Africa is in the midst of a poaching crisis. This we know. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed for their tusks each year, feeding a demand for ivory on the other side of the world in Asia.
But how did we get here? Not that long ago, the continent’s elephant populations appeared to be recovering after years of slaughter, as a ban on international trade in ivory trade took effect. Now, the poachers are back with a vengeance. In this video, we take an in-depth look at why the demand for ivory has sky-rocketed, how the illegal wildlife trade is a threat to global security and what is being done to save Africa’s elephants from extinction.
In my ongoing efforts to learn more about this poaching pandemic, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Dr Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect, who spearheads the “Hands off our Elephants” campaign in Kenya. She’s a passionate, high-profile advocate in the fight to end the illegal ivory trade.
We spoke of the many complex issues that have helped to shape this unfolding disaster, but we also talked of the elephants themselves, and what Kahumbu has learned about these magnificent animals.
In the outpouring of sadness that followed the death, those who had known the legendary giant claimed that a lifetime of evading poachers had taught Satao, who had survived a previous attack, to not only fear strangers, but also some awareness that it was his tusks that put him in danger.
“He didn’t just know he was in danger. He did something that was so surprising. When people were near him he would turn his face and look into the bush. He would actually hide his tusks. He spent his whole life knowing that he was in danger because of his tusks,” Kahumbu told me. “For filmmakers he was a real problem because here was this magnificent animal that would not face the camera.”
Satao was one of very few ‘big tuskers’ left in Kenya. Image: Tsavo Trust
While we can only speculate about Satao’s behaviour, evidence continues to emerge of just how tuned in elephants are to humans and the potential danger we pose to them. In some parts of Africa, studies have shown they are capable of picking up on cues such as scent, clothing colour, language and even tone of voice.
“When elephants hear certain tribes-people who are known to be hunters, they behave in a certain way. They bunch up. They protect the most vulnerable individuals in the middle. They face out in a very defensive position,” Kahumbu said.
“When an elephant is injured or hears a gunshot, they respond and can communicate that fear to each other. We’ve seen this. Their vocalisations are sub-sonic, so we cannot hear them, but we can record them and play them back and see how the elephants behave. They have a call that’s ‘let’s go’. They have a call that’s ‘let’s meet up later at a certain place’. They have calls that are ‘back off or stay away’.”
For Kahumbu, there is much we still have to learn about elephant intelligence, but what we know so far serves only to underscore their immense value. “They are the identity of Africa, but they are also global monuments.”
KIRSTEN HORNE IS EARTH TOUCH’S ONLINE PRODUCER AND SCRIPTWRITER. SOME PEOPLE MIGHT CALL HER BOSSY, BUT SHE PREFERS TO THINK OF HERSELF AS FOCUSED AND PASSIONATE. SHE’S ALSO OBSESSED WITH WILDLIFE AND ANIMALS, AND IS A COMMITTED MISANTHROPIST.
Kenyans take to the streets in support of elephants and rhinos. Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, Nairobi, October 3rd, 2015. Photograph: WildlifeDirect
Since 2013, according to the latest estimates, elephant deaths from poaching in Kenya are down by 80% and deaths of rhinos by 90%. This is a success story that deserves to be more widely known.
Kenya was traditionally in the forefront of wildlife conservation in Africa. However, in 2008 the sale of ivory from four southern African countries to China and Japan triggered an explosive demand and poaching erupted across the continent.
By 2012, the situation was almost out of control in Kenya due to corruption, ignorance, poor laws, and an inadequate anti-poaching response. Government agencies such as the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) were in denial.
I was among the many conservationists who felt angry and frustrated at the government’s refusal to respond to our concerns. One of our colleagues was arrested and others went into hiding for fear of being deported for exposing how serious the poaching crisis was.
The turning point came in February 2013 when the government finally agreed to call a special session of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) to discuss wildlife conservation. This landmark meeting was attended by many dozens of representatives of ministries, law enforcement agencies, the private sector, academia and civil society.
It was a tough-talking meeting. We challenged the government’s complacent view of the situation and questioned the capacity and commitment of KWS and border agencies to control poaching and trafficking.
Leading Kenyan conservationists, including Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Agatha Juma and Jake Grieves Cook, warned that thousands of elephants were being killed each year and of the threat this posed to tourism and the economy
Representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife and KWS denied the situation was a crisis; however, they did ask the government for support to tackle the growing poaching problem.
Richard Leakey and I spoke for WildlifeDirect and we presented a 14 point plan of action that had been developed with barrister Shamini Jayanathan. After intensive discussions the NESC adopted most of our recommendations and instructed authorities to urgently adopt a ‘whole government’ response to the crisis.
The NESC meeting was the first major effort of the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign, which was officially launched five months later. Our aims were simple: to bring all sectors of society on board in order to defeat the poachers and traffickers, safeguard elephant populations, and turn Kenya into model for successful wildlife conservation.
The First Lady of Kenya, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta (centre with hat) in her role as Patron of the campaign “Hands Off Our Elephants”, launched in 2013. The marchers are accompanying Jim Nyamu (in the beige t-shirt) on part of his walk across Kenya to raise awareness about poaching. Photograph: WildlifeDirect
Our initiative was coolly received in some quarters. Government officials accused us of being unpatriotic by damaging Kenya’s reputation abroad. Some fellow conservationists said we were being too ambitious.
We knew it would be difficult but we were confident that our aims were achievable, for three reasons:
Kenya has a vibrant civil society and a free press, so we would have the means to get our message across.
We had support in high places. The new President Uhuru Kenyatta, who took up office in April 2013, was known to be sympathetic to wildlife conservation. His wife, Margaret Kenyatta joined the campaign from the outset as its patron.
Kenya had done it before, in the 1990s, when KWS routed the poachers under the leadership of Richard Leakey, and President Daniel Arap Moi transformed global attitudes towards ivory by burning Kenya’s ivory stockpile.
Seven strategies for success
Looking back at what Hands Off Our Elephants has achieved so far, in an informal ‘mid-term evaluation’, I can identify seven things that have worked:
1. An evidence based approach. In making our case, we knew it would be not enough to rely on hearsay. We presented the results of 5 years of courtroom monitoring to prove that those arrested for wildlife crimes were being let off scot free or at most with derisory fines. We demanded – and got – an audit of Kenya’s ivory stockpile, overseen by independent observers.
Paula Kahumbu handing over the “Scoping study on the prosecution of wildlife related crimes in Kenyan courts” on behalf of WildlifeDirect to the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga in January 2014. Photograph: WildlifeDirect
2. Mobilizing public support. We took our campaign into government offices and corporate board rooms, onto the streets and into schools and universities, and into the villages in areas that have elephants. We spoke to young people in language they would understand, with the support of pop stars, comic book authors, and sports personalities. In alliance with private sector, we took the message into supermarkets and onto airplanes.
This broad-based alliance has succeeded in generating a level of popular support for wildlife conservation never before witnessed in Kenya, or any other elephant range state.
3. Mainstream media coverage. Our campaign transformed poaching from a wildlife conservation issue to headline news. Conservationists gave extensive TV interviews in prime-time current affairs slots, with the focus squarely on political, juridical and institutional capacity issues.
If you are reading this in Europe or North America, you might like to ask yourself when wildlife conservation was last given this treatment by media in your own country.
4. Political will. We were fortunate in this respect. In his inaugural address President Kenyatta signalled his intentions by referring to poaching as ‘economic sabotage’, and followed this up with a series of key measures to strengthen the law and the judiciary.
The First Lady, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, made it clear that she intended to take an even more proactive role. She agreed to be Patron of Hands Off Our Elephants and has been a central figure in the campaign ever since.
Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has been behind us all the way, as have US and British ambassadors Bob Godec and Christian Turner. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has convened meetings to create awareness of the problem amongst all Kenya-based diplomats.
US Ambassador Robert Godec with school children from Nairobi on a visit to Amboseli National Park. World Elephant Day, 12 August 2015. Photograph: WildlifeDirect
5. Boots on the ground. One of President Kenyatta’s first acts was to announce additional funds to finance anti-poaching activities, allowing the recruitment of 577 more rangers. He created a specialised multi-agency anti-poaching unit and brought all law enforcement agencies together to tackle the ivory trafficking problem in a coordinated way.
As a result, poachers are more likely to be caught than ever before. But we knew that this would have no deterrent effect unless getting arrested led to some serious consequences. That’s why the next two success factors were key.
6. Strengthening the law. Wildlife law before 2013 treated poaching as a petty offence. Maximum penalties were derisory compared to the vast profits that were being made by organised wildlife crime. We lobbied with many other NGOs and citizen groups for a new Wildlife Act.
The new act finally came into force in January 2104, making poaching and ivory trafficking a serious crime in Kenya, on a par with gun running and drug trafficking. Penalties for wildlife crime in Kenya are now the harshest in the world, including life imprisonment in some cases.
7. Reforms to the criminal justice system. Our courtroom monitoring program had exposed major challenges in record keeping, evidence collection, and prosecutions. The handling of wildlife trials has been transformed through the creation of a specialised wildlife crime prosecution unit under the office of the Public Prosecutor, combined with new operating procedures and extensive training programmes for legal staff.
Being arrested for poaching or ivory trafficking in Kenya has become a big deal.
Measures of success
Summarising the results of my mid-term evaluation: Kenya has managed to turn around the poaching crisis in a remarkably short time. This is in large part thanks to the support of NGOs – large and small – working with the private sector, government, and the donor community. All Kenyans can be proud of this impressive achievement.
Several poachers have gone to jail for life, and many have been fined hundreds of thousands of US Dollars. Jailing of convicted poachers is up from 4 to 11%. Suspected traffickers have had their assets seized and bank accounts frozen, as the law on proceeds of organized crime can now be applied to wildlife crimes.
Poachers are giving up the trade because of the high likelihood of arrest, and the knowledge that it will lead to prosecution and a jail sentence. This is reflected in the dramatic decline in poaching: the ‘bottom line’ that is the most important indicator of the success of our campaign.
Perhaps most importantly, for the first time in Kenya’s its history, Kenya is prosecuting major ivory traffickers. One of the most notorious suspected traffickers, Feisal Mohamed Ali, was arrested with the support of Interpol following the seizure of huge haul of ivory in Mombasa. He has remained behind bars to face trial since December 2014.
The continuing threat
While Kenya can celebrate success today, we cannot be complacent. Just next door in Tanzania thousands of elephants are being gunned down annually and their population has been reduced by over 60 percent in just 5 years. Meanwhile in South Africa, over a thousand rhinos are murdered for their horns each year.
These killing fields will expand back into Kenya without concerted international efforts to reduce demand for ivory and rhino horn.
In Kenya, several factors threaten the sustainability of our successes. By far the most serious of these is the pervasive corruption that disfigures Kenyan society. It seems that corruption is rarely out of the news these days: it threatens the democracy that is bedrock of all our achievements so far.
The power of corrupt money is undoubtedly the reason why, in contrast to the harsh sentences imposed on poachers – the small fry – and despite the arrest of Feisal Mohamed Ali, no trafficker has yet been convicted and sent to jail under the new law.
The way forward
So what comes next? Hands Off Our Elephants will continue to expand its operations in Kenya while coordinating with partners across Africa to replicate our efforts in neighbouring countries. The campaign will focus on key new demands, including:
Corruption should be included among the named charges for wildlife offenders and in cases where police and customs officers, and other government officials are involved.
Existing high level cases should be brought to a rapid conclusion. Every delay increases the opportunities for evidence to be ‘lost’ and witnesses to ‘disappear’.
The must be an end the practice of deporting foreign nationals arrested for ivory trafficking. They should be tried in Kenyan courts. Traffickers should know that if they are caught with ivory at a Kenyan port or airport they can expect to spend the rest of their lives in a Kenya jail.
Visitors to Kenya and those in transit must be made aware of the new law and the penalties for poaching in order to reduce demand.
Kenya’s must destroy its entire ivory stockpile as a signal to the world that no Kenyan ivory will ever again enter into legal or illegal markets.
Above all, there is a need to strengthen accountability by giving civil society a permanent role in monitoring living and dead animals, seizures of illegal wildlife products, and the government’s response to wildlife crime.
The good news is that the foundations for this have been laid by the campaign itself, which has given rise to unprecedented levels of collaboration between government and civil society.
In recognition of the key importance of civil society organisations for wildlife conservation, NGOs have recently come together to form the “Conservation Alliance of Kenya”, a permanent stakeholder forum which will advise government on environmental issues. One of the key thematic groups that has been set up will address wildlife crime.
Thus democracy is not only the rock on which we build our campaigns. The campaigns themselves are an integral part of wider efforts to strengthen democracy.
Our African-led initiative to save elephants and wildlife is driven by a wider vision of an inclusive, prosperous African future; an Africa with effective governance and a vibrant civil society, and proud of its rich natural and cultural heritage.
The Wildlife Warriors event at Brookhouse School attracted nearly twice as many people as we expected. Though we
targeted young people from Nairobi, grandparents, teachers, and many grown ups from all corners of the country
including expatriates came. This revealed a surprising level of interest in citizen participation. It also confirmed that young people feel that their
views about wildlife conservation are as important as those of adults. Hundreds of recommendations about creating a
generation of Wildlife Warriors were generated which revealed some general findings.
We are pleased to finally release the report of the first ever Open Space Technology event to be held in Nairobi. We apologize for the delay in getting this report out to the public and welcome comments on it. Please find the soft copy version of the report here
Kenya’s First Lady at the Launch of the Womens Project in Imbirikani
IMBIRIKANI WOMENS PROJECT WITH UNDP AND WILDLIFEDIRECT ON 23RD OCTOBER, 2015
Her Excellency, Margaret Kenyatta, The First Lady of the Republic of Kenya’s speech at the launch event on Friday.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Just over a year ago, we announced our intention to start a project here aimed at women’s empowerment and elephant conservation, in collaboration with Helen Clark the Administrator of UNDP.
I am delighted to return here today to witness the official launch of this project which remains very close to my heart. Although Helen Clark could not be here with us today, I am sure that she is with us in spirit.
In 2013, I joined WildlifeDirect as the patron of the Hands off Our Elephants Campaign.
The campaign has made great strides in raising public awareness and mobilizing support for the protection of our elephants:
And has successfully used the Amboseli National Park as a showcase of excellent conservation partnerships between host communities, government, scientists, NGO’s and international partners.
The stakeholders have closely worked together to protect the worlds’ most famous elephants and I wish to thank all of you, for playing such an important role in that effort.
To save the elephants, we need the support of the host communities who live with them. They are the most important and first line of defence for these treasured animals.
Women are known to play an important role when it comes to conservation issues world over. Which is why we are investing in women projects in this region, because we can count on you to protect our elephants. Women are never known to kill the elephants.
In this regard, we already have wonderful role models right here, two Maasai sisters, Katito and Soila Sayialel who are amongst the world’s most famous experts on elephants; they are both Maasai women from this community!
I thank you both for your dedication and contribution which has made this community so important for the future of our elephants.
Elephants, are truly magnificent to visiting tourists, but can also be a terrifying threat for individual families and farmers.
I thank the UNDP for making it possible for us to turn this challenge into an opportunity for women, their families, their communities, and for Kenya.
I am also grateful that the women of Imbirikani have accepted the challenge to pilot this ambitious idea, of turning challenges into opportunities.
They have worked so hard on this project despite all the difficulties they face on a daily basis – fetching firewood, collecting water, herding livestock, managing their homes, their children and families.
For our women to effectively play their rightful role in conservation matters, it calls for their empowerment through education; additional investments in women projects and eradication of retrogressive cultural practices that limit their opportunities and possibilities.
As a country, we must realize that the absence of women in our economy, especially in rural areas, is holding back our development and our ability to achieve our aspirations to be a wealthy nation.
This project is a boost for those women who want to do business and it launch marks the beginning of a major opportunity for Amboseli.
I request the County Government of Kajiado through the governor, Dr. David Nkedienye, to support the women and facilitate the marketing of the products from this group; improve their health care and also focus on improving the schools to ensure the girls get quality education.
I am truly humbled to have played a role in this exciting project and I am very grateful to all those who have partnered with us especially Big Life Foundation who have been in Amboseli for over thirty years.
I am especially grateful to you, the women involved in this project for your courage and determination to make this project succeed.
It is now my pleasure to declare the Imbirikani Women Group Project officially open.
WLD Project Officer Robert Kaai shows the First Lady the products made by the women
It was an outstanding event that really showed the world that Kenya is a country of wildlife lovers. The atmosphere was celebratory, there were rangers, students, corporates, bikers, cyclists, roller bladers, vuvuzelas, Kenyan flags, placards reading “Fight Back” and “I am Justice for Wildlife, Are You?”. Marchers of all ages and backgrounds participated including 4 year old Seya who celebrated her birthday by bringing her friends to the march and made a donation of 75 thousand towards 175 children going into Nairobi Park today (curtis of KWS). Representatives of several embassies were present including the Ambassador of Belgium Roxane de Bilderling and Bob Godec of USA.
Bikers leading the March
The Cabinet Secretary Prof Judi Wakhungu walked the entire 14 km which was the longest GlobalMarch (it took place in over 150 cities around the world). The Kenyan marchwas also the biggest in terms of participation. This year our theme was Justice for Wildlife and Judge Nzioki wa Makau made a speech on behalf of the Chief Justice in which he committed to strengthening the judicial response to wildlife crime.
Justice for Wildlife
Prof. Wakhungu also spoke about redoubling efforts to work in cooperation with all stakeholders, and neighbouring countries. She was applauded for the results already achieved in Kenya, and reminded Kenyans that we could not be complacent. Just across the border 30 elephants are dying each day in Tanzania. We stand to lose too much if we do not stop the poachers. She promised that Kenya will be taking some very strong positions at the upcoming CITES conference in South Africa next year to return all elephants to Appendix 1.
She applauded the US and Chinese governments for recent announcements to end domestic trade in ivory.
US Ambassador Bob Godec spoke on behalf of the donor group and applauded Kenya’s efforts and committed to further support.
Peter Moll of Stand Up Shout Out spoke about the powerful role of the youth. Speaking for all NGO’s. In my speech I congratulated the government for the successes achieved in the last 12 months which has seen poaching drop to very low levels, and suspected traffickers being prosecuted for the first time. I welcomed the cooperation between state and NGO’s and invited all participants to volunteer with the NGO’s and government to get more involved in conservation. She thanked the Nation Media Group for screening wildlife documentaries as an important contribution towards creating awareness and love for our heritage.
The speech that stole the crowd was 12 year old Luca Berardi, youth Ambassador of WildlifeDirect, who sent a powerful message to Asians “You don’t need ivory or rhino horn to prove your wealth, there are millions of other things that you can put on your mantle piece”.
Entertainments included a number of super performances and one dance that got us all off our seats feeling very happy.
The GlobalMarch in Nairobi was organized by WildlifeDirect, Stand Up Shout Out and KWS.
SPEECH BY LUCA BERARDI AT THE END OF THE GLOBAL MARCH, 2015 – NAIROBI
Good Afternoon Hon. Cabinet Secretary, Ambassadors, Ladies & Gentlemen.
My name is Luca Berardi, I am 12 years old and I am the CEO & Founder of the YARH organization, which creates awareness for endangered species through workshops and networking with schools about the importance of wildlife conservation. Also, through paper-recycling projects that help us to save trees.
For many years, illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking has been declining the populations of elephants and rhinos resulting in massive biodiversity loss in Kenya and other parts of Africa. Rhino horn and elephant tusks are the main target for the poachers because of the high value in the illegal market throughout the world. As I stand here, representing the youth, most are unaware of the problems the wildlife faces. We need to educate young people on the importance of protecting our wildlife.
To you, Hon. Cabinet Secretary, Judi Wakhungu, we are encouraged with all your efforts. Just the day before yesterday, you were in NY together with the leaders of the world passing the key sustainable goals that we need to meet by the coming years. But, I would like to tell everyone present here today, let us not wait, lets start conserving our wildlife today, for if we wait for the year 2030, we shall have lost them all…..
And to you Sir, Chief Justice, please help us win this war to provide justice for al the families of innocent elephants and rhinos that have died in the hands of these poachers.
And to the World, from my heart to yours, please, you don’t need an elephant tusk hanging over your furnace as a trophy, or a couple of rhino horns as your centrepieces. There are over a million/million ways to showcase your wealth.
KWS and all Partners here today, thank you for all the work you are doing in protecting these vulnerable animals from extinction. I am encouraged to learn about your partnership with WWF in the implementation of the black rhino conservation, Rhino sanctuary in Tsavo and the Forensic Lab. This is good news for us all and our Chief Justice.
I Quote: Wildlife: Save it to Cherish or Leave it to Perish!!
We will be sharing more information on the work we will be doing in 2016 soon. Meanwhile, you can start guessing what the adventure will be.
We are priviledged to have excellent partners:
Kenya Wildlife Service has granted us access to the Amboseli National Park; Ol Tukai Lodge offered full board accommodation; Sunworld Safaris graciously donated the use of an excellent vehicle during this exercise and Two amazing women, Usha Harish, an exceptional photographer and Soila Saiyalel – an excellent Elephant expert have spent hours photographing elephant families in the park.
We look forward to seeing what they have gathered soon
Vehicle donated by Sun World Safaris
Selfie with the Elephants?
With the Staff of Ol Tukai Lodge and Elephants in the background
Usha & Soila with the Staff of Ol Tukai Lodge outside the Lodge
Soila doing what she does best – Observing and Identifying Elephants
On Wednesday, WildlifeDirect initiated a new community enterprise project funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and in collaboration with the Her Excellency, The First Lady Margaret Kenyatta in Imbirikani, Amboseli.
The project inception meeting was held at the Big Life foundation bringing together over 100 women from three different groups in the area and representatives from UNDP and the community.
The greater Amboseli landscape plays a major role in Kenya’s tourism industry, however its biodiversity particularly its magnificent its elephants is threatened by habitat degradation and issues of human-wildlife conflict and poaching. The communities in this area practice livestock farming and this is their major source of income. Both livelihoods, as currently practiced, are unsustainable, in terms of both natural resource degradation and the extent to which they conflict with the natural movements of wildlife, in particular, elephants are heavily persecuted due to the damages they inflict on crops.
Under this tremendous project, the women groups will be empowered and trained to come up with new ideas which will be funded by UNDP for a period of one year, in a community where men are considered leaders of household with women playing very little roles. This project proposes to empower the Maasai women to take control of their future and have the capacity to plan and implement their own income generating activities. It will result in the development and marketing of three women’s enterprise utilizing existing groups in the Mbirikani conservancy that are linked to the sustainable use of natural resources.
There is an urgent need to diversify livelihoods in the communities away from both pastoralism and agriculture towards sustainable management of natural resources and other conservation- related activities, so that both wildlife and the communities may continue to co-exist in greater harmony and the ecosystem can be restored to health, providing critical ecosystem services, robust against climate change. This project will help identify potential markets for the women groups and also connect them with buyers for their products.
‘’We need to look at this project at a larger scale and give it the urgency it deserves, we want to make sure at the end of this one year we should have achieved our set goals’’, Paula Kahumbu, CEO WildlifeDirect, said.
‘’it is very important that we quickly agree on the project projects that we need to implement within the stipulated project time that will turn out to be profitable businesses and so I want to thank all the men and women who have come to support this women in this project’’
WildifeDirect will help the women groups in the implementation of the project under the leadership of Community Project Officer, Robert Kaai and Dr.Kahumbu promised to give the women groups enough to ensure the project is a success.
David Githaiga, Team Leader, Energy, environment and Climate Change, UNDP Kenya promised the women groups that UNDP is very much committed to the project, promising the funds for the project are already available. He said the project is a very good initiative to empower women in this region and said the funds will be released in four quarters immediately after identifying the enterprise to invest in.
Women groups, WLD and UNDP staff after the meeting
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