HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS CAMPAIGN

OVERVIEW OF THE CHALLENGE
During the past 10 years there has been an unprecedented growth in the illegal ivory markets and in 2011, the poaching of elephants in Africa reached a ten year record[i] with more than 25,000 elephants illegally killed[ii], corresponding with an all-time record of 38.8 tons of ivory seized[1]. Simultaneously, the price of ivory exploded from US$150/kg to over US$1,000/kg between 2008 and 2012. Importantly, the illegal ivory trade is believed to be financing local conflicts and international terrorism[2] through Al Qaeda’s Somali wing, Al Shabaab[3], the Lord’s Resistance Army[4] and Sudan’s Janjaweed. Further, the escalation of elephant poaching has rendered large parts of Eastern and Central Africa insecure for all, including poor and vulnerable rural communities and key income and job sectors, like tourism[5].

This massive growth in the illegal ivory markets grew in response to rising affluence in China’s middle class who demand and use ivory for artifacts as status symbols. This demand is fuelled through poor controls of domestic markets in China and other Asian countries, allowing illegal ivory to be laundered through legal domestic markets and exacerbated by the simultaneous presence of China in Africa as a development and trade partner – with hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants now operating in Kenya and millions across the continent.
This ivory trade is driven by criminal cartels threatening not only elephants and other species, but also people, their livelihoods, management of natural resources, the tourism sector (second biggest contributor at 12% of GDP) and local and national security. In recent speeches US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, stated that wildlife trafficking has serious implications for the security and prosperity of people around the world and it needs to be addressed through partnerships as robust as the criminal networks themselves[6]. She noted that governments, civil society, businesses, scientists and activists must work together in educating people about the whole-scale devastation caused by wildlife trafficking.

KENYA’S POSITION
Kenya traditionally has been on the front lines in combating elephant poaching in Africa and has been a leading voice on elephant conservation through various international conventions including CITES, the Convention on Biodiversity, the Convention on Migratory species and others. Despite these commitments, the current response of the Kenyan government to the crisis continues to falter and is wholly inadequate for the size of the problem. The combination of corruption and weak domestic wildlife laws means that Kenya has now become the second largest transiting country for illegal ivory in Africa, second only to Tanzania. Moreover, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda alone now account for nearly 70% of the illegal ivory flowing out of Africa. At the recently concluded CITES conference, the member nations put eight (8) countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and China), on notice to put an action plan in place to deal with the elephant poaching and ivory trading crisis, otherwise they will suffer sanctions stopping all wildlife trade, legal or illegal. Kenya’s leading role and voice in conservation has been undermined by this recent incident.

WILDLIFE DIRECT’S RESPONSE
In response to this double-edged crisis, Wildlife Direct (see annex) has launched a Kenyan (with the option of replicating it to other African countries), multi-strand strategy to combat the key issues and challenges:

WildlifeDirect is a Kenyan NGO and US registered 501(c) (3) organization founded in 2006 by Kenyan conservationist Dr Richard Leakey, who is credited with putting an end to the elephant slaughter in Kenya in the 1980s and delivering an international ban on ivory trade. WildlifeDirect is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. WildlifeDirect was conceived as an online platform that promotes conservation of Africa’s spectacular wildlife by building an online community of supporters for conservationists at the frontline in Africa. Realizing, that our work, while effective, was inadequate to halt the emerging crises facing Africa’s elephants and other wildlife, WildlifeDirect has now re-positioned itself as Africa’s foremost campaigning organization for wildlife conservation. Hands Off Our Elephants, our flagship campaign comprises a winning combination of expertise including, wildlife ecologists, communications, law, politics, media, strategists, and linguists, making us bold, influential, and successful. This African led initiative is supported Kenya’s First Lady, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta as patron. The campaign has already won international recognition for creating public awareness and driving legal reforms in Kenya and East Africa. WLD partners with civil society, government agencies and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative on elephants.

Our goal is to demonstrate excellence in Kenya, a country formerly renowned for it’s conservation successes and now reputed to be amongst the worlds most complicit in the illegal trafficking of ivory. We deliver political support for a strategy that achieves excellence in law enforcement through deterrent penalties combined with high probability of being arrested, excellent prosecutions, and fair trials.

We have secured success by mobilizing the public and drawing attention to key concerns.

To secure lasting results we seek ultimately to change the culture and therefore behavior of all Kenyans, and thereby also alter the global view of Kenya and thus attract support to enforce the national strategy for combatting international wildlife crime. Kenya’s success will only be secured if similar changes occur in the region – thus ultimately the outcome of this campaign must be replicated.

How We Work:
WildlifeDirect has an Africa focus with Kenya as the launch pad for its activities.

WildlifeDirect’s main strengths are:-

1. WildlifeDirect has relationships with multi-levels of Kenyan and international society across a diverse range of interests and entities, e.g., international NGOs, government authorities, management bodies, civil society groups, grass-root communities and their constituencies.
2. High-level international profile and combined expertise of the founder Dr. Richard Leakey, board members John Heminway, Philip Murgor, Irungu Houghton, Ali Mohamed, and Executive Director Dr. Paula Kahumbu.
3. High level of expertise through a diverse professional board, advisers, and consultants and a talented, committed staff.
5. WildlifeDirect plays a prominent leadership role in the non-governmental arena – including wildlife, environment, development, legal, tourism, conservation, and education.
6. WildlifeDirect has a proven track record of provoking action in conservation at governmental, intergovernmental and international levels.
7. WildlifeDirect’s visibility in traditional media (television, radio and newspapers), and innovative use of new media e.g. the internet to tell stories from the conservation ‘frontline’, raise awareness of crises and causing urgent actions to be instigated.

WildlifeDirect’s ability to mobilize African and international action in support of wildlife conservation.

[1] T. Milliken, R. B. (2012). The elephant Trade Information System and illicit trade in Ivory: Report to CITES Cop 16. TRAFFIC.

[2] Puhl, H. K. (2012, September 13). Brutal Elephant Slaughter Funds African Conflicts. Retrieved from Spiegel: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/blood-ivory-brutal-elephant-slaughter-funds-african-conflicts-a-855237.html

[3] Gathura, G. (2012, December). Poachers funding Al-Shabaab, reveals KWS. Retrieved from Horn portal: http://horn.so/poachers-funding-al-shabaab-reveals-kws

[4] Witcher, T. (2012, December 19). LRA poaching ivory as Kony hunt intensifies. Retrieved from Reuters: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hcUql6ZHKSL2vxBmQ4QKuRo1ITaQ?docId=CNG.c60aa170c84f09544220fe3d340f8b33.31

[5] Goldenberg, S. (2012). http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/08/us-intelligence-wildlife-poachers. London: The Guardian.

[6] Clinton, Hilary. Remarks at the Partnership Meeting on Wildlife Trafficking. 8th November 2012

WildlifeDirect is expanding its Team

WLD is expanding its team.  

Positions available: Communications & Advocacy Officer, Operations Manager and Programme Manager.  

Application Process: You must provide an up-to-date version of your Curriculum Vitae, including your professional experience and qualifications until June 2014.  All applications must include a Cover Letter stating clearly and concisely how you match the essential criteria and values listed in the TOR below.

If you’re interested, download the TOR here and apply by 23rd July 2014, to jo@wildlifedirect.org.  

WLD Communications & Advocacy Officer-Final (1)

WLD Operations Manager-Final (1)

WLD Programme Manager-Final (1)

Please note that only applicants that clearly match their skills and experience to the requirements for this position will be considered.

 

UNDP partners with Kenya’s First Lady to combat poaching

25, 2014/in First Lady, News, Press /by PSCU

 

 

First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta with the Administrator UNDP, Ms. Helen Clark

First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta with the Administrator UNDP, Ms. Helen Clark

Nairobi June 25, 2014 (PSCU) United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has entered into a partnership with the office of the First Lady Mrs Margaret Kenyatta on wildlife conservation and anti-poaching in the country.

Under the partnership, UNDP will sponsor the First Lady’s ‘Hands Off Our Elephants campaign’ to the tune of USD 100,000

UNDP will also scale up its support for wildlife conservation initiatives by communities and other stakeholders involved in the campaign to protect elephants and other endangered wildlife species in the country.

Speaking during the launch at State House Nairobi, UNDP Administrator Ms Helen Clark stressed the need for all stakeholders to collaborate in maintaining the global momentum of awareness campaigns, especially in countries where wildlife trophies are sourced and the consumers.

“UNDP will do all it can to combat poaching in Kenya and other parts of the world. As a result of the spirited campaign, there is international consensus on wildlife conservation,” she said.

The UNDP Administrator commended the First Lady for her efforts to conserve wildlife through her ‘Hands Off Our Elephants’ campaign, and pledged her continued support to the initiative.

The First Lady welcomed the UNDP’s support, saying that the battle on poaching and illegal wildlife trophies trade cannot be won by a single entity.

“We still need to get the poachers before they strike. We cannot win this battle alone. We should work hand in hand. We all stand to benefit when we conserve our heritage because we all have a stake in it”, she said.

She called for closer partnership with all stakeholders to strengthen advocacy for community, national and global solutions to combat wildlife poaching.

At the same time, the First Lady, called for the harmonization of regional wildlife conservation legislation to combat cross-border poaching and smuggling. She said the harmonization would deepen cooperation in the region, especially in jointly combating the ivory trade.

The First lady noted with appreciation that the ‘Hands Off Our Elephants’ campaign she launched last year to raise awareness on the poaching menace both in Kenya and on the global stage was bearing fruit.

“The campaign to end the menace of wildlife poaching especially elephants and rhinos is close to my heart as it is to all Kenyans,” the First Lady said.

As a result of the campaign, she added, an increase of illegal trophy seizures in Kenyan ports has been witnessed and for the first time more seizures have been made on the African continent than in Asia.

The First Lady said the campaign has brought together of communities to conserve wildlife.

However, she regretted the increased poaching of elephant and rhino.

She insisted that that Kenya was home to some of the world’s most beautiful flora and fauna, and that it was ‘our duty’ to conserve and share it with the rest of the world.

The First Lady said over 300,000 Kenyans were directly employed in the tourism sector with many more as indirect beneficiaries.

http://www.president.go.ke/undp-partners-with-first-lady-to-combat-poaching/

 

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ELEPHANT CONSERVATION TOUR IN CHINA

By Chris Kiarie – Project Interpreter, WildlifeDirect

June 8th 2014 Guangzhou City, China

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It’s a Sunday evening. I am seated in a downtown hotel lobby. I had a long 9 hour flight from Addis Ababa. In the plane, seated next to me are a Chinese gentleman and a Tanzanian lady. We relate well from the moment we board the plane to the moment we alight. As each one of us watches the movies we have selected on our respective screens, I can’t help but wonder what is on their minds. On the other hand, I already know what is on my mind. I look forward to an engaging Sunday. Immediately I land in Guangzhou China, I meet a volunteer holding a placard with words “Elephants Kenya” and my name appears below. I wave at her and she has the most inviting smile. Just what was needed after a tiring 9-hour flight. She asked for her parents’ car to receive me. This is the friendship I am used to back home.  She takes me straight to a work station where I meet a group of young curious Chinese students. They are all curious about elephants.

As the room fills up, you can sense their excitement. For the first time in their lives, they are about to meet individuals who are have personally experienced been in close proximity with elephants. Gao, our host, is busy setting up the stage, getting the presentations ready for the slideshow. Meanwhile, Resson and I are engaged with the young Chinese visitors. They have questions on how best to engage the respective authorities so as to make progress in the conservation ideas they have in mind, they want to know what experience we have had in the field, what challenges we have encountered. Interesting conversations take place. This is the first meet-up.

During the presentations that follow, people are so excited that more and more questions come up. They want to know how they can help. Some already have pretty cool ideas. They are very touched by the new perspectives they have just heard. They are touched by what they have just seen. They want to help. This is the kind of new perspectives we want to see.

 

NETWORK POWER

By Chris Kiarie, Project Interpreter – WildlifeDirect

June 12th 2014 Xiamen City

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Photos by Resson Kantai and a friend.

As I watch a morning program in Xiamen China about how we should take care or our heart, I can’t help but wonder how much success elephant conservation success would have if all the stakeholders were to approach this issue positively ready to reason with each other. The blame game that has been going on lately has only led to more elephants been killed. The heart of solving the crisis elephants are facing is by willful participation and respect for each other’s cultures.

Last evening, after presentations by my colleagues and I, one listener approached us after all the people had asked all their questions. He said that he wanted to talk to us briefly. When he started talking, we could only look at each other in awe. The kind of network he has within this part of the country is so big that if we were to engage and other people from this region positively, a lot of good results would be achieved.

He shared his thoughts after following the presentations. He gave his advice on the approach that was been followed. Thinking about it, he made a lot of sense. He asked a rhetorical question: What is the difference between a cat and an elephant? He plainly said that in the Chinese culture, people generally do not have an attachment to animals as westerners have. Understanding this, we would be in a position to tackle the elephant poaching crisis in a better way. He advised that the economic effect of loss of elephants should be brought out in the advertisements that are made. For people to stop buying ivory, they have to understand the reason why. The reason has to be something the people connect with. China is a country focused on economic growth. Anything that would ruin a country’s economy would obviously matter to the Chinese people. Therefore, the economic effect on African economies which heavily rely on tourism to build their economy would appeal to the Chinese. This could easily make the government more committed. Do you agree?

Related to Elephant Conservation Tour In China

OUR LITTLE FRIENDS

By Chris Kiarie – Project Interpreter, WildlifeDirect

 

June 11th 2014, Xiamen City

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Photos by Gao YuFang and Resson Kantai Duff

Everyone loves them. In rural Africa, failure to have them, makes you the laughing stock of the village. In modern Africa, people still prefer to have at least one. Their presence saves families at times. In some other cases, their presence causes separation in families. Irrespective of which cultural or religious background we come from, everyone one wants to have them in their lives. CHILDREN

Similar to Africa, they are also very important in the Asian culture. Here in China, at every corner, you can see them playing with their parents and grandparents in the city sparks and squares. They bring joy. They bring pride. Just as in other parts of the world, their parents make so much effort to ensure that they live comfortable lives. They see me walking in the street corridors. They are very curious. “How come this person is so different from the people I see around here?” some wonder loudly. Yes, that is their beauty. They are frank about what they feel.

So you can imagine their shock and curiosity when they see my colleagues and I as we stroll along their school corridors. We have been invited to talk to 8 year old children about elephants. We prepared a presentation just for children. We get into the class and they are so excited to be with us. The teacher tries to calm them down but after every few minutes the decibels are rising again.

During the lesson, the teachers give presents to the children who give the right answers. They ask what ivory used is used to do. We show them pictures of the items made by ivory. We ask them what they know about elephants. We help them draw a picture on the life of an elephant in their young minds. They are so happy they finally understand about elephants.  This way, the class is entertaining for a whole one hour. We do not even realize how fast time has gone. They watch a film made by a fellow young Chinese girl from Hong Kong. They are so moved. Some are crying for the elephants. They want to know how they can help the elephants. They really connect with the young elephants that constantly lose their mothers. They can feel the pain. They are not afraid to show their emotions. They care for the young elephants. This is a strong message that they care for the mother elephants too. They care for the elephants. We can be sure that the children shared their experience with their parents that evening. A message was passed to the parents. An impression was made on these young minds. A parent who attended the session sits on the education committee of the school. She asked for a copy of the film and the education presentation so that it would be shown to the rest of the school. This opens up the education platform. As mentioned in previous blogs, knowledge is needed. This way, we will go a long way in conserving the elephants.

Related to Elephant Conservation Tour in China

V I C TO R Y!!!

96E

 

The New York State Legislature stood up for elephants!
They passed a bill banning the sale and purchase of ivory and rhino horn.

We are so grateful to all of you for being a true coalition and supporting the efforts in New York with dedication and perseverance.

We look forward to working with you to make this a reality in all 50 states!

Kate Fitzgerald
Strategic Partnerships
96 Elephants
Wildlife Conservation Society

Kenya’s biggest elephant killed by poachers

By Paula Kahumbu

Satao, the world's biggest elephant, with his family in the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

Satao, the world’s biggest elephant, with his family in the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

It is 4 am and I have been sitting at my computer for hours. I just can’t sleep after hearing the terrible news that Satao, the world’s biggest elephant, is dead

Satao lived in Tsavo East National park in southeast Kenya and was celebrated as one of the last surviving great tuskers, bearers of genes that produce bull elephants with huge tusks reaching down to the ground. This news follows hard on the heels of the slaughter of another legendary tusker, Mountain Bull, deep inside the forests of Mt. Kenya .

Of all the elephants that have died in Kenya, these deaths are the hardest to bear. The grief in Kenya at the slaughter of our iconic elephants is translating into floods of tears, emotional poems, and outrage on Twitter and Facebook.

I had suspected for days that Satao was dead. The rumours were too many and they came from too many different people for them not to be true. Bad news travels fast in Kenya. Moreover, like everyone who had ever heard of Satao, I was already concerned for his safety.

I first learned about Satao through an emotional and beautifully written blog post by Mark Deeble, who described him as being so intelligent that he knew he needed to protect his enormous tusks by intentionally hiding in bushes so they couldn’t be seen. At the end of the post Mark wrote:

I am appalled at what that means – that the survival skills that the bull has painstakingly learnt over half a century have been rendered useless by the poachers’ use of mass-produced Chinese goods; GPS smart-phones, cheap motorcycles and night vision goggles.

I think the old bull knows that poachers want his tusks, and I hate that he knows.

More than anything, I hate the thought that poachers are now closing in on one of the world’s most iconic elephants.

Then in early March, during the great elephant census, we heard that the poachers had got to him. Mike Chase from Elephants without Borders reported seeing two seeping wounds on Satao’s flank. Veterinarians rushed to the scene and confirmed that these were arrow wounds.

It’s hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the poachers on the day that they approached this mountain of an elephant and shot at him with crude bows and poisoned arrows. It must have been terrifying and yet the sight of his massive gleaming tusks probably left them salivating with greed.

 

For days Satao must have endured excruciating pain from the festering wounds. But he recovered and we all heaved a sigh of relief when it was reported that his wounds were healing on their own. The Facebook post by Save the Elephants about his recovery attracted more 200 “get well soon” comments.

Then in the first week of June Richard Moller, Executive Director of The Tsavo Trust, found a massive elephant carcass in a swamp. “I knew instinctively in my gut that this was Satao, but there was a tiny chance that I was wrong. I had to verify it before we go public,” Richard told me.

The Tsavo Trust runs an inspirational campaign to bring attention to Kenya’s last great tuskers . Their work brings huge joy and celebration every time an elephant with tusks sweeping to the ground is found.

When I heard that Satao may have been killed, I posted a message on Facebook. I said I hoped that the rumours were wrong and that Satao was safe. I had to hastily remove the post after Richard explained: “We don’t want to alarm people if there’s even a 1% chance that Satao is still alive”.

For days Richard and (Kenyan Wildlife Service) KWS rangers visited the carcass. It was certainly a giant tusker, but it was hard to tell if this was Satao, as the face was mutilated face and the tusks gone. They flew over the park and searched for Satao, hoping against all odds that he was still alive.

Then finally, yesterday on 12 June, Richard admitted to me that his first gut feeling had been right:

Today I had to write my official report to KWS and confirm to them that Satao is dead. It was the hardest report that I have ever written, I couldn’t see past a wall of tears.

In voice choked with grief he begged me not to post anything on this blog until KWS had officially broken the news.

 

From a biodiversity perspective, tuskers are rare specimens, the pinnacle of their species. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

From a biodiversity perspective, tuskers are rare specimens, the pinnacle of their species. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

 

It is not only the rangers in Tsavo or those who knew Satao who are sorrowful, all of Kenya is in a state of deep grief. Satao was not just a Kenyan icon, he was a global treasure. He was of such a phenomenal size that we knew poachers would want him, and no effort was spared to protect him. He had 24/7 protection from KWS and conservation organizations. Even as we mourn Satao’s passing, Kenyan’s are asking: what went wrong?

It may take days for the KWS to provide more details about this terrible news. The country’s authorities are loath to admit the scale of the current crisis.

According to the latest figures published by KWS, 97 elephants have been poached in Kenya so far this year . Nobody in Kenya believes this figure, which suggests that less than one percent of the national elephant population have fallen to poachers’ guns.

The official figures do not tally with the many reports of elephant killings in and around the Masai Mara, Samburu, Loita Hills, Marsabit, Tsavo, Mount Kenya, Aberdares, Shimba Hills and the north eastern coastal forests.

I estimate, from the reports I have seen, that the elephant poaching in Kenya is at least 10 times the official figures, but it is impossible to verify this as the KWS jealously guards the elephant mortality database.

A few brave people within the system describe a systematic cover up of the real figures. To many of us Kenyans, this problem is even more serious than the poaching. Our wildlife services are like the drug addicts who are the most difficult to help, those in denial that there is a problem to be fixed.

Those at the helm who craft the KWS’s communications seem blissfully unaware of the damage caused to Kenya’s reputation by the lack of transparency and accountability around poaching figures.

Kenyans are angry and confused. Elephants do not belong to KWS but to the people of Kenya. Elephants are an important national asset that make a significant contribution to Kenya’s GDP through tourism. It is therefore in the national interest that the correct figures are shared with the public.

It is also confusing for donors. KWS is fighting furiously for funds to strengthen anti-poaching efforts, and massive ivory seizures also continue to snatch headlines, but according to official figures and statements, there is no elephant poaching crisis.

The appalling news of Satao’s death comes at a time when Kenya is preparing to showcase our conservation successes at the UNEP Governing Assembly which starts on 24 June. Instead Kenyan delegates will bear the heavy burden of conveying the news of the passing of this gentle, intelligent and compassionate giant.

I call on Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, to set the tone for the Governing Assembly by starting with a minute’s silence: so that delegates can reflect on their duty of care towards our fellow beings, and in memory of Satao, Mountain Bull, and all the others who have died before them.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2014/jun/13/kenyas-biggest-elephant-killed-by-poachers

Ndovu + Music = Ndovu Music Contest

Juliani with Basilinga

Juliani with Basilinga

Article by Njambi Maingi

The month of June, heavily marked and highlighted on the Safaricom Calendar in the WildlifeDirect office in Nairobi, was a definite illustration of the numerous midyear activities planned out for the Hands off Our Elephants Campaign. None of them bigger than the biggest collaboration in Elephant Conservation this year!! What am I talking about,you ask?? The day Kenyan Music Celebrity Juliani and Dr Paula Kahumbu met over lunch at Art Café to discuss everything-Hands off Our Elephants. On this day the ground beneath the elephant poachers feet must have shook.
There is no denying that the best way to reach out to the masses when conveying a message is through the arts, especially through music. It is a powerful tool that easily seeps into our souls, tugging on our heartstrings for our minds and ears to listen. Music and Elephant Conservation were now united, brought together for a common cause, to sing to the world that the fight against poaching will not only be fought on the ground by armed rangers, but alternatively through the power of words and musical instruments in our studios.

With this new concept in mind ,PCI MEDIA Impact , an international leader in Behavior Change Communications, WildlifeDirect and local celebrity Juliani have joined forces to bring to a Kenyan and International Audience, the first ever Anti-Poaching Themed Music Contest, known as THE NDOVU MUSIC CONTEST(Ndovu being the Swahili word for Elephant). This contest will be for the young and old alike from all over the Country, to contribute to conservation through their creativity in song writing, where original elephant conservation songs are to be submitted online to www.ndovumusic.com. This contest intends to inspire the Kenyans to take action in the protection of Elephants and all wildlife, our heritage, through use of musical talents and more.

To commemorate the conception of this great initiative, the Hands off Our Elephants team, treated Juliani to an amazing one-on-one visit with the orphaned elephant calves at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. He got to experience firsthand, the lives of these victims of slaughter, that were rescued from the wild, abandoned for various reasons that include but not limited to human-elephant conflict and poaching which decimates herds of elephants around Kenya, leaving behind traumatized young elephants, uncared for.

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At first, cautious of his movements around the calm elephants, Juliani quickly became acquainted, moving between individuals, playing with them, listening to their stories from the care givers(surrogate mothers), he was even comfortable enough to bump heads with a few of the older ones, taking in all their force and energy!

It was love at first sight, as some would put it. But this encounter made it ever more obvious to Juliani and the team, that the poaching scourge is a looming dark reality not only for the African Elephants but also for Kenya’s Economic Future.

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Kenya at the crossroads: it’s time to root out the elites who control wildlife crime

A huge seizure of ivory at Kenya’s main port, Mombasa, tests the will of political leaders to apply the law on wildlife crime

Police with some of more than 200 elephant tusks seized in Mombasa on June 5, 2014. Photograph: Kevin Odit

Police with some of more than 200 elephant tusks seized in Mombasa on June 5, 2014. Photograph: Kevin Odit

The announcement of the seizure on Thursday (June 5th) of more than 200 elephant tusks in a motor vehicle warehouse in Mombasa was a rude but necessary awakening for us in Kenya

This huge haul, following a tipoff to local police authorities, confirms Mombasa’s pivotal role as a transit point for smuggling ivory out of Africa.

The photographs show some gigantic tusks, undoubtedly from Kenya’s greatest tuskers. One enormous tusk in particular stood out; it can surely be linked to an individual elephant. These can only have come from killing fields in Kenya’s flagship National Parks, like Tsavo, Marsabit, Samburu and Masai Mara.

The last refuges for these magnificent animals are no longer safe havens, and are under siege by increasingly well-armed and equipped poachers. Recent TV reports in Kenya have exposed the sophisticated organization of the poaching gangs, whose leaders are well-connected to Kenya’s ruling elite. In many cases their identities are known, but nobody dares to name them.

Media confusion around the circumstances of the latest seizure raises fears that once again the big fish will slip through the net. Reports initially indicated that two people had been arrested. Then the police further disclosed that the people arrested had tried to bribe them with Ksh 5 million (Kenyan shillings, about £34,000). By the end of the day, the two arrested had somehow transformed into just one.

Oddly – or perhaps not surprisingly – the main person apparently behind the trafficking could not be traced. Identified only as a “Mombasa tycoon”, aged 52, possibly of Arab heritage, closely linked to the political elite, his identity remains shadowy. After a whole day, officials claimed they “could not find him”.

Latest reports indicate that two people have been charged. The prosecutor has asked for time to conduct investigations and hearing for bail will be heard on Monday. On task is the new Wildilfe Crime Division of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions. This was set up recently in an attempt to fast track wildlife crime prosecutions and bypass local courts that were seen as more susceptible to bribery.

Prosecutors have many options, including seizing properties, bank accounts and anything that could be deemed the “proceeds of crimes”. They can also charge the offenders with tax evasion, attempted bribery, organized crime and other serious offences. But so far, prosecutors have been unwilling to use these powers in cases of wildlife crime, or to seek the maximum sentences – a fine of Ksh 20 million or life imprisonment – stipulated under Kenya’s stringent new Wildlife Act.

The language in the Wildlife Act is rather vague and leaves open the possibility of imposing much lighter sentences. In this case the suspects might even get away with a charge of illegal possession of a government trophy, which carries a minimum fine of Ksh 1 million or just over £7,000. Not much for a cache of ivory worth over a million pounds.

Kenyan conservation organizations including WildlifeDirect and the African Network for Animal Welfare have begun lobbying parliament to amend the new law to raise the maximum fine to Ksh 100 million, with life imprisonment as the only alternative. Parliamentarians seem keen on the idea, but laws are only as effective as their implementation.

Like so many other high profile arrests, things in this case seem to be going cold horribly fast as the “untouchable” Mombasa businessman uses his influence, networks, cash and friends to get him out of the sticky situation.

The whole episode might sound like a plot from the TV series “Law and Order” but this is for real and the stakes are high. In reality Kenyan is at a crossroads. All the elements to successfully combat wildlife crime are in place: informants are supplying leads to the police, the police are making arrests, the prosecution service is organized to press charges, and the law allows for appropriate penalties.

The Kenyan public is fed up with seeing the nation’s wildlife disappear before their eyes and wants to see action. All that is lacking is the will of political leaders to set the machine they have built in motion, and let it run, no matter who gets caught up in the cogs.

For those of us agitating for change, this high profile case is the opportunity for Kenya to demonstrate its seriousness in combating wildlife crime. According to WildlifeDirect: “This is the moment for the government of Kenya to demonstrate that there are no sacred cows. No matter how high the perpetrators of these crimes are they must be brought to justice.”

The Kenyan government has been vocal at CITES and other big events. But it’s time to do more than talking and put our money where our mouth is. If we don’t have the courage to take on the big men and women who run the wildlife crime syndicates, we should shut up.

At the end of June, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta will open the UNEP Governing Assembly meeting in Nairobi. In a speech to Ban Ki-moon and other dignitaries, he will be expected to demonstrate Kenya’s achievements in combating wildlife crime. Right now, Kenya has very little to show.