Tag Archives: anti-poaching

Platinum Dancers perform an anti-poaching play

They are known for having featured in one of the biggest regional dance shows in East Africa, Sakata. They have also won several awards, thanks to their unique talent; they are Platinum Dancers from Kibera.

The group, which was formed in 2009 performed during the #Tweet4Elephants debate hosted by WildlifeDirect at Brookhouse School in April this year. They danced to Tusimame, an elephant anthem composed by four African artists including Emanuel Jal, Syssi Mananga, Juliani and Venessa Mdee.

They just took part in the SPA competition, a Christian dancing competition where they emerged top. During the completion, they got involved in two challenges; the first one being a play on poaching and its consequences. The play revolved around a villager who witnessed poachers hunting for elephant ivory and how they finally get ivory buyers before they are finally arrested by Kenya Wildlife Service officials. The second challenge was dancing to a mix of songs while wearing Hands Off Our Elephants branded T-Shirts.

Watch them perform the play in the video below:

Frontline teams ‘unaware’ of wildlife smuggler tactics

By Navin Singh Khadka Environment reporter,

BBC World Service

Ivory smuggled in a suitcase

Front-line transport workers largely lack awareness on how criminal networks disguise illegal wildlife products, it emerged at a summit in Bangkok.

Customs officials and wildlife trade experts say that educating freight forwarders and handlers of air, ship and land cargoes could help the fight against trafficking.

Their recent meeting with transport operators was the first of its kind.

“There was a genuine shock (among participants from the transport industry in the meeting) as to the magnitude of wildlife trade and the methods of disguise used by traffickers to transport these commodities,” said Martin Palmer, an expert in global trade compliance requirements and international transport.

“For example, when a rhino horn is ground down to powder, it’s almost impossible to identify the difference between a box of grey chalk and a box of rhino horn powder, from a visual check.

“Facts like these came as a big surprise to participants from the transport industry.”

Wildlife organisations say around 35,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year, mainly in Africa.

The South African government has said poaching of its rhinos reached a record of 1,215 last year.

Only around 3,000 tigers are now left across the globe, which is only 5% of what the population was a century ago.

Experts say despite international efforts against wildlife trafficking, criminal networks have been adopting new tactics in transporting the illegal goods – which are estimated to be worth up to $23bn annually, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

“And a lot of these people (from the transport industry) said over and over again that a lot of freight handlers lacked awareness,” said Tom Milliken, an elephant and rhino trafficking expert with Traffic, an international wildlife trade monitoring network.

seized ivory shipment

seized ivory shipment

This box full of ivory, seized in Malaysia in 2012, was hidden inside a stack of timber

In the meeting, Mr Milliken had presented a case study in which a major international courier company in 2011 suddenly found in its Europe depot that one of the parcels it was transporting had ivory bangles that were going from Nigeria to China.

“Within the next two weeks, three more similar seizures were made which was a red flag for larger international courier companies and so they immediately started screening at source,” Mr Milliken said.

“Now, there is evidence of ivory processing taking place by Asian carvers in Africa. There is increasing evidence of Chinese processing in particular shifting all the way to Africa.”

Wildlife trade experts say that this shift is a new challenge for transport operators.

“You could at least identify raw elephant tusks – but if they are processed into bangles, they could resemble resin bangles,” said Mr Palmer.

Wildlife trafficking experts say such information needs to be tailored for transport industry so that they can better assess the risks.

“These freight handlers could become valuable eyes and ears in the trade, because they are the ones who actually handle these consignments in different ways,” Mr Palmer added.

ivory bangles

A courier company discovered a shipment of ivory bangles in Germany, on its way from Nigeria to China

Trafficking experts say they are seeking the transport industry’s help particularly because most of the customs and security authorities at ports and airports across the globe are “overwhelmed” by security, drugs and human trafficking issues.

“Certainly one cannot expect that customs could inspect every shipment crossing international borders, given the volume of the cargoes. And you don’t necessarily want to inspect all the shipments because of trade facilitation,” said an official with World Customs Organisations (WCO), which counts 197 countries among its members.

“Also, very few customs authorities around the world have specialised teams that know which species of wildlife are prohibited from international trade,” the official added.

“The port of Hong Kong has 19 million containers going through it and if they are going to scan and open even one or two percent of that, it’s just a huge number of containers,” said Mr Milliken.

About 90% of the items traded around the world are shipped internationally, according to the UN’s International Maritime Organisation.

smuggled turtles

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth up to $23 billion annually

In most cases, sea containers are not X-rayed – unlike air cargoes.

Therefore, experts say, customs officials work on the basis of a very reasoned risk assessment to choose containers that have a higher probability of containing illegal wildlife products.

“The transport industry people know the customer, they know all the trade routes and then they handle the goods,” said another senior WCO official, who did not want to be named.

“If they are interested and if they are aware of that kind of threat, then they can tip off the customs authority, which can then improve its performance.”

The International Air Transport Association said that a number of airlines had instigated training programmes for staff to identify suspect bags or behaviours.

The IATA recently accepted an invitation to join the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s United for Wildlife Taskforce, which will look at a whole range of issues and actions to help stamp out this illegal trade, said Michael Gill, its aviation environment director.

There was no comment from the International Chamber of Shipping.

A representative with a shipping company, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the industry was unaware of the tactics used by wildlife traffickers but there was a general awareness that such crimes could take place.

“We mainly rely on declarations from our customers about their goods and if that is false, we cannot do anything about it. It then becomes a customs issue,” the representative said.

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.


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.


Kenya’s recent achievements on combating wildlife

Dear Friends, 


Despite the impressive achievements that we have made in the fight against poachers and ivory traffickers trough our HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS Campaign I will not be speaking at the London Symposium on international wildlife crime.  As usual, Africa’s story is being told by mostly by people who do not have their feet on the ground and consequently, we risk continuing to fail elephants. We feel that our voice and Africa’s voice must be heard. This post is to simply give you the heads up on Kenya’s achievements and we hope that you will be celebrating with us and supporting our efforts to amplify our success and share it across Africa. Dr. Paula Kahumbu is in London and can be reached on [email protected] for any press interviews.


1. WildlifeDirect conducted a court study on wildlife crime that revealed weaknesses in the law, and its enforcement, investigations, prosecution and rulings. For example, 70% of case files lost or missing, 78% conviction rate but less than 4% jail sentences for wildlife offenders, treatment of wildlife crimes as petty offences. Our conclusion was that the lenient handling of wildlife crimes in Kenya was a key player in the escalation of wildlife crimes and attraction of criminal cartels involved in smuggling wildlife products to Kenya. Please see our WILDLIFEDIRECT court study 26.1.14 WildlifeDirect Wildlife crime Report Press release FINAL


  1. Enactment of the  new law elevating wildlife crimes to felonies, with punitive sentences on 10th January 2014 – minimum fines of Ksh 20 million (US$ 240k) and life imprisonment for offenders of endangered species including elephant and rhino. See attachment for the Offences and Penalties


  • o High profile sentencing of Chinese ivory smuggler for Ksh20 million (US$ 240k)
  • o Review of prosecution and sentence of Ksh1 million of another Chinese ivory smuggler by the Director of Public Prosecutions.


  1. Convening of a series of national dialogues on wildlife crime with all the key law enforcement agencies represented in the National Council on the Administration of Justice, as well as private sector through the Judiciary Training Institute and other conservation partners
  2. Development of new standard operating procedures by the agencies as drafted by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions that refers all elephant/ivory and rhino /horn cases to the DPP, puts chain of custody measures in place, enforces inter-agency cooperation and puts a monitoring system in place and encourage public participation through court users committees, and creates transparency and accountability with sanctions for violations of the SOP.
  3. Consideration by Chief Justice to create wildlife courts starting with all cases in Nairobi moving to a central and high profile court, the Milimani court. We are now lobbying for the serious trafficking and poaching crimes to be heard in special International Crimes Division of the Kenya High Court.
  4. Agreement by Chief Justice to reform the file management system in the court registries.
  5. Agreement by the office of the DPP to prosecute all elephant and rhino cases, and to go after those who traffic and finance the poaching using other legislation including Economic Crimes, organized crime, Proceeds of Organized crime laws.
  6. Agreement by the Kenyan Governemnt to conduct a national ivory stocktake
  7. Appointment of a national task force on wildlife crime to address wildlife security system – this was a recommendation that we made a year ago to the National Economic and Social Council in February 2013.

Please share widely.





Tribals use percussion instrument to drive elephant into forests (India)

Tribals use percussion instrument to drive elephant into forests (India)

Times of India
Jul 21, 2013

COIMBATORE: An adult makna (elephant without tusks), which was creating tension in the Bhavanisagar region of Sathyamangalam, was herded back to the forest on Saturday by locals and forest officials with the help of percussion instrument, ‘chenda’. The elephant was on a rampage in Manalmedu, Valkaradu and Othapanaimarakkadu villages for over two weeks.

Over 70 people accompanied the percussion experts by bursting crackers to create an atmosphere that would force the elephant to go back to its abode. Forest guards and anti-poaching watchers protected the group. Forest officials said they were not able to locate the elephant on Saturday in the villages and the neighbouring forest, the drums and crackers have succeeded in forcing it to go back into the core areas of the forest.

The move to use drums was taken after the higher forest officials gave a go ahead considering the prevailing situation in the villages. Villagers and foresters are optimistic that they can chase any elephant by using drums and crackers so that it will not stray into human habitations.

According to locals, the elephant even strayed into the Bhavanisagar town and premises of the dam often. It normally roams around in the villages during early morning and night creating tension among the people. The initial efforts of forest department to chase the elephants failed as a large number of people had gathered around to witness it. The personnel then asked the people to select a small group to drive the elephants away.

“The elephant came from the Vilamundi reserve forests. It might have come in search of water but the agricultural fields may have forced it to stay back,” said conservator of forests, Erode circle, A Venkatesh.

Dr. Paula Kahumbu’s Article in the USA On The Crisis Facing Elephants And WildlifeDirect’s Campaign HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS

Dr. Paula Kahumbu is in the USA at the Chautauqua Institution where she will be talking about the crisis facing elephants, and WildlifeDirect’s campaign HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS.

Here is what she has already published in the Chautauquan Daily.


Africa is facing an unprecedented crisis of elephant poaching that threatens to wipe out the species in a decade. As poachers gun down elephant matriarchs, and destroy their families, buyers of ivory in countries like China, Vietnam and Thailand purchase exquisite ivory carvings of their gods, and believe that they are somehow worshiping God. Don’t they know that their consumer habits are killing nature? Don’t they know that Nature is God?

The situation in China is particularly hazardous. The domestic markets for ivory in China are legal and sanctioned by the government, which denies the link between the illegal trade and the illegal killing of elephants. Yet studies conducted by National Geographic, IFAW, the EIA, Save the Elephants and others reveal that over 86 percent of ivory being sold in shops in China is from illegal sources. The Chinese government says Africa is to blame and demands that African nations crack down on poaching.

Well, this is what is happening in Africa.

All across Africa, every single day and night, teams of rangers go on patrol to protect our extraordinary wildlife heritage. They are quiet, mostly invisible and often unrecognized. They walk or drive though rough terrain, witness incredible wildlife spectacles and experience the wilderness areas like none of us. They climb mountains, cross rivers, and sleep in the bush. From time to time they make contact with their enemies. Contact — it’s the sanitized way of describing violent interactions between security forces and poachers. It is usually swift, terrifying, noisy and bloody. In the past month several poachers have been shot and killed, and so have several rangers.

The traditional method of catching poachers is to simply look for them, but that is a little like looking for a needle in a haystack. Only it’s not a needle but a bomb that rangers might find.

Anti-poaching work is dangerous, difficult and is often an unrewarding and thankless job. I joined a patrol in the Masai Mara with the Mara Triangle rangers a few years ago. My place was somewhere near the back of a line of rangers. We walked carefully, eyes peeled and ears cocked. From time to time someone would see something or catch a smell or a sound. The line would freeze, silent messages would be communicated down the chain through hand motions. We would all hold our breaths, crouch slowly, our green uniforms dissolving into the vegetation until the signal to move on is given. We marched for hours before we came upon the first poachers camp. It was the smell of stale smoke that gave it away. Rangers fanned out, someone felt the coals in the fire — cold. They searched the bushes and found an aluminum pan, scraps of ugali clung to the sides. We all smelled it — fresh. This was only a few hours old but the poachers had fled. In whispers the rangers explained how they could read the scene: these poachers had camped here for some time, as there was evidence of tiny pieces of dried meat that had been hung in the bushes, and spilled sugar.

But on this day they had left in a hurry leaving behind a few items including the sufuria. The poachers camp was deep in the reserve, and they had remained undetected for days. They were risking attack from wild animals like lions, elephant and buffalo as well as rangers. They numbered only 4 or 5 men and had used the camp as a base. They moved only at night. To avoid detection they had not built any kind of shelter, but were sleeping under the stars. It must have been miserable, cold and wet.

We collected the pot and moved on, hugging the river line as we moved. It was hot and our clothes were soaked in sweat. The main line of rangers moved carefully, one or two men searched the thickets just out of eyesight. These guys would spot any danger first. The rangers told me that they had to be careful as the poachers were experts — they knew every dimple and bush on the land. They could easily attack a patrol. Suddenly the radio exploded into loud crackling, and with a wave from the corporal at the front, the entire team took off into the bush at a fast run, guns cocked. I chased after them until we arrived out of breath at the rendezvous point where four other rangers stood over the body of a bleeding lioness.

She was already dead, and I felt sick. My mind was racing. Who would shoot a lion? What did they want?  A few minutes of crime scene investigation revealed that what could have easily been mistaken for a bullet wound to the neck was actually a natural death. A warthog resting in the hole nearby was the culprit – and its broken tooth lying nearby gave it away. To prove the point to me one ranger poked a stick into the hole and the angry warthog erupted furiously from its den like an explosion, sending all of us scattering for our lives. The rangers burst into loud laughs, then gathered around the dead lioness and lit those strong local cigarettes and retold the story as they puffed. On that trip the rangers earned my full respect.

Most of the time anti-poaching forces are better equipped and trained than poachers and can confidently out-do them. William Kimosop in Baringo Kerio Valley says his rangers are all locally recruited and many are former poachers. This gives poachers an opportunity to be reformed and to make an honest living. William invests time in developing a friendship with ex-poachers, and invites them to join him on anti-poaching patrols. He says he acknowledges their vast knowledge and experience, and this recognition plays a key role in shifting the relationship and creating the best conservationists. Being from the local community where everyone knows everyone means that Kimosop has the entire community as his eyes and ears. He cultivates this relationship by attending all village activities and events and by being there for the community through the good and the bad times.

Richard Bonham in Mbirikani and Kimana near Amboseli National Park agrees. “Some of Kenya’s most enthusiastic rangers are from the local community,” he said. “To them patrols are a way of life that they were born into. These rangers have grown up surrounded by wildlife, and for them, being a ranger is protecting their own asset. We incentivize successful patrols that lead to arrests through recognition and bonuses.”

But this model only seems to work where poaching isn’t worth the big money. In the middle of the rift valley and to the west of the Tugen Hills where Kimosop works lies the spectacular Kerio Valley where hard core bandits have started elephant poaching. Kimosop’s community rangers can’t compete against these hired guns. Here even the most wildlife-friendly individuals in the community can be seduced with payments for information about where the elephants are. Nobody wants to encounter these poachers. They comprise small teams of specialized and well-equipped men who know where to go, how to find elephants or rhinos, and how to avoid getting caught. They are well organized, operate strategically and are part of or are hired by criminal cartels. Through their networks they obtain illegal weapons and infiltrate wildlife enforcement arrangements in parks, reserves and conservancies. They earn more than a ranger and their equipment — illegal military grade guns, sights and night vision equipment — is far superior to even the best-equipped rangers in the country. Poachers in north Kenya are stealing equipment from the British Army training center.

Responding to this new kind of poachers requires a specialized response, and in northern Kenya the war has gone decidedly high tech with militarized forces, aircraft, drones, attack dogs, sniffer dogs and even DNA analysis of specimens. The success rate of arrests is high, but sadly it is not making the difference it could. Arrested suspects are taking advantage of weak legislation. They carry cash for bail, and even get legal representation. Magistrates regularly let these suspects out on bail and many are never seen again. Cases are regularly dismissed due to inadequate evidence or suspects plead guilty and are released on small cash fines.

Now Kenyans are taking the war against poachers to the judiciary. It is the prosecution of cases that is letting down Kenya’s wildlife. In their own blog, Richard Bonham of Big Life laments the delays in concluding the case of a poacher responsible for the killing of a famous Amboseli elephant named Kumqut. Arrested in September 2012, the suspect named Pekee was released on bail, and, though there have been four hearings, he has not been convicted. The conclusion of this case has been delayed again. Bonham is not at all certain that even if the court finds him guilty, that the man will receive a significant penalty. For now Pekee is out on the streets and he is likely to be organizing more poaching.

A quick survey of courts in the Mt Kenya area reveal that poachers and dealers charged with poaching or dealing  in wildlife trophies are fined as little as Ksh 2,500 or sentenced to serve probation or community service. At this rate, the enemy of conservation is the magistrates. In their defense, magistrates argue that most cases are poorly investigated and there are often problems with the handling of evidence, which works in favor of the suspect. KWS is also overwhelmed, with only three prosecutors and more than 2,000 cases to prosecute each year. It is no surprise that they can only handle a small fraction of the total cases.

The bulk of wildlife cases are prosecuted by the police who are not specialized on wildlife prosecutions. The average case takes several years, and, in that time, hearings are postponed, witnesses disappear, evidence gets lost and suspects on bail either disappear, or get caught involved in another crime and get released on bail yet again.

Courageous journalist Kibiwott  Koross of The Star newspaper revealed the names of key ivory dealers in the Samburu area and brought to Kenya’s attention the failure of the judicial system. He hoped that the outcome of his story titled “The Untouchables” would lead to immediate investigations and arrests. Ironically, all of the men he named are still on the streets, and it is Kibiwott who is in hiding. According to one senior wildlife enforcement officer who wishes to remain anonymous, “The situation is very bad and it is getting worse. Our mistake was to ignore the signs years ago. We could have stopped them when the poachers were just a handful of guys. Now, most of the incidents involve inside jobs in both the government and private sector. It’s now getting out of hand and we cannot afford to let the situation get completely out of control.”

The impunity of wildlife crime in Kenya is a problem that cannot go unchallenged. The tourism industry is now threatened, as is the future of Kenya’s tourism economy. The challenge has led to many positive advances. Today there is much greater collaboration between KWS and private conservation organizations including data sharing and support in anti-poaching efforts though there is consensus that much more could be done. KWS has reinforced the anti-poaching patrols and created a special unit to deal with it. In response to the pressure, the government is releasing additional funds to hire 1,000 more men, purchase more high tech equipment and aircraft.

But without a law that bites, it’s worse than futile. Increasingly frequently anti-poaching forces simply gun down suspected poachers rather than conduct arrests. But it’s the demand in Asia that is driving the problem, and the Chinese and Vietnamese ivory smugglers who are winning. All those caught in Kenya have been making off on guilty pleas with the full knowledge that the penalty is a minor fine.

At the recently concluded Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, Kenya was held to task for failing to enact relevant legislation that would discourage poaching. Indeed, the failure of Kenyan courts to prosecute wildlife criminals robustly is probably driving the extraordinary impunity in this sector. It’s not just that the Wildlife Act penalties are out of date with the value of the crimes, but even this is not being applied effectively. Court cases in Nanyuki Nyeri, Narok, Voi, and other towns reveal that most wildlife cases are poorly prosecuted, and 90 percent of suspects make a guilty plea and are released with a penalty of a minor fine. The Kenyan government has finally agreed to elevate the seriousness of wildlife crimes and employ the full range of criminal offences that could apply; this includes the Organized Crime Act, the Proceeds of Organized Crime Act, and the Corruption and Economic Crimes Act. Conviction under any of these pieces of legislation would mean 13 years in jail at a minimum. Eliminating just one of these middle men could cut off the supply chain from hundreds of poachers and cripple the criminal networks.

While Kenya is waking up to the scale of the crisis and is proposing new legal measures to halt the poaching, many know that the war cannot be won unless we address the problem at source. The escalating demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asian countries has driven up the prices making poaching and trafficking of these products a lucrative business. Ultimately we need to persuade the demand countries in Asia, especially China, Thailand and the Philippines, to reduce or eliminate the demand in their countries. It is their lust for ivory that threatens a global heritage and the economies of Africa.

Despite all the bad news, the Kenyan government is waking up. The First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta has joined WildlifeDirect’s campaign Hands Off Our Elephants as the champion of the cause. Seen to many as Kenya’s Michelle Obama, Mrs. Kenyatta is intelligent, elegant and courageous. She is hugely loved by the nation. Her involvement is backed by others including Kenyan elite runners, athletes and sports men and women, art and fashion celebrities, musicians and super models, government institutions, corporations like Kenya Airways, community and political leaders and the general public. Our message to China is that we are taking responsibility, we are cracking down on poachers and dealers, and they will go to jail. But we want buyers of ivory to get their hands off our elephants. Until China takes responsibility for its role in driving up the demand, the price of ivory will continue to rise and the worlds elephants will remain at risk of extinction.

The original link of the column above is: http://chqdaily.com/2013/07/01/morning-lecture-guest-column-saving-elephants-conservation-dilemmas/



 Paula Kahumbu – WildlifeDirect’s CEO talks about the new campaign against poaching

Hands Off Campaign Banner

Why are you so outspoken about conservation and the poaching situation?

I am one of 9 kids and we were raised on a farm on the outskirts of Nairobi. Wildlife was an everyday part of my childhood. We had monkeys in the garden, buffalo, lions and leopards, tons of birds and reptiles. When we were sent out to play, we would explore the woods, swamps and streams, and we caught everything we could find. But none of us knew what these animals were, so we would take them to our neighbor, Richard Leakey and he would tell us the most amazing things about every mouse, bird or lizard. I decided then that I wanted to be a wildlife ranger.  I am saddened that most children in Kenya and around the world can no longer enjoy nature the way that I did as a child and my work aims to reverse this situation.

What are you doing?

I run WildlifeDirect a Kenyan based charity that is also registered in USA.  WildlifeDirect shines a light on conservation heroes across Africa and develops strategies and campaign on emerging conservation crises. Today elephants are facing extinction. They are being slaughtered at unsustainable rates all across Africa.  I work with many sectors of government, with scientists and with local communities to raise awareness and to address the problems. I assist the government on policy and legislation, and I lobby for changes in laws that will improve wildlife conservation in Kenya, as well as across Africa.  

We are launching a new campaign HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS which aims to bring African leadership to the forefront to address the poaching epidemic head on.  African elephants are facing an unprecedented threat, across the continent there is a net decline of the populations, and even places that were previously safe are now being targeted. According to the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, Africa’s elephants have declined by 53,000 fewer elephants since 2007 and at this rate of decline, they will be extinct in the wild within 10 – 15 years. CITES estimates that 25,000 elephants were poached in 2011 and this rose to 30,000 in 2012. Given the massive ivory seizures already this year, which represent a fraction of the ivory in illegal trade, we expect the toll to be even higher this year. Africa and the world cannot afford to lose them.  Elephants and other wildlife represent more than our heritage, they represent one of the few natural resources that African economies can depend on, if elephants go extinct in the wild, Africa loses all the future economic potential for ecotourism which is currently  worth over 120 billion in Kenya alone.  

Hands Off Our Elephants

How did you get into conservation?

After high school I helped Dr. Iain Douglas Hamilton of Save the Elephants to conduct an inventory of Kenya’s ivory stockpile – that experience left me devastated at the crisis facing elephants in the 1980’s. I measured tusks of baby elephants that had been shot for their ivory. I knew that I had to do something and ever since then I’ve been involved in conservation. For my PhD research at Princeton University I studied elephants in Kenya, it was a possibility that future generations may not have the privilege of enjoying.

What can be done about the elephant poaching crisis?

Two factors that are working in tandem make for a deadly situation for African elephants. First the price of ivory is increasing due to growing affluence in the Far East especially China, Thailand, Philippines and other Asian countries. This enormous demand for ivory in the Far East is driving up prices of the ivory and this creates the incentive for poachers and dealers in Africa. They benefit from the ongoing conflicts in Africa which make weapons easy to access, and most of all, they take advantage of high levels of corruption. This is particularly true in Kenya where minor penalties combined with corruption at ports and on highways makes it easy to transport and export ivory through the borders, shipping ports and airports. Ivory has become such a valuable commodity that militias are using profits from the trade to fuel instability in places like Somalia, Sudan and Central Africa. The illicit trade in ivory has reached the highest level in at least the last 16 years. 

African governments are trying to stop the poaching, but alone none can succeed. Saving elephants requires a coordinated global solution is needed. Studies by National Geographic, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Save the Elephants  and the Environmental Investigation Agency reveal that about 85% of middle class Chinese would like to own ivory. Imagine if only 1% of them could obtain 1 kg each, worth about 2,000 dollars. That would amount to about 700,000 tons of ivory, or 700,000 elephants, which is more than the entire population of elephants in Africa! And that’s just China which represents only 50% of the global demand!

If you combine the demand for ivory in key markets of China with that of Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Europe, USA and Australia, the situation facing elephants is critical.  Is so massive that despite enormous investments in anti-poaching new laws and intensive enforcement in Africa, it is virtually impossible slow down the poachers and ivory trafficking cartels.

Will elephants be saved from extinction?

To save elephants, from the current crisis, the world must unite, demand must be extinguished, poaching and trafficking cartels crushed, and elephants protected as the national treasures of African and Asian range states, and global heritage. It can be done, we have been here before.

In 1989 Elephants almost were on the road to extinction. One country, Kenya stood apart, she burned the ivory and sent a message to the world that remains the most  significant demonstration of commitment to elephant conservation. Once again, Kenya is in the limelight. The government of Kenya has elevated the seriousness with which wildlife crime is handled in Kenya through a bold new piece of law that will be passed in coming months. The penalties for poaching and trafficking wildlife products will be on par with drugs trafficking. Through Kenya’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta WildlifeDirect’s campaign HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS is creating awareness and action in Kenya and major Kenyan organizations like Kenya Airways, and the Kenya Tourism Board are partnering on this campaign. WildlifeDirect’s Chairman, John Heminway, a National Geographic documentary director, wil be premiering his latest under cover exposee of the ivory trade in the newly released film “Battle For the Elephants” in Nairobi in July. Everyone must watch this movie to really understand the scale of this crisis.

Dr. Paula and the First Lady

The First Lady feeding a baby elephant


Kenya's First Lady (in hat), Paula and Jim
Kenya’s First Lady (in hat), Paula and Jim

Amboseli Trust for Elephants celebrates 40 years but elephants are still dying

Today the Amboseli Trust for Elephants celebrated 40 years of elephant research that has revealed the secret world of elephants to us. The event symbolically held at the Ivory burn site in Nairobi National Park where Richard Leakey, then Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, and Daniel Arap Moi , the president Kenya, set alight 12 tons of ivory worth USD 3 million in 1989 to eliminate the national stockpile and send a message to the world that Kenya was taking a principled stand against the ivory trade. I find it sad that as we celebrate we cannot ignore the fact that thousands of elephants across Africa are once again being massacred for the ivory trade.

Harvey Croze, Cynthia Moss and KWS officers celebrate

In her statement Cynthia Moss, the head of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, noted that this is the longest running study of elephants anywhere in the world and apart from extending our scientific knowledge about elephant intelligence, society, communication and  a host of other discoveries, the project had brought elephants to the world as female led families with values  that humans can only envy. The project, which started in 1972, witnessed the terrible 15 years of all out poaching that included government sponsored or facilitated elephant poaching that decimated 85% of Kenya’s elephants . The period ended with  the dismantling of the Wildlife Conservation Management Department and the creation of the Kenya Wildlife Service. Today with 1,500 elephants in the study, the Amboseli elephant population has more than doubled from where they started.

The event was attended by a number of elephant scientists including Iain Douglas-Hamilton who runs Save the Elephants under whom Cynthia Moss first trained, Esmond Martin who studies ivory trade, and Joyce Poole who conducted her PhD research on elephants in Amboseli. Representatives of government included the Former Director of KWS Julius Kipngetich and a number of high ranking KWS officials.  During his speech, the Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service, the government authority responsible for wildlife management, David Mwiraria, congratulated the project for contributing so much to Kenya and the world. He noted the introduction of the community consolation scheme started in 1997 which serves to respond to livestock losses to elephants.

What he didn’t mention, and what nobody spoke about openly, was that Amboseli is once again the playground of poachers. In their own blog post, the ATE reports the loss of the QB family after Qumquat and her daughters were violently gunned down on the edge of Amboseli National Park.This video illustrates the deadly methods used by poachers, well armed and extremely quick elephant herds are gunned down within meters of each other. (Warning this video shows dead elephants and the capture of a distressed elephant baby. Some viewers may find it disturbing).

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This suggests military precision and the possibility that poachers have some sort of military training. One person noted that “Back in the 2000 the KWS was only just getting established, we had staff few, basic training and limited technology”. Today with far better equipment, more staff and highly trained ones at that, the authority cannot contain the poaching. Why?” he asked. I can only conclude that the scale of poaching is much worse than ever before and we just can’t keep up with it.

I have been seeking views on what people perceive is the greatest challenges facing elephants is today. Here are some of the responses ranked in order of importance

  1. Demand or ivory  in China. Everyone agrees that demand for ivory, especially the Chinese is the driving force behind the rapid rise in elephant poaching. The argument goes that ivory has always been part of the Chinese culture as a status symbol. The rising wealth of the middle class Chinese has exploded the demand creating a crisis for elephants as demand far outstrips availability.
  2. The presence of bad elements throughout Kenya known to be involved in this business– he meant the presence of Chinese and Somali’s who place orders on ivory. Cartels that deal in drugs, arms, illegal goods and contraband, and even human trafficking have networks on the ground in remote corners of the country and can obtain ivory easily using cell phone ordering.
  3.  Corruption in Kenya and possible involvement of high ranking officials makes it easy for dealers to move ivory through Kenya and other African countries.
  4. Poor legislation and lack of enforcement has allowed dealers, poachers and now traffickers to get off easily
  5. Ineffective anti-poaching country wide –  Despite the gains, anti-poaching and intelligence gathering is always one step behind poachers.

I would make a personal addition, one of the greatest threats to elephants is the total lack of will from African governments to deal with the Chinese who are now important donors and trade partners. Embarrassingly, the USA which is not an elephant range state, when Hillary Clinton have come out with the strongest language and commitment to date on the scale and risk of the escalating poaching problem.

Do you agree with these five ? What else do you think contributes to the problem?