe

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Kenya's wildlife authorities have suspended two top officials in the midst of investigations into rampant poaching that has decimated elephant herds and other wild animals, officials said Wednesday.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said in a statement that the officials were ordered "to take leave to facilitate internal investigations into the wildlife security situation".

Poaching has spiked recently in East Africa, with whole herds of elephants massacred for their ivory.

"The suspensions had to be done to pave way for investigations... we are waiting for the final report," KWS spokesman Paul Mbugua told AFP.

He stressed that no charges have been brought against the officials, Peter Leitoro, the deputy director of security, and Benjamin Kavu, deputy director of wildlife and community.

Last month officials in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa seized more than two tonnes of ivory, which had reportedly come from Tanzania and was destined for Indonesia.

Last year poachers killed at least 360 elephants in Kenya, up from 289 in 2011, according to official figures.

At least 40 poachers were killed last year as rangers battled the raiders.

The illegal ivory trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used to make ornaments and in traditional medicine.

Trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dwindled from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Africa is now home to an estimated 472,000 elephants, whose survival is threatened by poaching as well as a rising human population that is causing habitat loss.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130206/kenya-suspends-top-wildlife-officials-poaching-probe