Richard Leakey, founder of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, has called on President Kenyatta to declare a national emergency and take personal charge of the war on poaching
Richard Leakey and Paula Kahumbu at press conference organized by WildlifeDirect on March 19, 2014 in Nairobi. Richard Leakey and Paula Kahumbu at the press conference organized by Wildlife Direct on March 19, 2014 in Nairobi. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
Nairobi 19th March: Four days ago I was in the bush, heartbroken, by the mutilated body of a rhino gunned down by poachers. Now I am in the Serena Hotel in Nairobi at a crowded press conference called by Wildlife Direct, the organization I work for.
In a strongly worded statement, WildlifeDirect’s founder and chairman Richard Leakey calls on Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta to take decisive action in the war against the poachers.
The current situation is dire. Poachers are killing rhinos and elephants with impunity, even in heavily fortified private conservancies that were thought to be impregnable. Despite tough new laws, smugglers and poachers caught red-handed are still walking free from Kenyan courts.
Our press release argues that poaching and smuggling are controlled by international crime rings that pose a major threat to the economy and national security. Reports in Kenyan media reflect the sense of hopelessness that many feel in the face of this powerful enemy.
However, though critical, the situation is not hopeless.
As head of the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) in the 1980s, Richard Leakey is credited with having turned around the war on poaching in a matter of months at the time of the last major crisis. With the right leadership, he is convinced it can be done again.
NTV Kenya news report of Wildlife Direct press conference, Nairobi March 19th, 2014
The story of piracy off the coast of Somalia shows how crises like these can be overcome. Piracy and poaching are similar in many ways. In both cases, the scene of the crime is sub-Saharan Africa. Both were long-standing problems that suddenly became major crises and threatened to spiral out of control. In both cases, poor people using primitive technology were able to inflict massive damage that threatened global interests.
The major difference is that piracy directly threatens western commercial interests. In response world leaders have acted decisively – and effectively. After 46 hijackings off the coast of Somalia in 2009 and 47 in 2010, there have been none at all since 12 May 2012.
Crucially, money has been no object when it came to taking on the pirates. The current annual cost of anti-piracy security off the coast of Somalia is more than US $ 2.5 billion. This finances two key elements of the anti-piracy strategy: surveillance and protection. Around $1 billion goes on round-the-clock military naval patrols; the rest is spent by ship operators on employing privately contracted armed guards.
Piracy has also been stopped by the simple measure of locking up the criminals. More than 1,100 Somali pirates are currently in jail in 21 countries, many of them in Kenya.
Operations are coordinated by the UN’s Contact Group on Piracy, which includes more than 85 countries as well as international agencies and private sector representatives. If you have never heard of this organization, that’s because they’re not interested in publicity, just in getting the job done.
Four “C words” sum up how piracy was defeated: Cash – lots of it, a Coherent strategy, Coordination, and Commitment. How far are these four “keys to success” in place in the war on wildlife crime?
Unlike the war on piracy, until now this one has too often seemed to be all about publicity. In the run-up to the London summit on wildlife crime in February, National Geographic commented: “Everybody and his uncle in wildlife conservation is clamouring for a seat at the table.”
Hopefully this is about to change. America grabbed the headlines at the London summit in February with the launch of a new National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. The strategy makes some big promises about US commitment to tackle all aspects of the crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed: “We must act now. The Departments of State, Justice, and Interior are leading the President’s whole-of-government fight against wildlife trafficking”.
There are also signs that western countries and international agencies are now prepared to commit serious money to fight wildlife crime – even though the amounts are still minuscule compared to what is spent on controlling piracy.
For example, the Clinton Global Initiative recently unveiled a three-year $80 million anti-ivory poaching partnership with conservation organizations that will deploy sniffer-dog teams at key ivory transit points in Africa and hire 3,000 rangers to help protect elephants at 50 sites.
These are encouraging signs of more cash, improved coordination, and greater commitment. But what is still missing is a coherent strategy that recognizes and responds to the truth that Richard Leakey spelled out forcefully at our press conference: the traffickers are getting away with it because in many countries authorities are not prepared to take on the small numbers of gang leaders who control the operations.
The best equipped and trained rangers, and the most stringent laws, will remain impotent as long as the gang leaders are at liberty to use threats and bribery to neutralize them.
After the London summit, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague commented: “this is not just about governments, this is about the public understanding that the ivory trade involves the death of elephants on a great scale”. This sounds as if the UK government is trying to evade responsibility.
The truth is, only states have the resources needed to defeat the organized crime networks controlling the $10 billion trade in illegal wildlife products. People across the world already understand the problem and what is at stake. We are waiting for our governments to take decisive action to target the gang leaders, and root out the high-level corruption that allows them to operate with impunity.
Contact:Dr Richard Leakey, Founder –WildlifeDirect, firstname.lastname@example.org
“My fellow Kenyans, poaching and the destruction of our environment has no future in this country”
These were the words of President Uhuru Kenyatta at his inauguration almost exactly one year ago. Today in the year of the 50th anniversary of Kenyan independence, I am asking the president to put his words into action and declare a NATIONAL DISASTER. I ask him to invoke emergency measures to crack down on the poachers and to declare elephants and rhinos National Treasures under protection of the state. In 1989, President Daniel Arap Moi took such extraordinary measures and wildlife poaching was curbed within 6 months. I am certain that this can be achieved again.
Elephants and rhinos declining in Kenya
Though KWS are not making information public, already this year we have lost at least 14 rhinos, more than in the whole of last year. Rhinos have been gunned down in our national parks, often in broad daylight and from sites close to ranger posts. Rhinos have also been lost from heavily fortified private conservancies that were believed impregnable. KWS estimates the population of Kenyan rhinos at more than 1,000 of which just over 50% are in the National Parks. However, independent scientists doubt this figure and question the data – 38 rhinos that have not been seen for more than 3 years are still in the parks are still counted in the total. An independent audit of rhinos is conducted in all conservancies but not parks.
KWS report that fewer than 400 elephants are killed annually across the country. The results of a KWS census last month reveal that the elephant population in the Tsavo Ecosystem alone has fallen by 1,500 over 4 years. The census found 800 elephant carcasses.
Newspaper coverage and conservationists in the field also report that elephant are being shot and killed in Tsavo, Masai Mara, and Amboseli and other parks by poachers armed with automatic weapons. Many others are shot with poison arrows, causing unimaginable pain followed by slow death.
Kenya is the world’s hub for ivory smuggling
The latest Interpol report reveals that Kenya is now No. 1 in the world for ivory smuggling. The port of Mombasa serves as a staging post for ivory from Tanzania and many other countries. More than 13 tons of ivory were seized in Kenya last year and we can only speculate at the quantities that passed through undetected.
A study of trials in Kenya reveal that fewer than 4% of all convicted poachers are ever jailed. Interpol reveal that despite many ivory seizures in Kenya, no dealers have ever been arrested and prosecuted in court. A major rhino horn smugglers caught at JKIA was released. A Chinese ivory dealer was sent back to China. If a Kenyan threatened a Chinese Panda bear, he or she would face life imprisonment.
Current measures are not enough
Despite our best efforts, the new law, the creation of an elite force in KWS, the promises of the Judiciary and DPP, and the commitment stated by the President, our elephants and rhinos are being massacred across the nation.
Tough new laws that mean convicted poachers and traffickers can be given life sentences,have not resulted in a single offender jailed without the option of a fine. In a recent case a Chinese man was arrested in Riverside Drive where he was manufacturing ivory carvings and sending them out of Kenya through Chinese mules who are being sent to Kenya as “tourists”. He was sent back to China without ever going to a Kenyan court. Last week the court acquitted Chinese national, Ou Kai Ming, even though he had been caught red-handed by customs officials at JKIA.
On the ground poachers have a free rein in many places. KWS staff who attempt to do their job are under increasing threat of violence and at least 8 KWS rangers have lost their lives to poachers in recent years. Managers who allow poaching to happen on their watch are simply moved to other locations, instead of being held to account for their dereliction of duty.
Emergency provisions under status as National Disaster
The failure of leadership and resources at KWS is compounded by the failure of the state to recognize that this is not just a wildlife crime. The president can no longer ignore the fact that these criminals belong to international crime rings that pose a major threat to the economy and national security. In 1989 President Moi recognized that the country was facing a national crisis and acted presidentially to stop it.
I am calling on the president of the Republic of Kenya to address the problem because our national security agencies are not working together to combat this threat to national security. I am sure that the Ministry, NIS, CID, KWS all know who the top dealers and financiers of this bloody business are. They number fewer than 50 people, some of whom have been exposed in the media, but not one has been arrested to date.
In responding to the threat of piracy Kenya’s performance was exemplary. This is the kind of coordinated, fully committed response we need to the poaching crisis.
The voice and political will of our president are most critically needed if we are to win this war. The Kenyan public, corporations and our international partners will all respond favorably when decisive action is taken. The president cannot afford to leave a legacy for future generations of Kenyans that does not include elephant and rhinos.
Richard Leakey, 19 March 2014
WildlifeDirect is a Kenyan NGO and US registered 501(c) (3) organization co-founded in 2004 by Kenyan conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey, who is credited with putting an end to the elephant slaughter in Kenya in the 1980s and delivering an international ban on ivory trade. Kenyan Trustees include Irungu Houghton, Ali Mohamed and Philip Murgor. The CEO is Dr. Paula Kahumbu. WildlifeDirect is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. WildlifeDirect is dedicated to “Changing minds, behavior and laws to ensure Africa’s critical species endure forever.”
Hands Off Our Elephants, our flagship campaign comprises a winning combination of expertise including wildlife ecologists, communications specialists, lawyers, politicians, media representatives, strategists, and linguists, making us bold, influential, and successful. This African led initiative is supported by Kenya’s First Lady, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta as patron. The campaign has already mobilized the public in Kenya and driven legal reforms in Kenya and East Africa. WLD partners with civil society, government agencies and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative on elephants.
March 3, 2014…
The Director of Public Prosecutions Mr Keriako Tobiko, has swiftly moved to boost the local wildlife and environmental conservation efforts by setting up a fully-fledged Wildlife Crimes Prosecution Unit.
The unit is, headed by the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Kioko Kamula, and is, mandated to provide prosecutorial services for all offences committed contrary to the recently enacted Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013. The unit comprises of 35 Prosecutors who have already undergone specialist training.
Officers drawn from the unit are also part of a team reviewing the new law on wildlife (Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013) and are, expected to propose suitable amendments to facilitate its efficient application.
Among other milestones, the new unit has already developed a rapid reference guide and model charge sheets on provisions of the law relating to wildlife offences.
“As the world celebrates the World Wildlife Day today, the ODPP wishes to reaffirm its commitment towards protection of our wildlife, which is our national heritage,” Tobiko said.
And added: “The DPP is fully committed to work with all state and non-state actors in the wildlife conservation and criminal justice sectors, to ensure that the law is robustly applied against offenders.We urge increased cooperation and support from all stakeholders and the wider public.”
As part of the Wildlife Crimes Prosecution Unit’s role, the ODPP has also established a working committee with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to coordinate investigation and prosecution processes as well as conduct joint trainings.
A standard operating procedure (SoP) manual for the prosecution of wildlife crimes has also been developed and shared with all stakeholders at the second National Dialogue on wildlife crimes.
This report is based on a survey conducted in May and June 2013, which looked at court records in eighteen courts adjudicating on wildlife related crime. The offences involved killing wild animals and/or trading in their products. The aim of the study was to examine the files and analyse outcomes of those cases with a view to determining how legislation in Kenya was being implemented in combating wildlife crime. The study focused on the judicial outcomes of elephant and rhino related offences, but crimes involving other species were also considered.
Between January 2008 and June 2013, a total of 743 pending and closed wildlife related cases were registered in criminal registries of law courts in Embu, Isiolo, Kajiado, Karatina, Kerugoya, Makadara (Nairobi), Makindu, Maralal, Meru, Mombasa, Nakuru, Nanyuki, Narok, Nyahururu, Nyeri, Rumuruti5, Voi, and Wajir towns. These towns were chosen because of their proximity to key conservation areas including Amboseli, Isiolo, Laikipia, Maasai Mara, Samburu and Tsavo as well as major ports through which wildlife trophies are known to be trafficked. The magistrates’ courts in these towns have jurisdiction falling within the target ecosystems. All cases are brought to court by the Kenya Police Service and/or the Kenya Wildlife Service and most are prosecuted by the Police.
A major finding of the study was that in total, only4%ofoffendersconvictedofwildlifecrimeswenttojail. In cases of offences against elephants and rhinos which can potentially attract jail sentences of up to 10 years, only 7% of offenders in this category were jailed. Though there were frequent news reports of KWS officers being arrested for involvement in these crimes, the study did not find a single verdict that highlghted this problem.
The study clearly showed that wildlife related crime in Kenya is treated as a misdemeanor or petty crime and is ‘mismanaged’ within the Kenyan court systems. Of the 743 cases registered that were part of the study, 70% of the case files were reported missing or misplaced in the courts. Only 202 files were available to the study team for perusal, and these were of cases against 314 offenders that had been concluded. 224 offenders (78%) were found guilty of crimes ranging from illegal hunting, illegal possessions of weapons with intent to kill animals, trespassing in protected areas, illegal possession of wildlife trophies, dealing/ trafficking in wildlife etc. No case file could be found for ivory or rhino horn trafficking in Mombasa despite frequent news reports of ivory seizures in the Port of Mombasa and allegations that Mombasa is one of the world’s most notorious ports for ivory trafficking. In Nairobi’s Makadara Court which deals with airport arrests, suspects were exclusively foreign – mainly nationals of Asian origin. All pleaded guilty but only one defendant received a jail sentence of six months in June 2013. During the period of the study, criminals were consistently given lenient sentences and fines well below the maximum of KES 40,000/= (approx USD$ 460).
It is also apparent that poor file and case management is hindering the prosecution of wildlife related crime and that the full might of the existing law is not being bought to bear on offenders. There is a huge financial incentive for non-compliance which has led to a culture of impunity amongst the criminal fraternity and even within the government departments responsible for protecting these national assets. If this impunity is not stopped, Kenya may be viewed as a safe haven for local, as well as organized international wildlife traffickers, poachers and dealers.
1. Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to develop and/or adopt Standard Operating Procedures to allow sufficient time for investigation and application of appropriate laws associated with endangered species like elephants and rhino. Currently, cases of wildlife related offences are charged and disposed of by police prosecutors and are not always reported to KWS or the ODPP. As a result, poor charging decisions are rife, ancillary orders such as forfeiture are rarely applied for and sentencing powers are not fully utilized possibly through lack of awareness by police prosecutors of what is available.
2. Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to be responsible for charging decisions on all rhino, elephant, rhino horn and ivory cases. KWS prosecutors are gazetted to prosecute under the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (Cap 376 of 1989) while the ODPP can prosecute under other Acts such as the Firearms Act, the Proceeds of Organized Crime Act (POCA) and (POCAMLA) or Money Laundering Act.
3. Chief Justice (CJ) to assign a dedicated judge and court in each of the conservation areas and together with the Attorney General, CJ and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), seek agreement to take judicial notice that poaching offences are ‘organised criminal activities’, and support ODPP with adequate capacity to prosecute these under the full range of laws.
4. The National Council of the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) to adopt and implement rules for streamlining wildlife trials to achieve interagency cooperation. With the enactment of the new Wildlife Act, it is foreseeable that there will be an increase in the number of trials relating to wildlife offences. The NCAJ should agree upon and implement rules for streamlining the progress between first appearance and the conclusion of the case and avoid unnecessary delays.
5. Chief Justice to issue Sentencing Guidelines. Sentencing patterns are haphazard across the country and there is currently no consistency between courts. With the new wildlife law and possible increase in prosecutions, magistrates will need guidance on the task of sentencing e.g. aggravating features, value and quantity of the trophy, whether the defendant was in a position of authority etc.
6. Chief Justice to issue a practice direction to the judiciary identifying compelling reasons for withholding bail in offences associated with endangered species like elephants and rhino. Bail is currently issued on a haphazard basis across the country and is hampering wildlife prosecutions.
7. An NGO structure to support wildlife investigations and prosecutions needs to be established. In order to address the gap between law and implementation, a specialized NGO structure that collaborates closely with Government on investigations, arrest operations and prosecutions of wildlife traffickers should be established. This structure would fight corruption within the enforcement and justice system, ensuring good governance and transparency.
8. Government to authorise an independent annual stock take and audit of all ivory and horn stockpiles, exhibits and movement of exhibits currently in Government custody. Wildlife trophies that have been confiscated are handed over to the Kenya Wildlife Service. Allowing an independent body to undertake a stock take and audit of the same would reduce loss of exhibits.
9. Kenya Wildlife Service to transform its relationship with communities and private sector in line with provisions in the Constitution of Kenya, and empower citizens to participate in the fight against wildlife crime by encouraging them to act as independent court monitors and through the creation of a wildlife reporting hotline. The role of ordinary Kenyans is crucial and under-utilized in the fight against poaching and trafficking.
10 Chief Justice should fast track reforms in court registries on the establishment of an efficient and effective standardized case file management with rapid file call-up system (preferably digitized
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.
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