The plight of African elephants is receiving global attention this week as four key events came together in USA; the Clinton Global Initiative on 26 September, the March for Elephants on 4 October (http://www.iworry.org/join-the-march-2/#.Ukl899KsjLQ), the sentencing of Victor Gordon a notorious American ivory trafficker on 7 October, and the crush of 6 tons of American ivory in Denver on 8 October.
At the Clinton Global initiative on 26 September, 7 African Nations joined Hillary and Chelsea Clinton in a commitment to end the slaughter of elephants by banning domestic trade in ivory, stopping the killing of elephants, stopping the trafficking of ivory, and stopping the demand for ivory. The countries included Botswana, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi, and Uganda.
Richard Leakey, founder of WildlifeDirect and the man who is credited with saving elephants from extinction in 1989 by engineering the first ever and most iconic bonfire of ivory in 1989 said “I congratulate Senator Clinton for her actions and commitment and am all for each nation taking responsibility for saving one of the world’s most magnificent animals. I hope that the USA will follow these African nations and ban domestic trade in ivory in the USA and provide support for strategic African initiatives to save elephants and stop the poaching”.
Included in the commitment were several international conservation organizations including the Kenyan organization WildlifeDirect represented by the CEO Paula Kahumbu. WildlifeDirect has launched its own high profile campaign Hands Off Our Elephants spearheaded by Kenya’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta. She has called for a global ban on domestic trade. WildlifeDirect has been instrumental in changing and enforcing laws in Kenya and East Africa, by demanding more severe penalties. A study by WildlifeDirect reveals that fewer than 5 percent of convictions for wildlife crimes lead to jail sentences. Not surprisingly, suspected elephant killers and ivory traffickers plead guilty in order to hasten the case and gain a light sentence. Most cases last only 24 hours and most convictions result in a fine of 100-300 dollars. The laxity of the courts had been driving impunity and encouraging poaching, but now the magistrates are delivering jail sentences of 3 to 5 years. Any time in jail is bad in Kenya, but WildlifeDirect says this is still not enough and is pushing for seizure of assets, prosecution under the Organized crime Act and Economic Crimes Act, and minimum jail sentences of 15 years in a proposed new legislation that is expected to pass in coming weeks.
On the heels of the much publicized Clinton Global Initiative commitments for elephants comes the Elephant March a campaign by the Kenyan based David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Millions of people are expected to participate on 4 October in cities around the world. This is one of the things that citizens around the world can do to demonstrate their concern about the elephant slaughter.
All this attention to elephants is well deserved. Ivory is leaving Africa at an unprecedented rate, part of a surge in poaching that could lead to the extinction of the elephant within 10 years if it is not halted. But it is not just about elephants, the illegal trade in ivory is fueling conflicts and terrorism including the deadly attacks on a shopping mall in Kenya, and the United States is not exempt from the problem.
Ivory seized in 2011
Ironically ivory trade is permitted in the USA and while it involves mostly old pre-ban ivory, like the situation in China, the legal trade is being used as a cover for a significant amount of illegal trade. Indeed, although China is ranked as the top consumer of illegal ivory, the USA is considered the second largest market in the world.
Indeed the ivory crush will include ivory items seized last year when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service working with New York state authorities seized more than $2 million worth of ivory from two New York City shops. Dan Stiles writes in Swara Magazine report that New York and San Francisco “appear to be gateway cities for illegal ivory import in the USA….China is not the only culprit promoting elephant poaching through its illegal ivory markets. The USA is right there with them.”
Attention then must be drawn to the case of a Philadelphia-based ivory smuggler, Victor Gordon, who was arrested in connection with one of the largest U.S. seizures of illegally imported ivory in July of 2011 (http://www.fws.gov/le/pdf/press-release-doj-gordon-pleads-guilty-smuggling-african-elephant.pdf). More than one ton of elephant ivory was seized. He pleaded guilty on 27 September 2012 and faces up to 20 years in prison. His lawyer, Daniel-Paul Alva, told the Wall St. Journal his client has been cooperating with the investigation, and was “an innocent dupe.” He has already managed to postpone his sentencing for over a year. This would be unthinkable in Africa. The new date is Monday, 7 October at 11am. The US prosecuting attorney is Darren A. LaVerne, and the venue, the US Eastern District Court in Brooklyn, New York, 271 Cadman Plaza East.
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
Four rhinos were killed in Kenya’s deadliest week this year according to KWS. On 23rd May poachers shot to death one rhino in Lake Nakuru National Park. Then on Saturday 26th of May they struck two sites, Solio Ranch near Nyeri, and Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park killing one rhino in each protected area. Then, on Sunday 27th May they struck again at Meru National Park shooting yet another rhino dead. Although the authorities heard the gunshots, all the horns from the rhinos were taken.
Gunned down in the light of a full moon
This coordinated attack comes after 2 weeks of relative quiet – the last attempt at killing a rhino was recorded in Solio over 2 weeks ago, and the last successful attack was 3 weeks ago in Nakuru National Park. The Kenya Wildlife Service puts the toll at 21 rhino killed to date in 2013 – a major increase from last year when the country lost 30 rhino. The Kenya Wildlife Service puts Kenya’s official rhino population at just over one thousand individuals, however Richard Leakey, the former Director of KWS is doubtful.
“I am not surprised at this attack and when it comes time to do an accounting of our rhinos, I would be surprised if there were more than 500 individuals”
Leakey said on phone from USA.
In response to the latest killings, the Kenya Wildlife Service has mounted a major operation in pursuit of poachers. In a press release issued late on Monday, they state that “security teams are following crucial leads and expect to catch up with the perpetrators of the heinous crime.”
Speaking from Laikipia, Batian Craig, Director of 51 Degrees Ltd, a security company with management oversight in Ol Pejeta and Lewa Conservancies notes that the coordinated attacks are not surprising. “Poaching always goes up during a full moon, the rhino are easiest to spot and to shoot.” he laments.
On the future outlook Craig adds
“What we have is a small number of people threatening the economic value of rhinos to 43 million Kenyans. These people are a security threat to Kenya. While we are not yet losing this war, but we are at a tipping point. We could arrest this crisis now by taking advantage of the global world attention, positive changes in government and the recent motion in parliament to elevate penalties for wildlife crime.”
Reforming Kenyan laws
He is referring to a recent news that Kenyan members of parliament voted almost unanimously to raise penalties for wildlife poaching and trafficking of wildlife products on Wednesday 22nd of May. This decision clears the way for the creation of emergency legislation to raise penalties to up to 15 years in jail and fines amounting to millions of shillings. Currently poachers and traffickers have been facing penalties amounting to a less than USD 500 in Kenya.
To Kenyans feels as if Kenya is losing the battle against poachers. Kenya has already lost 21 rhinos since January 1st, and 117 elephants. Out of these elephants, 37 were killed in protected areas while 80 were outside protected areas. Last year, Kenya lost 384 elephants and 30 rhinos to criminals. According to the authorities who wish to remain anonymous, the poaching is being conducted by organized crime syndicates and with internal involvement and international links.
Demand in Vietnam – not traditional
Rhino trade expert Esmond Bradley Martin says the main problem facing rhino’s is in Vietnam.
“Rhino horn has always been rare and was important in European, African and Asian cultures where it was carved. It was always rare, expensive and valuable. Previously only the rich could afford it, but now the nouveau riche can afford it. But even more worrying is the new trends in how it is being used. They are using it for aphrodisiacs, grinding it into food, and claim they are curing cancer with it. They had no tradition of using it for these purposes, it’s all new and contrary to traditional medicine in Vietnam”.
If the situation is bad in Kenya, in South Africa it is catastrophic. The country has already lost 350 rhinos this year. According to Martin the rocketing value of rhino horn is a major reason for the ongoing slaughter of rhinos in Africa. Only 6 years ago it was valued at USD 4-5000/kg. Today it goes for ten times that amount and more in Vietnam. This week poachers will have made tens of thousands of dollars each. The combined weight of eight rhino horns is approximately 24 – 32 kg. At these prices the challenge of halting the crisis seems remote.
Kenya should emulate unique success in rhino protection in Nepal
But surprisingly this is not so. Nepal is one of the poorest counties in the world, and it suffers from extremely poor governance. Yet they have managed to control the situation. Last year Nepal lost only 1 rhino, and only one the year before. Martin is finalizing an analysis of the situation and says he believes that there are four key reasons for this success.
First, the Prime Minister has taken personal interest in the crisis and has created three new organizations to tackle wildlife crime. Secondly, the law enforcement focus is on combating traders. Thirdly, the communities benefit from parks by receiving 50% of the proceeds. This means they support the parks and conduct their own voluntary patrols long the boundaries of the parks. Finally, the role of the army in anti-poaching has been expanded from 7 posts to 51 posts in Chitwan National Park alone – this park is home to 503 of the countries 534 rhinos.
The success in Chitwan may have direct application in Kenya and South Africa if the Presidents of the two countries make it their personal mission to save rhinos.
105.5 XFM INTERVIEW On Monday 6th May 7.30 am – 8.30 am at Lion Place
Fareed Khimani: as promised we have Paula Kahumbu back in studio with us this morning, well it?s kind of a follow up.
Paula Kahumbu: it is, yeah
Fareed Khimani: well come again by the way, you are now officially the most visited, the….. how do you put that…
Paula Kahumbu: Am your most frequent visitor. Oh My God!
Fareed Khimani: of 2013, yes! And also my only one, no am joking, you are not my only one but you are my most frequent one in 2013 coz you have been invited back again. And we will keep bringing you back as long as we are making progress in this battle that you have been doing for years, that you have exposed me to over the course of last couple of months and I have taken a keen interest in your work and the great work you are doing. For those are not aware of what Dr. Paula Kahumbu does, she saves lives of elephants and other wildlife but elephants
Fareed Khimani: I know it’s much more, much more detailed than that but I know that the ultimate goal is to make sure that this senseless killing of animals stops, but you can tell us a little bit about yourself for those who didn’t manage to catch us together few weeks back.
Paula Kahumbu: well first, thank you so much Fareed for inviting me back again, it?s another spectacular morning, I was thinking as I was coming in, you should invite me in more coz I bring on the sunshine
Fareed Khimani: You bring the sunshine! Imagine going back to school on the first day and it?s raining how awful that would feel?
Paula Kahumbu: today is just spectacular.
Fareed Khimani: it is beautiful
Paula Kahumbu: and it’s a great day to also share with you that, since the last time we met which was just two weeks ago, so much has happened and I just want to tell you all about it but, the main thing was something which I actually put out on twitter because it was so phenomenon: the Director of Public prosecutions Keriako Tobiko, responded to what we’ve been saying and even in the letters we have been sending, not just me, I mean am here alone but if I was to bring in all the people who support me in this, this building would fall down. We’ve been challenging the judiciary, to take these things more seriously and the DPP announced last week that his office is taking over the prosecutions of wildlife crimes. He actually talks about specifically about creating units in various parts of the country, to take on these crimes and the very first one is an incident in Nanyuki. Couple of weeks ago, a rhino was killed. He was poached, speared by local people. The local community elders put out a curse, they threatened to get these guys through a curse if they didn’t come and confess. They did, they came in and they confessed. They said we did it.
Paula Kahumbu: That?s the value of the rhino horns alone,
Fareed Khimani: Wow! And you are fined forty thousand!
Paula Kahumbu: and you are fined forty thousand, that?s what the law says. That?s how the magistrates have been handling it. We asked the DPP, Mr Tobiko to address this as a much high crime and he’s taken this on. So these men have now been arrested, they are now in the cells, were prosecuted not just by the Kenya Wildlife service, but by the DPP’s own representative from Nyeri, he was driven up to Nanyuki. They took on this case; these guys each of them were bailed at a million shillings, which is a record for this country, plus two sureties of a million shillings each, that means each of them had to raise three million shillings, if they were to get out of the cells. Of course they can’t raise that.
Fareed Khimani: so they are there
Paula Kahumbu: so they are there and this is really is a test case. This is what we’ve been asking for so we are just so thrilled that finally its happening and it?s about time too because today is a special day, I don?t know if you know that the United Nation has just announced that as a body they recognize wildlife crime as a serious crime.
Fareed Khimani: Ok. That was today or that was…
Paula Kahumbu: that is happening today, there is a massive press conference happening at the UNEP.
Fareed Khimani: that’s awesome. And now you talk about this Chinese actress and she is very beautiful Li Bingbing. Who, will be in UNEP today.
Paula Kahumbu: Stop Drooling!
Fareed Khimani: sorry. Let me close the page then and go back to twitter. But also obviously last time we spoke we said that a lot of these wildlife crimes is coming from the east, from far east and we spoke about a guy, I think he was Vietnamese if am not mistaken. Paula Kahumbu: absolutely! Fareed Khimani: so this particular figure head from China coming in to be sort of a face for the anti-poaching movement is a huge step forward for the Chinese government as well, I would assume or at least Chinese cinemas whatever the case maybe to actually say Hey Ho! This is our problem and we must deal with it and this is, now this is gonna be the face of sort of anti poaching movement from the East. Paula Kahumbu: Absolutely, Li Bingbing is the second person to come to Kenya with the same mission, the other one was Yao Ming. Remember that famous Chinese basket ball player?
Fareed Khimani: sure! Absolutely the 7 foot 3inches. huge guy.
Paula Kahumbu: No! No! 7 foot 6 inches as
Fareed Khimani: 7?6, frankly he is the rocket. Brilliant!
Paula Kahumbu: he is amazing. Yes. It is extremely significant that we have Chinese super stars, celebrities, people who can influence the Chinese people. And people worldwide because
these are worldwide super stars, who are saying,; when the buying stops the killing stops too. So basically they are saying stop buying ivory. They are trying to appeal to the people of the world to stop buying ivory which is just simply used as trinkets and fashion statements. They are saying, “don?t do it, it?s killing elephants”.
Fareed Khimani: just buy diamonds. What?s the problem? I mean, Jesus! I don?t understand. Anyway, so we are moving somewhere which is great. Now, obviously you have a lot more to tell us, a lot more stories coming our way. I did wanna ask you this, last week you… and I will tell you this, you tweeted a thing this morning. Was it… did you tweet this morning? You did, right? Saying you gonna be on the show from 7.30
Paula Kahumbu: yes
Fareed Khimani: response to you being here, I think my listenership goes to the roof when you are on the show.
Paula Kahumbu: oh! That’s great
Fareed Khimani: so you can come back whenever you want actually. It could be you and of course the Samsung galaxy S4, which we are giving away on Friday, but regardless you are here which is great. So we have so much to get through today and of course we will still push the ways our listeners can help, what they can do and also a little bit of stuff you didn’t know that this particular… can we call it a pandemic? Paula Kahumbu: it?s a crisis. It’s not just Kenya is a global crisis affecting elephants across the continent. Sudan has just announced their elephants have declined from 130 000 twenty years ago to fewer than 5,000 today. Fareed Khimani: there you go Paula Kahumbu: this is just a massive, just phenomenon decline of elephants. Fareed Khimani: And we here in Kenya are the sort of the transport hub for the rest of the continent or partly one side of the continent anyway
Paula Kahumbu: we are the transiting hub which is what is so scary. You know; am just going to tell you something else Fareed which am not sure if you have thought about this. Those letters that a child from the US wrote to president Obama, to president Xijin Ping president of China and President Uhuru Kenyatta, it?s the most adorable letter. He says “Dear Mr. President for all the children and elephants in the world, we ask you from our hearts, please stop the elephant poaching in Africa and the illegal trade of Ivory in China. Poachers in Africa killing elephants because many people in China as well as other Asian Countries are buying Ivory which comes from the tusks of the elephant. It poachers keep killing elephants at this rate, they will extinct before we are even out of high school”
Fareed Khimani: My Goodness!
Paula Kahumbu: can you imagine this is a little child, who?s written to say, you know; can you imagine the world without elephants.
Fareed Khimani: that’s ridiculous
Paula Kahumbu: think about your son, is four months old. What would it be like if he grew up and the only thing you could tell him about elephants is, have a look at this picture; when I was a kid they were around but they are gone.
Fareed Khimani: it will be almost like telling your kids about dinosaurs I suppose and in that respect.
Paula Kahumbu: Exactly
Fareed Khimani: that’s really sad and that really puts it in the perspective as well and yes it’s actually a fact if it doesn’t stop before this kid or my son is out of high school we won’t have elephants grazing in the bush.
Paula Kahumbu: it’s really puts an imperative to our generation to make a difference.
Fareed Khimani: ok, but progress is being made and there is still more we can do. We will get more into it, more into details more into the nitty gritty
The destruction being caused both sides I supposes and how we help to improve the situation that is of course is our wonderful tourist attraction, which is our wildlife if you look at it in plain and simple terms the country will suffer, in terms of its economy if we continue killing this animals. However its not about our country?s economy its bout the lives of this wonderful creatures.
Paula Kahumbu: Of course and you know Fareed, as kids we grew up with these incredible documentaries on television and we fell in love with our nature and wildlife. At some point I will tell you a bit of why I do this but just want to tell you that you know, it?s not… I don?t think it?s fair to convince all Kenyans that the only reason why should save this animals is so the tourist can enjoy them,
Fareed Khimani: Right
Paula Kahumbu: Because, yes that a big economic imperative and that what we were told as kids, but think about it we would lose key species, this is part of our national heritage. Kenya really is the birth place of humanity, we evolved with these animals and I think that?s why we have this natural instinct to protect wildlife. I was just told yesterday that in Wajir, a community caught a cheetah that had just killed 10 sheep. Now in most part of this country you would expect the first thing to do is kill the thing and then call the KWS. These guys didn’t do that, they held this cheetah for 2 days, fed it tied it then they matched it down on to the police station and they said to the police “you take care of this animal this is our national heritage”.
Fareed Khimani: Really? What a lovely story
Paula Kahumbu: Exactly I think it’s so extra ordinary that what we have is so special in this country compared to nowhere else in the world. Nowhere else is there the dawn of mankind really,
Fareed Khimani: It?s almost like a mothering sort of parenting type of outlook the story from Wajir.
Paula Kahumbu: And these are not people who are wealthy and care about cheetahs in way maybe a rich American might. So I think it?s really does…. It’s something need to value, our
human connection to our natural environment, to the wilderness, to the wildlife species we evolved with and that why I think we are so attached to it.
But think about all the other elements of what happens when we have this poaching that escalates so Kenya as an international hub for trafficking of ivory means we are attracting criminal cartels to this country because it’s easy to operate it here. It’s easy because of corruption and because the penalties are so low, that means our cost for securing this wildlife is just rocketing, that means we are taking money from other areas of development or wildlife protection because we are so busy chasing down poachers, our economic growth is affected partly because of tourism as well but also just think of the economic potential of those communities who live in places with lots of wildlife. They can’t promote wildlife because there are these gangsters roaming around with guns. Which tourist would go in place like that?
Fareed Khimani: They are afraid. Absolutely
Paula Kahumbu: So that clearly affects their economic potential but also affects them directly. Communities are being attacked by gangsters. If they can’t find elephants they will actually attack people because they are hungry. They will even rape people
Fareed Khimani: Yeah, what’s the deterrent now we talked about it last week; we have touched already on it this morning. Is it different penalties, different fines, but again you can double triple, quadruple a fine, some will bail this guys out. What is it really…what is in your opinion how we stop this from happening? Is it in education or is it a combination of many things.
Paula Kahumbu: It’s absolutely a combination of everything so the reason why we are seeing these escalation is because partly impunity. The fact that the penalties are so low actually gives these guys license to keep doing this because they know they can get off. They can get off very easily, so we really need do to change this culture in the country – citizens have to take responsibility and help to restore order. But of course the legal side of it is very critical, The Wildlife Act is out of date; the penalties are too low; that needs to be reformed immediately. The Wildlife Act is huge, it covers all kinds of things but the most important thing that needs to be done right now as a crisis is to address the penalties. We can raise those penalties to the same level of economic crimes or organized crimes which is a minimum of 13 years in jail. That’s what I want. In addition if you get charged with organized crimes, you can actually have all your
assets seized. Now, you know, if you are a dealer just being under investigation means your assets are seized your bank accounts are frozen. That?s a massive disincentive
But as you said big part is education and awareness especially in the countries where there?s demand. We can keep increasing the boots on the ground and everything but so long as the demand is where it’s at in countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, we going to keep adding more and more costs in order to protect our elephants here. It will be a losing race.
Fareed Khimani: Is it …. Sorry I know you have more to say. Is it the more we develop the more we engage in foreign investments, the more we are at risk of losing what is our heritage. I mean that really,….and I know that its sad if it is but is that really … or is it not managing the investment properly not managing the influence properly from the west and the east and all this?
Paula Kahumbu: I think there are two things here, first as I said the demand is huge and the demand has nothing to do with Kenya engagement with any country, the demand is purely because people in Asia have got enough money to buy ivory and their governments in many cases even encouraging it. They have open legal ivory markets in China. The government in a way is agreeing, supporting enabling this trade, 90% of that ivory is illegal ivory. So what we are asking Asian governments to do is to crack down and actually close the ivory trade altogether in recognition of nature of this crisis
Fareed Khimani: But last time you were here you were also saying that a number of people that are wearing and buying the ivory think that when the elephants of rhinos die, the ivory, the tusk or the horn just fall off, that?s where it comes from.
Paula Kahumbu: So a big part of the problem is that they are very misinformed sometimes even by official figures will inform them. For examples in Vietnam, a minister told his people that he was cured of cancer because the rhino horn, this is why the price of the rhino has gone through the roof, because he has persuaded them that this thing which is equivalent to implying that chewing your fingernails can cure you of cancer. It is so ridiculous and yet so powerful because they believe in the power of the animal and size of the animal and the strength of the animal. So Yes, education is massive and it basically means we have to engage at many different levels, we want our president Uhuru Kenyatta to Engage the Chinese Premiere, the Thai Premiere, the
Vietnamese Premiere and actually show a new kind of leadership which we have never seen before.
A lot of people say we have our heads in the clouds, what are you doing? There is no way Kenya could do this. I don?t believe that. We were surprised when we saw the structure of our cabinet, I mean; I don?t think anybody expected that caliber of cabinet secretaries to be selected. We are also used to lowering our standards. I am saying, let?s break that roof.
Fareed Khimani: And it?s a possibility
Paula Kahumbu: Why can’t Uhuru Kenyatta convene a meeting of all these leaders and actually discuss with them what could be done to reduce the demand or eliminate it all together, so that we save the species, it?s not just for Kenya, it?s for the world, it?s for the worlds? future children
Fareed Khimani: Come and see our elephants, absolutely.
I know we focus quite a bit on elephants and obviously that is a passion of yours and probably one of the biggest problems we have at this point is the ivory trade but it is not about just elephants we will get to that just a little, while I got a lot of questions since the last time you were here they are saying how is that you are this person that has become so compassionate towards the wildlife in this country and where did it all come from, so I think let’s start with that because we are never really given, we know what you do but we don’t know why you do it.
Paula Kahumbu: Well thank you for that Fareed it’s such a unique opportunity to be able to tell this story I think that growing up in Kenya is the really the answer to why this country has probably highest concentration of conservations and experts in this field
I grew up in a part of Nairobi that was very wild, it was forested we had buffaloes, leopards and hyenas all over the place. I don?t if you know that am one of nine kids. My family was good Catholics, and we were sent out doors to play and that was our play ground and was literally in the forest the streams the swamps and our neighbor was Richard Leakey. I grew up I am the 6th born so I was very little and my elder sister we had this thing going that we had to catch everything that walks, crawls, or flies or swims or whatever, you catch it and take it to Richard Leakey and see if he knows what it is, because he was so smart and we were sure we will catch
him at some point. So we would catch snake, frogs and birds and take them over to him and he would tell us incredible stuff about them their scientific names , life histories and take them back where we found them and release them again. We were really good about that. I grew up surrounded by this incredible knowledge and this person who was amazingly accessible and so as I grow up, he was always there for me. As I finished high school I applied to university and it was way outside of the price range that my family could afford, my mother thought the best thing for this girl, at least, was that she can be a secretary. So I was sent off the secretarial college to learn how to type and do short hand and all this stuff that was mind numbing . And after the third month that was it I couldn’t take it anymore of it. I ran away with a friend of mine and we got on a bus went to the national museums of Kenya it was the wildest thing I have ever done in my life. I was 17 old we went to national museums and we listened to a seminar about Kora National Reserve which is where George Adamson was and it was all about the research he had been doing. I knew then this is it this is what I wanted do and so I went to Richard Leakey’s office and I knocked on the door and I said, ‘I want to be a ranger’ that was my world and all I wanted to do was be a ranger and work for George Adamson. Richard Leakey was phenomenon, he remembered me from when I was a kid, he talked to me about my grades and what I wanted to do and he said well you know, maybe you don?t want to be a ranger maybe there?s something else. I was sent around the country to these amazing places. I went down to Amboseli and I spent 2 weeks with Cynthia Moss and her Maasai women who know the elephants down there and I got to learn about the elephants.
I spent 2 weeks with Jean Altmann and Philip Muruthi studying baboons also in Amboselli then I was sent to Kiwaiyu the island of the north coast which is famous now for tourism but at the time was so interesting about Kiwaiyu is not just the beaches but there were monkeys on the island. They are separated from the main land and probably has been separated for than thousands of years.
Fareed Khimani: Are you serious? I don?t know that.”
Paula Kahumbu: There are baboons and vervets on that island that are somehow surviving in a marine kind of environment,
Fareed Khimani: “bizarre!”
Paula Kahumbu: where there no fresh water, they were interested in physiology of this and you know it?s interesting and it?s not what I really wanted to do. I was sent to the Tana river which is you know quite a dangerous place but the time for me it was just a phenomenal play ground, full of wildlife and I got to work with scientist such as Margret Kinnaid who now runs Mpala research center, she was studying one of the most endangered primates in the world the crested mangaby, and so I had this amazing experiences I ended up at the Institute of Primate Research also working with primates and it was just this incredible emersion as a 17 years old with these top scientist.
And then I was invited by Iain Douglas-Hamilton who I know is listening into the show and Iain invited me to help him to conduct a stock take of Kenya?s ivory so we took all the ivory out of the vaults which that time at the national museums of Kenya. We measured each and every tusk, it’s a really depressing experience because this ivory represent elephants that have been shot, murdered. There were huge tusk and the y were down to tiny tusks and what we were able to show, working with a whole team of volunteers ,was that over the last 15 years is that the size of elephants being poached had decline and declined until we were actually shooting baby elephants. It put me off doing research to elephants and I said to Iain these animals are going extinct, am not going to invest my degree research on a species which is going anyway.
Fareed Khimani: So your emotion and passion and love is wow! I mean it?s something that going to be gone soon I suppose
Paula Kahumbu: Exactly, so I really have Richard Leakey, Ian Douglas Hamilton and all these other people I have just mentioned to thank for having the confidence in me and really giving me the space to learn, participate and contribute at a search a young age, it really made a huge difference for me.
Fareed Khimani: So you once run away from home and left home without your parents knowing and all of a sudden we go on a few years and here we are now and this incredible woman sitting opposite me with so much passion and love for the wildlife of our country. Do you mentor now as you were mentored by those wonderful people. Do you mentor and are you trying to raise the next generations of doctor Paula Kahumbus?
Paula Kahumbu: Absolutely, I think that Kenya is blessed with having these phenomenal resources of incredible capable people. I work with a lot of schools and I do talks in schools and I participate in all kinds of school event to tell kids what I do and really inspire them to get involved in wildlife conservation and its not a particular sexy of fashionable thing to do so we try and convert it into other areas of interest and last year, I met this amazing boy as part of research we were doing on lions this term. we are looking at the human-lion conflict in Kitengela just south of national park and there was one particular homestead that was not getting attacked and it didn’t make sense because they were right next to the national park. All the homes around them were being attacked by lions but this home wasn’t and there was this little light around this homestead on the outside shed of cow stockade, the boma. They told us this was the little boy invention, he was 10years old and he had come up with this amazing system of keeping lions away from his fathers homestead by tricking them into thinking he was awake at night walking around because the lights blink in such a way it looks like somebody is awake walking around all night long.
Fareed Khimani: I have actually read about this kid, so this is an incredible story. So basically this lights makes it look like someone is a watch walking around with a touch basically. That is incredible.
Paula Kahumbu: It is really amazing, his name is Richard Turere, so he is now my mentee, I am his guardian.
Fareed Khimani: Super!
Paula Kahumbu: The first thing I did before we even went public with this thing is we got him a scholarship to Brookhouse school so you know huge kudos to Brookhouse school for recognizing, he?s a kid from rural area going to a local school, they took him immediately, he spent a year there and you would not recognize him this boy from where he was a year ago and where he is today I went with him to the US, first time he ever went on an airplane, you know his dream is to be a pilot and an engineer, so the first time he ever went on an airplane was to fly to the long beach California and tell the world about his invention, he got a standing ovation.
Paula Kahumbu: He got more attention for his talk that most of the other TED speakers.
Fareed Khimani: That?s brilliant.
Paula Kahumbu: I can?t wait to see it on local television as now they are airing TED talks
Fareed Khimani: That’s super, that’s wonderful. So, there are thousands of kids like this who have this ideas and who can make a difference so if it’s your kid, this is to my listeners or anyone you know please encourage them that it doesn’t have to be my parents considered a profession growing up, it can be about saving our environment like what you are doing and proof is here opposite me that it is a proper position in life and what a position to be in, you are in a great position Dr. Paula. if you have questions we have tones more of time am not letting this lady leave until we are done so please get to me, you could tweet us, it?s very easy you can tweet myself @fareedkhimani or you can tweet @paulakahumbu.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
Corruption in Kenya and possible involvement of high ranking officials makes it easy for dealers to move ivory through Kenya and other African countries.
Poor legislation and lack of enforcement has allowed dealers, poachers and now traffickers to get off easily
Ineffective anti-poaching country wide - Despite the gains, anti-poaching and intelligence gathering is always one step behind poachers.
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.
(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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
To appeal to the CITES convention to remove China and Japan’s status as a approved ivory trading partners
To destroy all of Africa’s ivory stockpiles
To strengthen enforcement by enacting and enforce laws with significant penalties against poachers, traders and buyers of ivory regardless of their nationality
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.
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.
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
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