Platinum Dancers Campaign Against Poaching


Victor Oloo (L) with his deputy Hosea Ojwang when they visited the WildlifeDirect offices

Victor Oloo (R) with his deputy Hosea Ojwang when they visited the WildlifeDirect offices

They have been billed as the best Dance crew from Kibera. They have won several dance competition awards, even made it to the semi finals of the hugely popular regional TV dance show, Sakata. They are the Platinum dancers and their leader is the passionate 20 year old Victor Oloo.

Their latest venture is a competition in which they have taken up the fight against poaching as their rallying dance.

“We have just qualified to stage two of the SpaFest competition,” says Oloo. “For our next appearance, there is the mandatory requirement to address a thematic issue affecting the country at the moment. We have chosen poaching as our theme. We thought that a lot of the other groups will most likely go with insecurity, which is a valid and urgent issue affecting our country today. But we chose to highlight the fact that the poaching of elephants actually also contributes to the insecurity in our country, and has devastating effects on our economy. A lot of tourists come to Kenya to see our elephants. If we kill them, we are killing our economy which greatly depends on the tourism sector”

Platinum dancers performed during the #Tweet4Elephants debate at the Brookhouse school in April, which was hosted by WildlifeDirect. They danced to the Tusimame song, an elephant anthem composed by four artists (from four African countries) including Emmanuel Jal, Syssi Mananga, Juliani and Vanessa Mdee.

“WildlifeDirect is very proud to be associated and to work with this young group of dancers,” says the WildlifeDirect CEO, Paula Kahumbu. “It is the time for young Kenyans to take up the campaign and the message of conservation to their peers. This is when transformation and behaviour change on a large scale will occur, and we are very happy that the Platinum dancers are leading the way”.

Victor formed his first dance group in 2009 right after high school. His fascination with dancing grew out of watching a senior dance crew in his high school. Meet Victor Oloo. They were only two when they started and after many ‘starting overs’ the group is steady with 10 member and many trainees.

Platinum dancers are self taught. “We do the choreography ourselves. We are now using the platform that dancing has given us to teach and train other young people who live in Kibera. Incorporating important messaging in our dancing – like about conservation – is also an important way to reach our followers and fans with information that can transform them,” says Oloo.

Oloo adds that it is a pity that a lot of the youth in the slums are very talented by lack the opportunity to explore their talents.

A recent graduate in fashion and design, Oloo says the group hopes to use dance as a platform to open more opportunities and to lay the foundation for something greater. Our ultimate dream is to start a dance academy in Kibera.

Oloo hopes that their anti poaching dance will not only win them the competition but that it will reach many people with a message to encourage them to conserve nature and the wildlife.

“Everything starts with attitude,” he says. “And attitude goes hand in hand with change. If you have a positive attitude, you will have positive change in the areas of your life. And the opposite is true. We hope that our message will bring about a positive attitude towards the conservation of elephants in the minds of those who watch us. And in the end, to encourage everyone to just do what is good, what is right”.



Kenya Government allocates Ksh1.4 billion to anti-poaching efforts

The Treasury Cabinet Secretary for Henry Rotich with the cabinet secretary for the ministry of Devolution and Planning Anne Waiguru before presenting the 2015/2016 budget estimates to Parliament yesterday

The Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich (R) with the cabinet secretary for Devolution and Planning Anne Waiguru, before presenting the 2015/2016 budget estimates to Parliament yesterday/ Star newspaper

The war against poaching has received a major boost from the government after the National Treasury allocated Ksh 1.4 billion (USD 14.5 million) to anti-poaching efforts. This announcement was made yesterday by the Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich when he presented the 2015/2016 Financial Year budget estimates in Parliament.

Rotich said that the government had allocated the amount to help in the war against poaching in the country. Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a directive to have all customs officers suspected of perpetrating wildlife crimes prosecuted and charged immediately. A tough talking Mr Kenyatta said that port officers and any other person involved in trafficking of wildlife products from the port of Mombasa will be arrested and charged.

This is welcome news in conservation circles, coming a few months after Kenya Wildlife Service unveiled a new forensic and genetics laboratory to strengthen prosecution of wildlife crimes by aiding in the provision of accurate identification of wildlife and wildlife products.

Commenting on the funds allocation, WildlifeDirect CEO Dr. Paula Kahumbu said that this was a very encouraging gesture from the Kenya government but a lot more money will be needed to win the war against poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.

“Poaching and trafficking are organized international crimes and need billions to fight the cartels involved in it,’’ she said. ” But this is one huge step in the right direction”.

She called on donors to chip in and give support to augment government’s efforts in the war against poaching.

On Wednesday, one of the most wanted poachers was arrested in his Tana River hideout. Mohamed Bulle who has been linked to poaching activities in Tsavo, Taita Ranch and the Maasai Mara game reserve was arrested by a combined team of Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya Wildlife Service and intelligence officers.

Late last month, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery also linked the outlawed Mombasa Republican Council to poaching activities in the country. The CS said intelligence by the police shows that proceeds from ivory trafficking are being used to finance criminal activities and linked a latest consignment seized in Singapore and Thailand to the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), an outlawed separatist group. Several people have so far been arrested in connection to the seizures.


WildlifeDirect Partners with The Perfect World Foundation

Partnership with Perfect World Foundation

perfect world

The Perfect World Foundation’s founders Mr and Mrs Jacobsson pose with WildlifeDirect´s CEO, Dr Paula Kahumbu.

WildlifeDirect is proud to announce a new partnership with The Perfect World Foundation.

The Perfect World Foundation is a Swedish based non-profit independent organization established in 2010 to raise awareness, funding, and to take action together with animal and nature conservation projects around the world.

The Perfect World Logo

The Perfect World Foundation’s logo

TPWF has given a very generous donation to WildlifeDirect which will be used to advance our organisation’s work with Court monitoring of wildlife crimes and in enhancing relations with the Chinese community, especially those residing in Kenya.

Specifically, the donation will go towards supporting the ongoing monitoring of wildlife trails in Kenya and to gather further evidence on landmark cases on international wildlife crime especially those involving the trafficking of ivory and rhino horn.

This funding will also help the organisation’s efforts to reduce demand for ivory by visiting and expatriate Chinese community in Kenya and Africa to monitor the attitudes and behavior change of travels through Kenya. This will involve activities with the Chinese community and also taking Chinese student and influencers to meet elephants and witness first hand the impact of their ivory addiction of these magnificent animals.

Last year, WildlifeDirect Kenya chairman, Philip Murgor, traveled to Sweden and gave a talk during a Perfect World fundraising gala night. The purpose of the Perfect World Foundation is to take action for and increase awareness, knowledge, and understanding of critical environmental and animal situations.

When the founders of Perfect world met Paula Kahumbu in Nairobi, they were moved by the work that she and WildlifeDirect are doing and pledged that they would do whatever they can to support the organisation and the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign.

Thank you Perfect World Foundation!





Kenya Airways Informs Travelers of New Law About Carrying Wildlife trophies While in Transit


Kenya Airways Informs Travelers of New Law About Carrying Wildlife trophies While in Transit

Kenya Airways has issued a statement on its website informing its customers about dealing in wildlife trophies while on transit. The statement, warns visitors using the airline from possessing or dealing in wildlife trophy without valid permits issued by the Ministry of Environment the Wildlife as stipulated in The Conservation and Management Act (2013).

Coming after WildlifeDirect requested Kenya Airways for  responsible messaging about Kenya’s new law, the statement could not have come at a better time. A 2014 study by WildlifeDirect in the Kenyan courts showed that a majority of people arrested at Kenyan ports with ivory and other illegal wildlife trophies are foreigners transiting through Nairobi. Most of these travelers did not know that the Kenyan law had changed, neither did they know of the stiff penalties for offenders.

Prohibited trophies include Ivory, Rhino horn, furs claws, teeth, bones, eggs, meat and feathers.

The statement, posted under the Travel Information section says:

The Government of Kenya prohibits the possession or dealing in wildlife trophy without valid permits issued by the Ministry of Environment. This includes Ivory, Rhino horn, furs claws, teeth, bones, eggs, meat and feathers. The penalties for violations of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act of Kenya are the most punitive in the world and include life imprisonment even if in transit. To avoid any inconvenience, please do not purchase any wildlife product while in Africa.”

Just a few weeks ago, the South African Airways also banned all wildlife trophies from flights. According to the South African Airways, hunting of endangered species has become a major problem in Africa and elsewhere with the depletion to near extinction of wildlife that once roamed in prolific numbers.

Kenya has one of the most punitive wildlife crime penalties in the world. Under the new law, poachers, traffickers and those committing wildlife crimes will face severe penalties, including life imprisonment for those who commit crimes against endangered species.

Just recently, a Vietnamese national was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after he was found in possession of 15kgs of rhino horn and lion teeth valued at Sh12 million. The Vietnamese was in transit from Maputo in Mozambique to Hanoi when his luggage was found with the products.

Kenya Airways has urged visitors visiting the country not purchase any wildlife product while in Africa.



Dr Kahumbu Joins Experts to Write to South Africa’s Committee of Inquiry on Rhino Horn Trade

WildlifeDirect CEO Dr Paula Kahumbu joined experts in South Africa to prepare a letter to the head of the Committee of Inquiry, which is considering possible trade in rhino horn.

The letter was delivered to the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa and to the chair of the 21 member committee, Ms. Nana Magomola.


Please see the letter below:


To: Ms. M.E. Nana Magomola, Chairperson, Committee of Inquiry

Cc: Minister Edna Molewa, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA)


All rhinoceros species are threatened by poaching, loss of natural habitats, and other anthropogenic pressures.


The poaching crisis is a matter of national and international concern, and decisions made in South Africa will have global repercussions on biodiversity, security of countries and countrysides, livelihoods in rural areas and economies at broader scales.


We offer the following for consideration by the Committee of Inquiry.


  1. We recognize that: 
  2. Rhinos have evolved over many millions of years to play a unique and irreplaceable role within ecosystems.
  3. Rhinos are the targets of organized wildlife criminals across their range, particularly in South Africa and Namibia and Zimbabwe. These criminal syndicates are heightening local and international insecurity, creating corruption, threatening livelihoods and destroying valuable national and global icons of ecological and social significance.
  • The drivers of the current problem are economic growth and demand for rhino and elephant body parts in China and Vietnam. Increased poaching might also be due to increased criminal activity that ‘invests’ in the potential future value of products.
  1. South Africa is committed to securing the perpetuation of rhino populations.
  2. Existing efforts to reduce the poaching of rhinos in South Africa are falling short, and record rates of killings have been documented since 2007. Efforts need to be enhanced to match the organized criminal threat with intelligence-led targeting of priority criminals and their networks, enhanced investigations including but not limited to financial investigations and national and international cooperation.
  3. There is a human cost in terms of lives lost and put at risk daily in the front line against poaching.
  • South Africa is considering, as a potential solution to the rhino poaching crisis, a legalised international trade in rhino horn.
  • A process of inquiry has been initiated by the South African government, including stakeholder dialogue meetings.


  1. We are deeply concerned that:
  2. While there has been a process of dialogue, this process has not fully considered crucial information or taken into account the expertise of international, relevant stakeholders.
  3. Our analyses, some of which have been presented at a series of meetings in Cape Town (May 2015), have exposed flawed assumptions, lack of evidence, and the absence of a full, open discussion on the potential efficacy of a trade mechanism as a means of reducing poaching.
  • A decision to propose trade by South Africa at CoP17 (to be hosted in Cape Town) will almost certainly increase current as well as future rhino poaching risk.
  1. Any trade – or even a proposal to trade – in southern white rhino horn will have negative consequences for other, less common rhino species, subspecies, and populations, including the black rhino populations still extant in other parts of Africa, and all Asian rhino species. In Africa, the western black rhino was declared extinct in recent years, and the northern white rhino now stands at only 5 individuals. In Asia, the Javan rhino is the most threatened at an estimated 35 individuals remaining.
  2. Expansion of sustainable use programs including trade should not be an option when a species is declining or under unprecedented poaching pressure.
  3. To initiate trade in a declining species that is already 1) the target of organized criminal cartels, 2) trophy-hunted, 3) sold as live specimens, and 4) expected to attract wildlife watching tourism, might add yet another further “use” and therefore pressure on a single taxon.
  • There are serious regulatory and ethical implications for organizations and governments who actively promote the international trade in a product that has no proven medicinal benefits, but which is sold to people suffering from acute and chronic illnesses.
  • Existing international and national legal provisions prohibiting international trade in rhino horn already make it impracticable for South Africa to find a legitimate trading partner. A proposal by South Africa for legalizing trade in rhino horn would undermine the enforcement of trade bans and demand reduction efforts in China and Vietnam. A proposal that fails to receive the support of the Parties, due to unsound justification, could result in reputational damage to South Africa.
  1. We propose that the Committee consider the following before making its recommendation to the DEA:
  2. The lack of a full, scientific, and peer-reviewed evaluation of 1) the existing market structures involved in the rhino horn trade; 2) the dynamic supply-and-demand processes by which market prices for rhino horn are formed; and 3) the probability (on which trade proposals are based) that a legal supply could – on anything beyond the very short term – undercut current prices and outcompete criminal syndicates that currently control the entire supply chain.
  3. The financial and opportunity costs of setting up and managing a legal, regulated trade.
  • The potentially flawed assumption that revenue generated from a legal trade in rhino horn would necessarily deliver significant community and species conservation benefits, given the governance challenges associated with ensuring and sustaining its appropriate distribution.
  1. The almost certain detrimental impact that such a trade would have on efforts to reduce demand and to make the purchase of rhino horn socially unacceptable.
  2. The risk that trade would detract funding and attention from the underlying issues, which we believe to be criminality and demand. As such, we believe the real solutions are elimination of demand and working to strengthen law enforcement and successful prosecution of poachers, middlemen and end-traders. The organized criminal networks and military groups involved in wildlife product supply chains destabilize governments and have a huge human cost in rural areas and amongst enforcement personnel.
  3. The high likelihood that de-stigmatization of horn ownership would awaken significant demand currently dampened by social stigma or legality status.
  • The increased risk of extinction of the rare and endangered rhino species if poaching escalates including as a result of illegal horn being laundered into a legal trade; taking such a risk on the unsupported, hypothetical benefits of an opened trade runs counter to the precautionary principle.



In closing,

We ask that our concerns be considered alongside the current set of public submissions, and urge the Committee to deliberate on available options including those other than trade.


Dr. Paula Kahumbu OGW, CEO WildlifeDirect; former head of Kenya’s CITES Office, Kenya

Will Travers, President Born Free Foundation, UK

Francis Garrard, Conservation Action Trust (CAT), South Africa

Ian Michler, Invent Africa, South Africa

Colin Bell, Mkambati Matters and Africa’s Finest, South Africa

Don Pinnock, Southern Write, South Africa

Adam Cruise, Author and Journalist, South Africa

Adam Welz, WildAID, South Africa

Allison Thomson, Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching (OSCAP), South Africa


We sign here in personal capacities and not on behalf of our respective institutions.

Professor Alejandro Nadal, Centre for Economic Studies, El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico; Chair, Theme on the Environment, Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment (TEMTI), with the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policies (CEESP), IUCN


Ross Harvey & Romy Chevalier, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), South Africa

Antoinette Ferreira, National Prosecuting Authority, South Africa


We wish to endorse the concerns raised by the authors of this Statement:

Professor Cristian Bonacic, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Chile; IUCN South American Camelid Specialist Group

Cormac Cullinan, EnAct International, South Africa

Dr. Trevor Jones, Southern Tanzania Elephant Project, Tanzania

Beverly and Dereck Joubert, National Geographic, Great Plains Foundation

Alexandra Kennaugh, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S.A

Dr. Winnie Kiiru, ConservationKenya, Kenya

Dex Kotze, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, South Africa

Professor Phyllis Lee, University of Stirling, UK; Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya

Dr. Peter J. Li, China Policy Specialist, Humane Society International, U.S.A.

Mokgatla J. Molepo, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa

George Monbiot, Journalist and Author, UK

Dr. Fortunata Msoffe, Conservation Ecologist, Tanzania

Professor Benezeth M. Mutayoba, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania

Fredrick Nzwili, Journalist, Kenya

Dr. Patrick O. Onyango, Maseno University, Kenya

Mary Rice, Executive Director, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)

Dr. Aliza le Roux, Zoology & Entomology, University of the Free State, Qwaqwa, South Africa

Professor Claudio Sillero, WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Raman Sukumar, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, India

Dr. Kirsten Wimberger, Zoologist, South Africa

29 May 2015

Kenyan conservationist, Dino Martins, wins 2015 Whitley Gold Award


Dino Martins receives the Whitley Gold Award from HRH Princess Royal

Dino Martins receives the Whitley Gold Award from HRH Princess Royal

Dr. Dino Martins, an insect conservationist from Kenya, has been awarded the prestigious Whitley Gold Award in London. The £50,000 award was given to him in recognition of his work with local communities to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, and to encourage the adoption of more sustainable farming practices that conserve pollinators, boost crop yields, and benefit people and livelihoods in East Africa.

Dr. Martins works at both the local and government level and his efforts have led to the development of Kenya’s first legislation to specifically protect bees from harmful pesticides.

Pollinators plays a key role in the ecosystem; one of every three bites of food we eat is dependent on pollinators. Tiny insects like bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles – play a critical role in crop pollination. The provision of this free ‘ecosystem service’ is worth an estimated $250 billion annually to the global economy. Without pollinators, the planet’s food security would be at risk, with significant livelihood ramifications; and billions would need to be spent to pollinate crops artificially.

“The calibre of this year’s Whitley Awards winners is simply outstanding and Dino Martins is a truly worthy winner of the 2015 Whitley Gold Award,” said Edward Whitley, the founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature. “Against enormous challenges, Dino has transformed the lives of farmers in Kenya, through his work, promoting the importance of bees and other pollinators which put food on our tables and money in farmers’ pockets”.

The Whitley Gold Award will enable Dino to expand his conservation efforts to a new level: working with 4,000 additional farmers; tackling the importation, use and spread of unregistered pesticides entering Africa and educating up to 200,000 people about the importance of pollinators and sustainable agriculture.

Dino Martins gives his acceptance speech after receiving the Whitley Gold Award, at a ceremony in  London on 29 April

Dino Martins gives his acceptance speech after receiving the Whitley Gold Award, at a ceremony in London on 29 April

Dino joins an elite group of conservationists who have won the coveted Whitley Gold Award for grass-roots conservation, working against tremendous odds in developing countries.

Dino won a Whitley Award in 2009, before going on to receive additional WFN Continuation Funding in 2011. These follow-on ‘Continuation Funding’ grants are awarded competitively to winners seeking to scale up their effective conservation results on the ground. Each grant is worth up to £70,000 over two years. The final accolade – the Gold Award – singles out outstanding people achieving significant conservation impact and recognizes them with WFN’s top profile and PR prize.

“Whitley Award winners are simply exceptional people – passionate individuals who are committed to achieving positive environmental impact and long-term conservation and community benefits,” Sir David Attenborough, a Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature said.

The Whitley Awards are prestigious annual international prizes presented to individuals in recognition of their achievements in nature conservation. Each Award Winner receives a prize worth £35,000 in project funding over one year. The charity’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presents the Awards each year at a special ceremony in London. The awards have been presented annually since 1994. Since then, the Whitley Fund for Nature has given over £11 million to conservation and recognised more than 170 conservation leaders in over 70 countries.

Congratulations Dr. Dino Martins!

Secretary of State John Kerry Meets Baby Elephants

Secretary of State John Kerry Falls in Love with Orphaned Baby Elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Secretary of State John Kerry feeds a baby elephant during his recent visit at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Secretary of State John Kerry feeds a baby elephant during his recent visit at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

During his diplomatic visit to Kenya, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry took time off to visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage at the Nairobi National Park. Kerry visited the orphanage to learn about wildlife conservation efforts in Kenya ahead of a series of meetings with government  officials.

David Sheldrick is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and is also one of the pioneering conservation organizations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

The secretary of State was accompanied by cabinet secretary Judi Wakhungu and the US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec

The secretary of State was accompanied by cabinet secretary Judi Wakhungu, the US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec and the KWS Acting Director General William Kiprono

During the visit to DSWT, the Secretary of State was accompanied by the US ambassador to Kenya His Excellecy Robert F Godec, the Cabinet Secretary for the ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Professor Judi Wakhungu and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) acting Director General William Kiprono.

Kerry met 28 orphaned elephants currently being kept at the David Sheldrick Trust’s Nursery and learnt the tragic stories behind their sate. He fell in love with them, and even took time to take a selfie with one of the baby elephants and posted it on twitter, saying : ‘Made a new friend at @DSWT Elephant Orphanage in #Nairobi National Park’.

In a post he once wrote for the Huffington Post, Kerry said ‘’ Slaughters of wildlife have grown exponentially. The scale, pace, and sophistication of elephant and rhino poaching are accelerating at a devastating pace. Not only are these majestic animals disappearing before us, as poachers grow in sophistication and firepower, this explosion in trafficking undermines the stability and security of range states, and imperils those whose livelihoods depend on these great creatures and ecosystems’. We do not have the luxury of time. We must act urgently and raise public awareness.’’

Secretary John Kerry chats with Dame Dr Daphne Sheldrick during his recent visit to the DSWT elephant orphanage

Secretary John Kerry chats with Dame Dr Daphne Sheldrick during his recent visit to the DSWT elephant orphanage

In April the US State department hosted the screening of ‘Gardeners of Eden’ in Washington DC, a film which presents the reality of ivory trade and shows first-person experience inside the operations of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Secretary Kerry also met with Cynthia Moss of ATE (shaking hand) and with Pat Awori (in red) during his recent visit to the DSWT elephant orphanage

Secretary Kerry also met with Cynthia Moss of ATE (shaking hand) and with Pat Awori (in red) during his recent visit to the DSWT elephant orphanage

Secretary Kerry was hosted at the DSWT by Dame Dr Daphne Sheldrick and DSWT CEO Angela Sheldrick. Daphne Sheldrick’s involvement with wildlife has spanned a lifetime, and she is now a recognised International authority on the rearing of wild creatures and is the first person to have perfected the milk formula and necessary husbandry for infant milk-dependent Elephants and Rhinos.

Secretary Kerry also met with Cynthia Moss of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants as well as with Pat Awori of the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network. Cynthia Moss has been studying elephants of the Amboseli ecosystem for over 40 years. She is also an award winning conservationist and writer.

Kenya Named by CITES Among Countries That Need To Urgently Tackle Illegal Wildlife Trade

Kenya Named by CITES Among Countries That Need To Strengthen Laws To Tackle Illegal Wildlife Trade


The 15 tonnes of ivory that President Uhuru Kenyatta burnt on 3 March, at the Nairobi National Park

The 15 tonnes of ivory that President Uhuru Kenyatta burnt on 3 March, at the Nairobi National Park

Kenya has been named by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife and Flora (CITES) among 17 countries that need to pay priority attention to strengthen their laws to tackle illegal wildlife trade. According to the new figures released on 5 May, the 17 countries are among 88 countries and 13 dependent territories that CITES says need to strengthen their legal frameworks to help combat illegal wildlife trade.

The other countries include Algeria, Belize, Plurinational State of Bolivia, Comoros, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwanda, Somalia, United Republic of Tanzania and Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

CITES, in collaboration with United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP, also announced a collaborative initiative to provide assistance to priority countries and territories, upon their request, to enhance their wildlife legislation. This includes the provision of targeted legal advice on the four basic domestic measures required by CITES, compilation of examples of best legislation, drafting support and close cooperation with UNODC and UNDP on the implementation of the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the strengthening of the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

“Our problem in Kenya is not that we do not have good laws,” says Liz Gitari, the legal affairs manager at WildlifeDirect. “We have very good laws, in fact, we have some of the most progressive laws on wildlife conservation in the world. Our issue is the enforcement of this law especially in inter agency cooperation. We lack a clear demonstration of political will to deal with wildlife trafficking in Kenya, there’s too much talk by government and too little action that produced tangible and verifiable results,’’ she said.

On their part, CITES said that ensuring the 35,000 species of plants and animals listed under CITES are not illegally traded or exploited unsustainably required effective national legal frameworks in each of the 181 Parties to the Convention. “This joint initiative between CITES and UNEP will offer targeted technical support to countries to meet CITES legislative requirements, which is critical to fight the illegal trade in wildlife,” said John Scanlon, the CITES Secretary-General.

While China is on the longer list of the 88 countries, it is interestingly not listed among the 17 countries that require priority attention to tackle illegal wildlife trade.

China, which has historically been a significant destination for illicit ivory, has elsewhere and severally been identified as the single most important influence on the increasing trend in illegal trade in ivory in Africa. There have been several calls for the country to ban its domestic trade in ivory and as Liz Gitari says, these calls should not be ignored.

‘’We need to address issues head-on and ignoring the China problem does not help,” says Gitari. “In the global community we live in, we must acknowledge that what China does will have grave implications on whether we win this war or not,’’ she said.

Liz Gitari adds that WildlifeDirect is about to launch a report on wildlife crime prosecution in Kenya, which looks at the handling of wildlife crimes since the enactment of a new Wildlife law in 2014.  And as Liz says, the results of the study show that Kenya still has a long way to go.




Things R Elephant Debate

Heated Debate in Kenya Gets At the Heart of What it Will Take to Save The Species

(As published in the National Georgraphic at

By Paula Kahumbu

Debate Session between Paula Kahumbu and Charles Onyango-Obbo, moderated by John Sibi Okumu (Middle) 1

In Kenya, when you hear that “Things are Elephant,” it means there’s a major problem. That’s why we chose this as the title for the first ever debate of its kind, organized by WildlifeDirect, on the future of elephants.

On the afternoon of April 25, in a school hall in Nairobi, two highly charged teams—who had traded emotional Tweets the days before—went head to head. The only thing they agreed on was the need to save elephants.

The need to save our elephants has never been greater: Only today, in Thailand, three tons of illegal ivory from Kenya was seized at a port in eastern Thailand. The ivory was shipped from Mombasa, but it’s not clear if it originated in Kenya or elsewhere in Africa.

Elephants are a big deal for my country, Kenya, which is renowned for it’s spectacular wildlife. Despite it’s conservation history, Kenya is listed among the world’s eight most complicit countries as a source of ivory, and it’s a major contributor to the illegal transiting of ivory out of Africa.

Something is very wrong.

As the CEO of WildlifeDirect, I lead a national campaign—Hands Off Our Elephants—to transform results in Kenya, and we’re best known for our advocacy for better law enforcement, especially in the court rooms.

Our campaign, whose patron is First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, has had major impact. For example, on March 3, President Uhuru Kenyatta set 15 tons of ivory alight and promised to destroy the rest before the end of 2015.

We patted ourselves on the back for lobbying for what was the boldest move by any African president to date.

But less than 24 hours later, a full-page article appeared in a major local newspaper by respected columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo titled, “Don’t Burn Ivory, Sell it to Pay for Conservation.”

Furious, I hounded Charles on Twitter and met with him to “re-educate” him about why burning ivory was the right thing to do. He would have none of it and argued that the president was a fool.

So I challenged him to a duel—a public debate. We promoted the event with a poster depicting two super heroes fighting. The title of the debate: “Things R Elephant: The Great Debate on the Future of Elephants.”

Though Kenya is surely home to more elephant experts than any other country in the world, my colleagues were not at all happy and begged me not to go ahead with the debate.

They asked: What if the conservationists lose in the public eye in spite of fielding the stronger team? Remember: Even the best teams lose to weaker teams!

And: An all-out debate inviting all sorts of pro traders and free thinkers might not have the desired outcome. We risk opening up the proverbial can of worms and having the public go in a completely different direction.

These comments only egged me on. Trained by Richard Leakey, I’m known for my determination and stubbornness. (Just today, for the third time, Leakey has been appointed chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service.)

My team, arguing for the ivory trade ban and the burning of stockpiled ivory, included ecologist Winnie Kiiru and activist Irungu Houghton.

The opposition, arguing for openly selling elephants and their ivory, was made up of Onyango-Obbo, economist Kwame Owino, and writer Carla Wanjiku.

Let the Sparring Begin!

For two hours, we sparred on three topics: Are Elephants special? How can we save them? How can we stop the demand?

US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec addresses the Audience during the #Tweet4Elephants Debate

US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec addresses the Audience during the #Tweet4Elephants Debate

United States Ambassador Robert F. Godec framed the last theme by describing the global crisis and the role the U.S. is playing. He asked us to give three concrete examples of actions we’d take if we were in power.

So I’m chewing over my thoughts, listening to Charles, who comes up with the most ludicrous suggestions. He says: Ban the parks, ban the Kenya Wildlife Service, and stop burning ivory.”

I smile. He’s made it easy. I call for a national strategy to end trafficking of wildlife products, reform in the wildlife authority, and a global ban of ivory into perpetuity.

Charles insists that it’s my fault that elephants are in trouble because everything we’re doing as conservationists isn’t working, and therefore we should try radical solutions.

He says, “Just sell the ivory and use the funds to support better conservation.”

The audience is cheering!

I say, “Charles, your argument is completely illegitimate. We can’t sell the ivory even if we want to, unless you’re asking the Kenya government to sell it illegally into the black market.

“But,” I continue, “even if we could sell it, it would be like selling cocaine seizures to pay for rehabilitation of drug addicts.” With this argument, I win the audience back to my side. Charles falls silent.

Charles’s team’s viewpoint won the debate in CITES 2002 when southern African nations and China persuaded the world that the sale of ivory would help elephants. An auction took place in 2008 and triggered the worst slaughter elephants have ever been victim to.

The Genius of a Debate

Debating may be a risky approach, but it’s a genius way of creating public awareness, buy-in, and participation. The event drew 350 people. Another 2.2 million were reached on Twitter, and 366 people followed us on the youtube livestream .

We generated hundreds of questions and comments, and through the process, I learned three important lessons.

First, the public in general is simply not well enough informed about why elephants are special or why they are in trouble.

Few Africans have ever been to their national parks and experienced the magic of wild elephants. This includes our lawmakers.

Scientists publish important findings in inaccessible journals and use unintelligible jargon; as a result, science isn’t informing important decisions in Africa.

Journalists however, with their limited knowledge and their devil’s advocate approach, can provoke dangerous thinking because of their power to influence leaders through their massive audiences.

If we really care about saving elephants, then we need to get smart about educating and supporting journalists to be more effective in addressing complex issues like wildlife trafficking.

Second, as scientists we shy away from confrontations. Yes, it was scary to debate these important issues live with smart opponents, and yes, we could have lost the debate. But we gained enormous knowledge about what citizens think and care about.

Conservationists must find the courage to face their fears and do what needs to be done regardless.

Finally, I discovered to my horror that ignorance is killing elephants. There’s huge need to reach, educate, and enlist the support of millions of people across Africa who vote for their leaders and drive political decisions.

One member of the audience, a man from Masai Mara, told us that Nat Geo Kids magazine is a staple for his children, who are being raised in the U.S. He concluded that children in Kenya who see wildlife only as a threat are willing to kill animals because they simply have no alternative education.

“There is no Paula in Maasai Mara,” he lamented. He said that putting a magazine in the hands of every one of the million school kids who live near parks would transform their understanding and give them new appreciation.

I immediately began to think about how we can reach a million Kenyan school kids.

When Will We Draw a Red Line for Elephants?

Chief Nyamweya making his presentation during the debate

Chief Nyamweya making his presentation during the debate

For me, the juiciest part of the entire debate was an outburst by a 28-year-old, Chief Nyamweya, who exploded on stage with an unexpected emotional tirade.

I watched in horror as my normally calm friend, fighting back tears, shouted: “When are we going to draw a red line for elephants?”

He threw the microphone on the table and stormed off the stage.

We sat in shocked silence for a few moments. Then I realized that what he was suggesting—a new heightened urgency status for elephants—was supremely powerful.

In recent years, several southern African countries have bowed under pressure from the demand for ivory in China and Japan to sell their ivory. It’s asserted that “sustainable use” of elephants is the right approach for poor African countries struggling to finance the growing costs of fighting elephant poaching. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia have all sold ivory to China.

Imagine if the tables were turned? China would never accept the argument of sustainable use for pandas. Indeed nobody would.

Nyamweya was asking a simple and obvious question: Why don’t elephants have the global status of pandas?

The idea has stuck. We now plan to follow up with another #Tweet4Elephants event—perhaps a 12-hour opportunity for anyone around the world to participate in creating a #Redline4Elephants.


Dr Richard Leakey is Appointed Chairman of Kenya Wildlife Service

L-R: Dr Paula Kahumbu, board member Ali Daud Mohamed, Dr Richard Leakey, Board Chairman Philip Murgor, WildlifeDirect Legal Affairs manager Liz Gitari and WildlifeDirect Finance and Admin manager, John Mutie, at a WildlifeDirect's board  meeting with Dr Leakey earlier this year.

L-R: Dr Paula Kahumbu, board member Ali Daud Mohamed, Dr Richard Leakey, Board Chairman Philip Murgor, WildlifeDirect Legal Affairs manager Liz Gitari and WildlifeDirect Finance and Admin manager, John Mutie, at a WildlifeDirect’s board meeting with earlier this year.

The Chairman of the board, Philip Murgor, and the CEO of WildliDirect Dr Paula Kahumbu, are very pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Richard Leakey as the new Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service. Dr Richard Leakey is the founder of WildlifeDirect.

This will be the third time that Dr Leakey joins the Kenya Wildlife Service. He was first appointed to head KWS in 1989 by the then President Daniel Arap Moi, in response to an international outcry over the poaching of elephants and the impact it was having on the wildlife in Kenya.

Dr Leakey is credited with putting an end to the slaughter of elephants in Kenya in the 1980s and early 90s; and in persuading the world to put an international ban on ivory trade.

Just over a year ago, Dr Leakey announced that the poaching of elephants had reached catastrophic proportions and called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare the poaching of elephants in Kenya a national disaster.

Dr Leakey is an internationally recognised palaeontologist and conservationist. Hollywood’s Angelina Jolie is directing a film about Dr Leakey’s KWS years, with her husband Brad Pitt playing Dr Leakey.

We wish Dr Leakey all the best in his new designation, and are hopeful that, just as he did in the 90s, he shall turn the fortunes of Kenya’s elephants around.