Category Archives: richard leakey

Robert Nimkoff races in Rolex 24 for WildlifeDirect

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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Contacts: John Heminway / Matthew Ambroziak

Email: john.heminway@wildlifedirect.org /paula@wildlifedirect.org/ matt@trg-amr.com

Phone: 917-842-9799 /336.517.6936

Date: January 22, 2014

MOTOR SPORTS CHAMPION ROBERT NIMKOFF DEDICATES WORLD FAMOUS ENDURANCE RACE TO SAVING ELEPHANTS IN AFRICA

Daytona 22 January 2014: It may seem like a wild and crazy idea, but motor sports racer Robert Nimkoff will be racing for elephants on the 25th of January at the 52nd Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona. This will be the first time that Nimkoff has dedicated a race to an animal cause. Through the race, Nimkoff will be drawing attention to the crisis facing African elephants. It is estimated that nearly 100 of these magnificent creatures are gunned down each day for their tusks to supply ivory markets in China, Thailand and even the USA. Unless the killing ends, elephants will be gone from the wild in 10 years.

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Nimkoff is partnering with Kenya-based WildlifeDirect, a conservation organization that has launched the campaign “HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS”, with the First Lady of Kenya Margaret Kenyatta as patron. African motor sports enthusiasts, along with millions of others worldwide, will be eagerly watching this world famous endurance race. Make sure to pay close attention to the black TRG-Aston Martin Racing car number 009 with Nimkoff behind the wheel.

“I am so outraged that elephants are being gunned down for their two front teeth so that people around the world can have ivory trinkets, that I just have to do something. Elephants are like humans: intelligent, compassionate and family oriented. By partnering with WildlifeDirect, I hope that I can raise awareness and support from my fans and fellow drivers to help to save elephants” said Nimkoff.

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WildlifeDirect has achieved national and international fame through its campaign HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS, which has already resulted in the Kenyan leadership enacting new laws that will send poachers and ivory dealers to jail for life. As a partner of the Clinton Global initiative, WildlifeDirect is working closely with Kenyan authorities, the private sector and other conservation organizations to end the illegal trade in ivory, which is a multi-billion dollar business involving criminal cartels and may be linked to terrorism groups including Joseph Kony and Al Shabaab. The poaching of elephants is contributing to local conflicts and international insecurity, as well as posing a threat to the large job-creating tourism business in Kenya and other African countries.

John Heminway, Chairman of WildlifeDirect, says: “Elephants have this incredible knack of bringing unlikely people together. We are truly honored that Robert Nimkoff has chosen to support WildlifeDirect. Through this history-making race he will bring much needed attention to the American public and the world about how they can help end the crisis in Africa.”

About WildlifeDirect: Founded by world famous paleoanthropologist and conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey in 2004. The Chairman is National Geographic award-winning documentary maker John Heminway. His recent film “Battle for the Elephants” revealed the scale of the demand for ivory in China, and won Best Conservation Film award at the 2013 Jackson Hole Film Festival. The Executive Director is Kenyan elephant expert Dr. Paula Kahumbu. WildlifeDirect is a 501(c)3 registered charity and is based in Nairobi, Kenya. The Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign was launched in July 2013.

To find out more go to wildlifedirect.org or Hands Off Our Elephants on FB. # # #

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Dr. Paula Kahumbu at paula@wildlifedirect.org

KTN continues coverage on Elephants

Kenya Television Network (KTN) a local television station in Nairobi, Kenya continues to cover the poaching crisis in East Africa.

Follow their segment, PERSPECTIVE here…

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KTN PRIME News – Save Our Elephants

Last night Kenya Television Network – KTN featured the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign in a story dubbed Save The Elephants during their PRIME Time News at 9m.  We are pleased that the News Anchors wore the Hands Off Our Elephants armbands in solidarity with the drive to Save Our Majestic Elephants @HandsOffOurEles

Watch the full story here…

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Sights from Hands Off Our Elephants Official Launch

Seated from left to right: Dr. Manu Chandaria; Mr Francis Kimemia (Secretary to the Cabinet); Dr. Evans Kidero (Governor, Nairobi County); Prof. Judi Wakhungu (Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment); Her Excellency The First Lady, Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta; John Heminway (Chairman, WildlifeDirect)

Seated from left to right:
Dr. Manu Chandaria; Mr Francis Kimemia (Secretary to the Cabinet); Dr. Evans Kidero (Governor, Nairobi County); Prof. Judi Wakhungu (Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment); Her Excellency The First Lady, Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta (Patron, Hands Off Campaign); John Heminway (Chairman, WildlifeDirect)

Here are some pictures from the Launch of Hands Off Our Elephants campaign. The event took place at Sankara Hotel in Nairobi and was attended by The First Lady Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta – Patron, Hands Off Campaign, Cabinet Secretaries, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, and many Heads of Conservation Organizations in Kenya.

There was also the Premiere screening of the documentary film “Battle for Elephants” which details the illegal ivory trade in Kenya and Tanzania.

 

Her Excellency The First Lady and John Heminway wearing Hands Off our Elephants mourning bands

Her Excellency The First Lady and John Heminway wearing Hands Off our Elephants mourning bands

 

From left to right: Prof. Judi Wakhungu; Her Excellency the First Lady (Patron of Hands Off Campaign), John Heminway, Dr. Titus Naikuni (CEO, Kenya Airways) & Dr. Richard Leakey

From left to right: Prof. Judi Wakhungu; Her Excellency the First Lady (Patron of Hands Off Campaign), John Heminway( Chairman, WildlifeDirect), Dr. Titus Naikuni (Group Managing Director & CEO, Kenya Airways) & Dr. Richard Leakey(Founder, WildlifeDirect)

 

 

 

Dr. Kahumbu shares efforts to save Africa’s elephants

July 2, 2013 by  Jess Miller 

 Roxana Pop | Staff PhotographerPaula Kahumbu, the Nairobi-based executive director of WildlifeDirect and of the Kenya Land Conservation trust, lectures on “The Crisis Facing Elephants in Africa”  Tuesday morning in the Amphitheater.Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer

Paula Kahumbu, the Nairobi-based executive director of WildlifeDirect and of the Kenya Land Conservation trust, lectures on “The Crisis Facing Elephants in Africa” Tuesday morning in the Amphitheater.

When Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi set fire to 12 tons of illegal ivory in 1989, conservationists like Paula Kahumbu thought the end of elephant slaughter was in sight. And it was — until now.

Following that demonstration, poaching numbers dropped for nearly 20 years. But recently, worldwide demand for ivory has increased, which means that African elephants are in more danger of becoming extinct than ever before.

Kahumbu, the executive director of WildlifeDirect in Nairobi, Kenya, delivered Tuesday’s morning lecture in the Amphitheater, the second under the week’s theme of “The Next Greatest Generation.” WildlifeDirect works to save elephants and endangered species living in Kenya’s forests, savannas and plains.

“When we think of the next greatest generation, they are only going to be great because we make them great,” Kahumbu said. “As grownups, we inspire younger generations.”

When Kahumbu was young, she and her brother were outside playing when they spotted an animal they didn’t recognize in a fig tree.

A man drove by and rolled down his window.

“He asked us what we were doing, and we said, ‘There’s this amazing animal up in the tree!’ And the man was Richard Leakey,” Kahumbu said to applause.

Leakey gave Kahumbu and her brother a standing invitation to visit his house if they ever had any questions. (Leakey went on to found WildlifeDirect and persuade President Moi to burn the millions of dollars’ worth of ivory.)

“I spent my whole childhood catching everything that walked, crawled, flew, swam, and going to his house and asking him what it was,” she said.

After graduating from high school, Kahumbu wanted to be a park ranger. She went on to study biology and ecology, eventually earning her doctorate from Princeton University.

“I did my Ph.D. studying elephants because I thought that was going to be how I made a difference,” she said. “I was going to use science to make a difference.”

But she soon discovered that most government officials “don’t give a damn” about science.

“They don’t understand it,” she said.

Kahumbu decided to take elephant conservation efforts into her own hands. Even though elephants are one of the most-studied animals in the world, Kahumbu said that more fascinating details are uncovered with each new study. For example, scientists have learned that elephants can communicate by projecting sounds at frequencies too low for humans to hear. Their large ears can also identify sounds up to six miles away. And they can smell water from a distance of 12 miles or more.

In addition, scientists are interested in the striking similarities between humans and elephants. Elephants travel in family herds, staying together for life. They grieve over dead family members and will even return year after year to pay respects to the bones of their kin.

Poachers often kill the matriarch, the largest and the leader of the herd, leaving the rest of the family vulnerable. Six thousand years ago, there were 25 million elephants in Africa. Today, there are less than half a million.

As Kahumbu was speaking, she showed black and white images of mutilated elephants on the Amp’s projection screens. Since tusks recede into the elephant’s mouth to connect to a socket in the skull, poachers must kill the elephant and then cut into the animal’s mouth to extract all of the ivory.

Last year, poachers gunned down 30,000 elephants in Africa, Kahumbu said. This number is greater than the entire number of elephants in Kenya.

Behind the rise of the poaching industry is the economic rise of another country. In China, ivory is a luxury often used to carve religious figures and other luxury goods.

“While in Kenya, if you’re wealthy, you might buy a Mercedes-Benz,” Kahumbu said. “In China, what you’ll buy is ivory.”

Kahumbu asked the audience to raise their hands to indicate whether they either owned ivory or knew someone who did. A large number raised their hands.

“Whether we like it or not, owning ivory makes us consciously or unconsciously a part of the demand,” she said. “And it’s the demand that is leading to the slaughter of the animals.”

Those at WildlifeDirect are trying to end animal poaching in three ways: by cracking down on crime, by eliminating ivory supply and demand and by creating awareness, engagement and mobilization.

The organization has recruited Kenya’s first lady, Margaret Kenyatta, as well as a number of Kenyan celebrities and sports stars. To show their support, the celebrities are wearing black armbands that read “H.O.O.E.,” which stands for “Hands Off Our Elephants.”

WildlifeDirect has also engaged communications companies, the tourism industry and major corporations.

“We’ve partnered with all the major media houses to do editorials every week about the carnage of that week,” Kahumbu said. “We’re going to be naming and shaming the [poachers] who get released with these small fines [instead of going to jail].”

The group plans on branding restaurant restrooms, grocery stores, cigarettes, beer, airplanes and highways to capture the attention of all passers-by.

“We want people to really wake up to what is happening,” she said. “As individuals, we have personal responsibility. We are each individually responsible for saving the world’s most magnificent species.”

The original link of this article is: http://chqdaily.com/2013/07/02/kahumbu-shares-efforts-to-save-africas-elephants

Poaching is reducing Kenya’s elephants

Today the KWS announced a 14% decline in elephants in the Samburu/Laikpia ecosystem over the last 4 years. Samburu and Laikipia’s image as the poster children for Kenya’s wildlife recovery is now dented. The impact on tourism cannot be ignored, heavily armed bandits threaten more than elephants, if we can’t protect elephants how can we protect international tourists? But it’s the long term consequence that are of greater concern. One of Kenya’s Vision 2030 flagship projects is to develop the tourism potential in the area to elevate tourism income, create jobs, and increase tax revenues. If we have no elephants in Samburu –will tourists bother to come? Putrid elephant carcasses do not make good tourist attractions. And that is not all, it is now known that the poaching of elephants and rhino’s in Kenya and other countries is linked to criminal cartels that are financing Al Shabaab and other terrorist organizations.  Kenya has remained silent the seriousness of this, but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not.

One of 8 elephants recently slaughtered in a group in Galana Ranch

In a way the result of the Samburu census is good news. For the first time in 8 years, KWS has admitted that elephant poaching has reached alarming levels and that it threatens our elephant populations, tourism and our economy.  Hopefully this will lead to concrete reaction from the state. Conservationists are not surprised with this figure. Most scientists knew we were in a crisis all along but openly questioning the official number can be dangerous as Onesmas Kahindi discovered when he was arrested and nearly charged with “undermining a public official” earlier this year. He was released, but the experience of his arrest resounded through the conservation community and sadly many Kenyan conservationists have backed away from raising their concerns to the authorities or the press.

The results of Samburu could have been predicted. In 2011 a count of the Tsavo Ecosystem found 500 dead elephants, a 3 fold increase since 2008 suggesting a rapid rise in poaching over that period. And, similar results are expected where poaching is escalating in Galana, Masai Mara, Laikipia, Amboseli and Kerio Valley. The problem is not just in parks nor is it one group of people we need to stop. In the previous elephant crisis it was primarily the Somali’s who were armed, today numerous tribes in north and Central Kenya are armed and the weapons are being turned against each other and wildlife. Nor is the elephant poaching problem restricted to Kenya, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) estimates that over 25,000 African elephants across the continent were killed to supply illegal ivory markets in 2011. This was the highest rate of poaching recorded in the past last ten years.

One of 5 rhino’s killed in recent days in Kenya

And its not just elephants. Poachers are also gunning down rhino’s, robbing people and engaging in money laundering, gun running, drugs trade and the money is said to be financing terrorist activities.

To make matters worse, Kenya is not just a haven for poachers, it is also a gateway for ivory movements from other African countries. In July this year CITES noted that together Kenya and Tanzania account for a whopping 65% of the illegal ivory trade in Africa. The ivory is going to China which consumes 75% of the world ivory. But China only recently became the main threat to Africa’s elephants. Elephants have been killed for their ivory for millennia and the ivory trade thrived during the colonial period of Africa’s history – in those days ivory was sought after for billiard boards and piano keys. After the 2nd World War Japan became the world’s largest consumer of ivory taking 40% of all of all ivory for the production of Hanko’s or name seals/signature stamps. By the 1980’s the world began to recognize the crisis facing elephants and CITES put systems in place to regulate the ivory trade through a control system and registration of ivory stocks. This only worsened the situation as criminal cartels found ways of “legalizing” illegal ivory. As a result, ivory prices continued to rise and elephant killings reached a zenith. Legalizing the elephant trade was driving the species to extinction and African countries wildlife authorities were overwhelmed by the highly militarized killings.

It took two men and a crazy idea to turn it all around. In 1989 Richard Leakey persuaded Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenyan president, to publicly burn the entire Kenyan stockpile to send a message in what became the worlds most iconic conservation spectacle. That year Tanzania pushed through a proposal to put elephants on CITES Appendix 1 which bans international trade in elephants and their products. Though not all countries agreed with the listing, yet it is clear that the ivory trade ban led to the immediate a collapse of ivory demand and prices plummeted. Poaching came under control and African and Asian elephants began to recover across Africa and Asia.

Why is the crisis back?

In 1997, four southern African nations sought down listing of their elephants to sell live elephants. This was granted and then in 2000 they sought sales of their ivory stockpiles. Despite concerns that legal ivory trade never worked in the past, and warnings that any legal trade would trigger renewed demand and illegal trade, the sale went through and in 2002 a one off sale of ivory was permitted to Japan. In 2007 another one off sale was permitted, this time, to the horror of conservationists, China, a country notorious for weak enforcement of laws affecting endangered species was permitted to receive the ivory. The legal ivory met a massive demand from the hundreds of millions of newly rich in China resulting in a phenomenal rise in the price of ivory. The state cleverly manipulated the situation by releasing small amounts of legal ivory onto the market each year at very high prices.  The Chinese use ivory for art (carvings) and making household implements like chopsticks. They value it for its texture, warm feeling, softness, glowing colour and ease of carving. Despite the availability of man-made alternatives, real ivory is what is in demand because it symbolizes wealth and status. One study found that the 75% of Chinese buyers would purchase illegal ivory if it was cheaper than legal ivory, it is no wonder then, that similar studies have found that 90% of all ivory on sale in China is illegal.

This high and rising price of ivory has been the main driving force behind the continuing and escalating massacre of elephants in Africa where criminal cartels control the killing of elephants and the movement of ivory. The influx of Chinese workers across rural Africa have, no doubt, been an important part of this.  The impact is worst in countries that are poorly governed, minimally equipped and burdened with weak legislation and minor penalties to fight against highly militarized poaching gangs. DR Congo is thought to have lost over 80,000 elephants as a result. Despite the huge investment in the military wing of KWS since 1989, Kenya is a country where rule of law means little, especially in rural areas where elephants are being slaughtered. Weak governance has made it easy for poachers and dealers to get off, the police and the judiciary are notoriously corrupt. Until now, the shooting of suspected poachers has been the most effective deterrent against poaching, but even this is not sustainable.  The social backlash is likely or has already started to threaten conservation efforts and relations with local communities.

So what can be done?

Most conservationists agree that the only solution is to ban ivory trade forever. Even CITES now admits that the partial lifting of the ban on ivory sales sent a confusing message out and stimulated a demand that has driven the price up and led to massive laundering of illegal ivory. Regulating legal trade is horrendously expensive and difficult especially in a country like China where it is estimated that 90% of ivory on sale in China is illegal. Detecting the impact of ivory trade on populations is expensive, slow and it is virtually impossible to prove. Kenya has always held a principled position against the ivory trade, and has been a leader on CITES elephant issues and has always sought to unite African elephant range states around elephant protection and a total ban on ivory trade. A simple single message is needed, that ivory is banned. Southern African countries argue that their elephants are well managed and that they deserve cash for their ivory stocks. We propose then, that they be compensated for the destruction of their ivory stockpiles to prevent it from ever entering the markets and again stimulating demand. The Chinese argue that Kenya has failed to protect elephants effectively. It is true. We urgently need to step up enforcement, crush the cartels, increase penalties, enact new laws, and create awareness and genuine benefits for communities who live with elephants, otherwise poaching will continue to tempt poor people. We propose that Kenya restores her image by allowing a public audit of her ivory stockpile to prove that it is not making it’s way into the illegal market, and then destroys all of her ivory in renewed commitment to protect elephants.

Unless Kenya cleans up her image she will find it hard to present her position and concerns at the next CITES convention in Bangkok in March 2013 with much conviction. The challenge is to prevent Kenya’s neighbor and former ally, Tanzania, from winning permission to sell her ivory stockpile. Even though the Tanzania proposal is as good as dead in the water (Tanzania has admitted high level government corruption in the illegal killing of elephants and the illegal ivory trade) it would be more effective it Tanzania and Kenya stood side by side on this crisis. Tanzania is losing elephants even more rapidly than Kenya – they say that they are losing 30 elephants per day to poachers. Tanzania and Kenya are accountable for 65% of all ivory trafficking out of Africa, a truth we conveniently keep quiet about. Unless Kenya takes the urgent steps to demonstrate integrity, transparency and seriousness her position will not be taken seriously especially against the loud and aggressive clamoring for the opening up legal ivory trade by southern African states. The idea that legal ivory trade can generate funds to protect elephants is equivalent to resuming slavery to finance efforts to end slavery. It flies in the face of all of our known experience in trying t manage legal ivory trade. If only the proponents of ivory trade had the memories of elephants, they would know that we already tried that and it failed. We cannot afford any more experiments with elephants. We must send out a crystal clear message to the world and ban ivory trade forever.

 

Conservationists call for more time to review Kenya’s Wildlife Policy and Bill

Kenya is currently operating on a rather prehistoric Wildlife Act that has been under review since 2007.

The Ministry of Forestry & Wildlife in collaboration with stakeholders in the wildlife and related sectors has prepared the draft Wildlife Policy & Bill. They state that the drafts are based on expert opinion obtained through an all inclusive consultation process involving all stakeholders, public, private sector, community based organizations and civil society organizations.

After aligning the draft policy and bill with the new constitution, the Ministry shared the outcomes of the review process with stakeholders on the ministry’s website http://www.forestryandwildlife.go.ke on the 22nd  of August. 

In the exercise of the freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution, members of the public were then invited to make comments on the Policy & Bill and send them to wildlifebill@forestryandwildlife.go.ke

Then, exactly a week later, on Monday 29th August an historic stakeholders meeting took place at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi to discuss the draft Bill which had been made available online only one week earlier.

Some NGO’s published their comments online before the stakeholders meeting in an attempt to rouse public interest.

On Monday, stakeholders from every corner of the country congratulated the technical team for the hard work that has already gone into the preparation of the Wildlife Policy and Bill. However, they unanimously complained about the limited amount of time they had to review the document.

The stages of policy development in Kenya, as defined in the new constitution, involve cooperation amongst all the stakeholders, but many stakeholders did not feel involved in the preparation of this Policy or Bill. They felt rushed and noted that the internet was slow or not even available in some places, and there simply wasn’t enough time to read, understand, deliberate on and discuss in the counties before coming to Nairobi to represent their constituents. Many of the participants had not read the document when they arrived for the meeting.

Never mind that many did not get a chance to comment during the short plenary session,  participants of the stakeholders forum were given one additional week to submit any further comments. Nobody asked why there was such a hurry and members rushed off to start drafting comments to meet the deadline of Monday the 5th September.

So what is the big hurry? The Wildlife Bill requires substantial restructuring and participants recognized this. They made several requests regarding the process :

1.       The Ministry provides more time for stakeholder comment – one week is simply not enough.

2.       Delay in the process to allow a progressive Policy and Bill that address the broad principles in the Constitution, namely environmental sustainability and devolved environmental governance.

3.       Time for legitimate stakeholder participation through involvement, understanding and communication of the process in every region of the country.

4.       Time to tackle the really sticky issues like compensation and incentives.

5.       Time to re-structure the document to group and fully develop the issues of incentives, benefit sharing and rewards which many felt were inconsistent through the document.

6.       Time for professional lawmakers to read and advise stakeholders on the sticky issues in the Bill and to address inconsistencies.

Richard Leakey, WildlifeDirect and a group of wildlife stakeholders are calling for a postponement to allow the Policy and Bill to be properly developed with legitimate stakeholder participation.

They have questioned the rush to complete these two pieces of legislation, after all, the Forestry and Environment Act  (EMCA) are both under review and are  time bound as part of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) under Land and Environment. The Wildlife Bill is not in this process and therefore is not time bound. If it is passed before the review of these other Acts, the Wildlife Bill will be subservient to them as there is much overlap in wildlife, environment, water, forestry and land.

So what’s the reason for a rush with the Wildlife Policy and Bill?

We asked the question but it hasn’t been answered satisfactorily.

Ivory bonfire in Kenya sends 5 tons up in smoke

Dear friends

Yesterday, together with most of Africa’s top elephant conservationists, I witnessed the burning of 5 tons of ivory at the Kenya Wildlife Service training center in Manyani, which is located in one of Kenya’s greatest National Parks, Tsavo West Kenya.

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(I recorded video, photographs and podcasts of the event which WildlifeDirect is willing to sell to raise funds  for conservation. Please leave a comment on this post if you are interested in supporting us by buying your own copy of the event to support WildlifeDirect and elephant conservation)

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This is the strongest conservation statement that has come out of Africa in a very long time – the destruction of ivory worth about 15 million dollars.

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This is the second time that Kenya has burned ivory to send a powerful message about how the ivory trade is killing Africa’s elephants. Although the Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki lit this funeral pyre of over 200 elephants, this time it wasn’t Kenya’s ivory. The elephants that had been slaughted for this ivory came from Malawi and Zambia, thousands of kilometers south of Kenya.

The ivory burned was part of a shipment seized in Singapore in 2002 following an investigation spearheaded by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and the Environmental Investigation Agency. Susan Rice of the EIA told me that it was the 19th shipment of ivory from Zambia that was seized in an operation that revealed a complex web of players including poachers, government agents, and traders.

This massive illegal trade in ivory, was linked to China and Japan that had been authorized by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered species, CITES.

Ambassadors of both countries were visibly absent at the ceremonial ivory burn.

Conservationists have been warning that the massive demand for ivory in China cannot be satisfied by Africa’s  elephants and as a result, ivory prices have been increasing, triggering a surge in poaching across Africa.

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Wildlife enforcement authorities in Africa are struggling to defend elephants against this renewed threat. And the unwillingness of African Governments to prosecute Chinese nationals involved in illegal ivory trade makes it near impossible to stop them.

The effect is devastating for elephant and it is particularly evident than in Samburu in northern Kenya where so many elephants have been killed in recent months that adult males are noticeably abswent, and some elephant families no longer have matriarchs – the oldest female leaders who maintain order in elephant society.

Saving Africa’s elephants requires not only bold statements and commitments by African leaders.  We need action and we need it now. Everyone can agree that African elephants will continue to be at risk of extinction unless the trade in ivory is stopped. This can be achieved if the demand for ivory is destroyed.

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Only 5 tons of ivory were burned today – it represents a tiny fraction of Africa’s stockpiled ivory. Kenya alone has 60 tons of ivory held in vaults in Nairobi and in the field. Valued at between 500 and 2000 dollars per kilogram, the cost of protecting this ivory is immense. But it’s mere presence creates a threat that it will be raided by outsiders or even insiders. The maintenance of the Kenyan stockpile sends a confusing message to the world that while Kenya is ready to burn Malawian and Zambian ivory, she is holding onto her own stockpile – could this be for future sales perhaps?

While congratulating the countries of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force for burning this ivory, conservationists identified  three additional actions that would secure the future of elephants in Africa

  1. To appeal to the CITES convention to remove China and Japan’s status as a approved ivory trading partners
  2. To destroy all of Africa’s ivory stockpiles
  3. To strengthen enforcement by enacting and enforce laws with significant penalties  against poachers, traders and buyers of ivory  regardless of their nationality

Paula Kahumbu wins 2011 National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation

WildlifeDirect Executive Director Dr. Paula Kahumbu has for the second time this year won a National Geographic award after being declared the winner of the prestigious National Geographic Society/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation. Moi Enomenga, a community leader of the Huaorani people from the Ecuadorian Amazon, who is working to preserve his cultural heritage and the forests where his people live, is the winner of the award for South America. Previously, in May 2011, Dr. Kahumbu was named – together with 13 other trailblazers – as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2011.

Kahumbu and Enomenga have been recognized for their “outstanding leadership and the vital role they play in managing and protecting the natural resources in their regions. They are inspirational conservation advocates who serve as role models and mentors in their communities,” said Peter Raven, chairman of the Conservation Trust, the body that screens the submitted nominations.

Kahumbu’s award is in recognition of her work at WildlifeDirect. As the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect, she uses the power of the Internet to spotlight key conservation issues and raise awareness and donations for projects saving wildlife and wild places. Thanks to her efforts, about 120 conservation projects have an online platform to share challenges and victories via blogs, videos, photos and podcasts, saving species from ants to lions. By celebrating the work of conservation heroes, Kahumbu has turned WildlifeDirect into a tool to advocate for and share home-grown conservation solutions to such challenges as ivory and rhino horn poaching, roads through parks, climate change and wildlife conflict in areas that neighbor parks.

The National Geographic/Buffet Award for conservation leadership in Africa is given to one African conservation leader every year by Howard Buffet the president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which focuses on humanitarian and conservation issues. The award is the greatest accolade that Kahumbu has ever received for her work. She will be presented with the award and a cash prize of USD 25,000 on the 21st of June at a ceremony at the National Geographic Society.

Read the press release announcing the two winners at the National Geographic website

paula with telescope

Who is Paula Kahumbu?

Coached and mentored by legendary Kenyan conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey, who remains one of her closest allies and supporters, Nairobi, Kenya-born Kahumbu has had an illustrious career more than spanning two decades. Her entry into conservation work was marked by one of the most memorable event in the history of elephant conservation when she was assigned the task of weighing Kenya’s ivory stockpile prior to the 1989 ivory burning ceremony – a powerful international statement that Kenya would not tolerate the effect of the trade in ivory on her elephants. She would later deliver passionate and forceful speeches at two consecutive conferences of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as head of the Kenya delegation – while working for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) – to the convention.

Kahumbu’s achievements are numerous. While conducting her PhD research on elephants in Shimba Hills at the Kenya coast, Shestarted the Colobus Trust – a volunteer organization that conserves the black and white colobus and other primates in the resort beachfront of Diani – and introduced the colbus bridges or “colobridges” to help the monkeys cross the busy Diani highway. All the while, she was singlehandedly raising her 2 year old son Joshua – now a grown man serving in the US Navy.

After attaining her doctorate from the prestigious Princeton University, Kahumbu would briefly return to KWS before joining Bamburi Cement where she launched the environmental subsidiary, Lafarge Eco Systems. She published the best selling childrens book, Owen and Mzee (Scholastic Press), the story of the giant tortoise that adopted a baby hippo orphaned by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The book sold more than 1 million copies and is translated into 27 languages.

Kahumbu joined WildlifeDirect in 2007 and spearheaded its growth into Africa’s largest wildlife conservation blogging platform. With a keen eye, she noticed reports of poisoning of wildlife in several blogs. The poison used in all cases was Furadan, an American made pesticide formulation of the lethal chemical carbofuran. She documented the massive nationwide misuse of Furadan for killing lions, other predators, scavengers and wetland birds and the catastrophic decline of Kenya’s lion and vulture populations that this caused. KWS estimate a population of fewer than 2000 lions and the vulture population is said to have declined by between 50% and 80% due to poisoning. Kahumbu led a campaign against Furadan resulting in the manufacturer, FMC Corporation of Philadelphia, withdrawing the product from East African market but it still is in use and birds and fish are still being poisoned. Kahumbu still campaigns for a total ban and revocation of licenses for the deadly poison.

Kahumbu is known for her passion and recently, she has taken up the task of ensuring that development in the outskirts of Nairobi City do not compromise the wellbeing of the wildlife of Nairobi National Park, the city’s ‘green’ jewel. Convinced that the park is integral to the value of the city for instance, she has persuaded many organizations including KWS, ILRI, the community, AWF, the Wildlife Foundation, ACC, the Friends of Nairobi National Park, the Kenya Land Conservation Trust, WildlifeDirect, private land owners and many others to conduct an ecosystem wide wildlife census that will help guide the decisions taken by the ministry of transport regarding the controversial Greater Southern Bypass. She chairs the board of the volunteer organization, Friends of Nairobi National Park, whose sole mission is to preserve the beautiful and unique park.

Kahumbu’s education and passion for championing the environment cause has greatly influenced others to take up the mantle. William Kimosop, who recently opened a hiking trail across Kenya’s Great Rift Valley to conserve the Greater Kudu and connect communities through ecotourism, and Anthony Kasanga who saves lions in the Mbirikani area near Tsavo National Park – and who recently returned from Oxford University with a diploma in wildlife management after being spotted by the prestigious school on the WildlifeDirect blogs – are just a couple of the many she has inspired.

Kahumbu recently launched a partnership with Screaming Reels Production where she presents the documentary series, Wildlife Sentinels, reporting on news from the conservation frontline and bringing to light the ivory trade, poaching, human wildlife conflict and other real life wildlife stories.

“All Kenyans should be thrilled that Paula has been recognized for her achievements through the National Geographic/Howard Buffet Award. She is the country’s most passionate advocate for wildlife conservation and has made enormous personal sacrifices to protect it. Her efforts to have the pesticide carbofuran (sold locally as Furadan) banned have so far not been received well by the relevant ministries in Kenya, but this award will boost interest locally and internationally and I urge the government of Kenya to fully support Kahumbu’s initiatives to save Kenya’s unique wildlife heritage” said Richard Leakey, proud of the talent he has helped nurture.

Pesticide poisoning may be the greatest threat to wildlife in Kenya

According to Kenyan law, it is a serious offense to misuse or abuse pesticides in this country and the Pest Control Products Board is meant to regulate the safe use of pesticides for food production. Through my organization WildlifeDirect, I have been calling for a total ban on the deadly carbofuran pesticide locally known by its trade name Furadan in Kenya since 2009 because it is devastating wildlife in the country.  Carbofuran is intended to kill agricultural insect pests and is a neurotoxin that paralyses its victims. WildlifeDirect has documented the misuse and abuse of this chemical which may now be the most serious threat facing wildlife conservation in Kenya today.

To raise awareness, and get government help, we called a national workshop to address the issue of pesticide poisoning of wildlife in April 2008.  It wasn’t until late 2009 that a Task Force under the Ministry of Agriculture was created to address the issue of pesticide impacts on the environment. The Task Force chaired by the Pest Control Board however, has achieved nothing tangible, and the agency has refused to acknowledge a single poisoning incident report submitted by WildlifeDirect. The PCPB has not called a meeting since September 2010 or explained why they have not done so.

Wildlife Direct scientists have been consistently reporting that Furadan has been used to poison lions due to human wildlife conflict, and it is considered to be one of the main causes of the decline of population of lions in Kenya – now reduced to fewer than 2,000 individual animals. The pesticide is sprinked onto carcasss of livestock to kill lions which cannot detect its presence as it has no smell or taste. Any animal that scavenges on a laced carcass will die within minutes and that includes jackals, hyena’s and vultures. Go to the national parks and you will hardly see a vulture anymore. Vultures populations have declined nationwide  by between 50 and 80% due to pesticide poisoning targeting lions.

We have also been reporting the large scale bird poisoning came in Mwea (central-eastern Kenya) where tens of thousands of birds were killed by the lethal poison in the mid 1990s. Farmers were reported to be eliminating the birds to prevent damage to crops. Researcher Martin Odino of WildlifeDirect documents the use of Furadan to poison wading birds in Bunyala (western Kenya) where poachers poison tens of thousands of wild ducks, geese, storks, doves and other birds using Furadan-laced bait every year. The White faced Whistling duck has disappeared from the area completely. WildlifeDirect has documented in photographs and film, how birds are killed and sold for food to local people in markets. The PCPB has refused to acknowledge or investigate these reports despite the serious public health risk.

Though produced in USA by an American firm FMC, Furadan is not permitted for use in the country after the Environmental Protection Agency declared it unsafe for users, consumers and the environment in December 2009. After the airing a shocking documentary showing the poisoning of lions in Kenya in 2009 on CBS 60 minutes, FMC announced a complete withdrawal and buyback of the pesticide in all East Africa where they admitted it was being misused.

According to their website, “FMC Corporation has repurchased Furadan 5G from distributors and retailers in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.  The buy-back program remains open for any product that might still be in commercial channels.  Should any additional product be found in the marketplace, please let FMC know the location details so it can be repurchased.  FMC has no plans to reintroduce the product in these countries in the future”.

The poison was removed only from Kenyan stores, and it was simply moved to Tanzania and Uganda. From there it has been coming back across the border and continues to be found in some Agrovet outlets. Despite the global concerns concerns about the dangers of Furadan, the PCPB continues to permit its use of Furadan in flower farming. It is supplied locally by Juanco Ltd and is advertised on their website.

WildlifeDirect has consistently argued that the pesticide management system in Kenya needs to be revised. Deadly pesticides like Furadan should not be sold over the counter as users are not trained in safe use, and do not have or use any safety gear. Moreover, when poisoning incidents do occur,  rural clinics cannot handle them. In 2009, the Standard newspaper and WildlifeDirect reported that Nelson Kimutai, a three-year old boy from Kitale in Kenya, had died after consuming Furadan that his father had bought to rid his maize farm of rats and insects. He had stored the product in the kitchen and was using it with his bare hands. His son did not associate the chemical with danger and ate a little. Four hours later the local clinic was unable to save his life as they did not know how to reverse the effects of the pesticide.

In her best selling book “Silent Spring” Rachel Carson describes how the poisoning of the earth with DDT and other organophosphates in the USA threatened the lives of people and nature. She accused the agrochemical industry of being untruthful, and raised concern that public officials were failing to protect the public and environment by accepting industry claims uncritically.  The awareness that this book raised led to the banning of DDT in 1972. America has never looked back. Kenya is now experiencing her silent spring and it is time that the public questioned the governments decisions on which chemicals are used in food production. To date Kenya has no standards for pesticide limits in food, and conducts no testing of consumer products in shops. While the medical fraternity express concern about a cancer epidemic, nobody is examining the possible causes.

Given the obvious risks associated with the use and misuse of agrochemicals in Kenya it seems clear that our regulations and capacity to enforce the law are inadequate.   The PCPB its self is compromised by the fact that it is located in the Ministry of Agriculture therefore it cannot be an industry watchdog looking out for the interests of human and environmental health. Moreover, the PCPB is severely under resourced with only 9 inspectors and 2 vehicles nationwide. There are over 9,000 agrovets in the nation. This puts the tiny agency at the mercy of powerful agro chemical industry players who promise to “self regulate”. According to their annual reports, the PCPB’s meagre income is obtained almost entirely from the sale of agrochemicals. No wonder they are allergic to any suggestion of pesticide product bans.

We urge the government of Kenya to urgently address the human health and environmental risks by banning the use of carbofuran and removing the PCPB from the ministry of Agriculture where it is in a position of conflict of interest, and provide adequate resources to enable the PCPB to be effective.

Dr. Paula Kahumbu has a PhD from Princeton University and is the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect.c