Tag Archives: Tsavo

Poaching is reducing Kenya’s elephants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is the crisis back?

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

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

So what can be done?

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

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


WildlifeDirects Ivory Burn Video

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Shot elephant rescued in Kenya

Dear Friends,

The ivory trade is once again threatening Kenya’s elephant herds. This video has some shocking images, but a happy ending.

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After seeing the ivory seized in Nairobi Airport, several people have been asking where the ivory is coming from. Afterall, there is no poaching epidemic is there?

Well, on Friday night during a visit to the newly established Galana Conservancy, we heard that six gunshots had been heard a few days earlier, and that there was an injured elephant somewhere in the area. On Saturday we went out to look for him, and found him at 8 am. A large 35 – 40 year old bull elephant with impressive ivory, but a shortened trunk. He clearly  had suffered from an old snare injury that had cut the end of his trunk off. He was standing hunched over, in extreme pain. We could see a weeping wound on his side that seemed  entirely consistent with gun shot wound.  We could see the entry and exit wound of the bullet.

As we watched him he leaned on bushes and sat on an ant hill, he seemed to be suffering so much that he hardly noticed our presence.  He wasn’t eating but moved from bush to bush and rubbed his distended belly against the ant hill.

We immediately called the KWS but unfortunately the local veterinarian had returned to Nairobi. Then the injured elephant collapsed. Convinced he would die if he remained lying down, we revved the car engines and he stood up again and continued staggering about.

However, upon hearing about the condition of the animal, KWS took a strong decision and flew the vet back to the area about 2 hours east of Nairobi in the dry plains of Galana.

Unfortunately due to poor weather, the vet did not arrive until early afternoon, it was so hot that the elephant had moved down to the water and was not in a position to be darted. We decided to wait for him to come back out of the water. We left one person to watch him while we went off to investigate a “bad smell”.

Sure enough, the bad smell that emanated from within a dense salt bush area, was a dead elephant.  It’s face was reduced to a mass of bones and maggots, the rest of the body revealed a massive old bull – much bigger than the injured one. Initially the KWS rangers believed the cause of death to be a poisoned arrow. This area is notorious for the  use of native plants to procure poison for killing elephants. Howver, the hacked face was inconsistent with a traditional method of killing an elephant. The poiosoning of elephants leads to a slow paralyzing death and the elephant will be followed for days by the hunter who would leave the carcass to rot for a few weeks before removing the ivory. In this case the elephant ivory had been removed immediately using axes and the entire body of the elephant covered with green bushes. The condition of the cut bushes revealed that the elephant had been dead for no more than 2 or 3 days – about the time that the six gunshots were heard. We found the trunk some meters away from the body of this elephant, and to our dismay, his trunk was also shortened. That was when Garry recognized the pair of bulls that usually hung out together. Both had shortened trunks, and one had much larger ivory than the other. This one named Kulalu had the larger ivory. The KWS vet Jeremiah examined the carcass and concluded that it was consistent with a gunshot wound.

So we had two elephants shot in the last 3 days. And then another pair of ivory tusks were recovered from another elephant carcass that appeared to be a natural death – however, judging from the size of the ivory, it is likely that this was not a natural death but another victim of poaching who died in a place and the poachers failed to find him.

These three deaths suggest to me that there is a level of poaching in Kenya that we are not aware of. Were it not for the smell of the dead elephant so close to the houses, this dead elephant may not have been detected.

Finding carcasses in this part of Kenya is difficult, the terrain is vast and bushy and It is easy to hide the carcasses.

After darting him the KWS vet treated the entry and exit wounds of the elephant which involved turning him over – a task that required much manpower and a landrover.

After he was cleaned up the vet gave him 70% chance of survival and injected the antidote but the elephant would not get up. After about 15 minutes of trying unsuccessfully to get up, the KWS tied a rope to one of his tusks and pulled it with the landrover. This got the elephant up very fast – whereupon we discovered that he was wide awake and extremely angry. He charged his rescuers, nearly toppled one vehicle and then ran down to the river. I covered this story on twitter as it was happening and we videoed and tape recorded the entire sequence which will come out soon.

Now, 24 hours after the incident, the elephant now named Atiki, is fine and is feeding comfortably a few kilometers from where we darted him.

Help us identify this black cat

Dear friends, we’ve just been sent these photos by Heather Clarke for identification. We have no clue what this cat is but wonder if you can help us identify it?

This cat was seen recently in Tsavo East – there may have been a pattern of spots below its black coat and according to Heather, it was the size of a young cheetah.

Anyone out there know what it is?

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Africa’s elephants in trouble

“Africa and Asian elephants are in for tough times ahead” says Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants. After the ivory sales last year, elephant poaching has increased. Many conservationists believe it is being fueled by the demand in Eastern countries – yet nobody dares to say this. The money raised from the sales of ivory was supposed to go into elephant conservation. Some people who dare to call themselves conservationists argued that the ban on ivory was wrong, the burn was wasteful, and that the sale of ivory was the best way to generate funds and support for elephant conservation.  Well, how come elephants are worse off today than they were before the sales?

And, how come ivory is now selling at US$ 1,888/kg in Vietnam? Isn’t it obvious that the one off sale has stimulated demand and prices are rising? Now even the IUCN is saying that elephantas are in trouble …but they are confining their concerns to Asian elephants …why??

It’s now apparent that the four southern African countries that sold their ivory to China and Japan were duped – their stock piles fetched prices in the range of 100 – 120$/kg! The real value of ivory in eastern markets is at least ten times this. Southern African countries were cheated by the East – but I’m not feeling sorry for them!

Even more worrying however that the CITES conference that approved the one off sale did so on condition of a 9 year moratorium. Kenya led that campaign and the conference adopted it. But they made a MASSIVE BLUNDER. The wording of the agreement only binds the countries that sold their stocks. It does not include countries like Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia that have massive (and some illegally acquired) stockpiles . With renewed demand in Asia, these countries are likely to demand for sales of their stockpiles too at the next CITES conference.

Iain Douglas–Hamilton and I discussed this problem with his researchers at his house last night. He showed me the maps of elephant killings in Kenya in 2008 – the image is frightening. the country is covered in dots- each one representing a dead elephant. He says it isn’t as bad as it was in the 1960,s but I reminded him that back then we had ten times as many elephants. Based on genetic evidence from tusks, Sam Wasser believes that the proportion of elephants we are losing today is far greater than any time in history.

I met Iain about 30 year ago when as a young volunteer recruited to measure Kenya’s ivory stockpile. It as a morbid job but we had to know what was happening. We weighed and measured every single tusk and estimated the age of the elephant that had died. We processed 30 tons of ivory in 2 days. The information showed us that poachers were going for younger and younger animals. At that point, I had never seen an elephant in the wild, but I was so disgusted with the killings and disillusioned about the future of elephants that I turned down a project on ele’s and went on to study primates. Later I did study elephants for my PhD, when the ivory ban was working and guns had fallen silent.

Ivory wildlifedirect

These are the 30 tons of ivory that I measured in 1989. Kenya’s president burned the lot and the world praised him for it.

Sadly, those guns are back in action and Africa’s elephants are once again at risk because we were persuaded by greedy people to run a risky experiment.

It feels like the precautionary principle has gone extinct.  If we aren’t careful, we will soon be seeing the nightmarish scenes of hacked off faces of elephants that dominated the conservation news in the 1980’s.

Iain asked me ‘what are we going to do about it?” and I looked at him blankly, I didn’t have an answer.

What would you have replied – what can we do?