Conservationists will be hoping that Pope Francis speaks out against poaching and ivory trafficking during his upcoming visit. We have reason to feel confident that he will. Pope Francis has brought a new style of leadership to the Roman Catholic Church that has earned him respect among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
His forthright pronouncements on environmental issues such as climate change have revealed his deep scientific knowledge, as well as his love for the “irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty” of the natural world, and a profound awareness of the linkages between environmental and social justice.
For example in his Encyclical letter “On Care for Our Common Home”, he warns:
“Our Sister, Mother Earth …cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life”.
You do not have to a Catholic to be moved by these words.
On his visit to Kenya, there is a specific contribution that Pope Francis can make to combating ivory trafficking. He can speak out against religious practices that venerate objects made from the tusks of dead elephants. These are an integral component Buddhist and Hindu traditions and are still common among Catholics, for example in the Philippines. An article in National Geographic on the use of ivory for religious purposes quotes the head of Philippines customs police as saying: “The Philippines is a favourite destination of these smuggled elephant tusks, maybe because Filipino Catholics are fond of images of saints that are made of ivory.” Between 2005 and 2009, almost 20 tons of ivory were confiscated by customs in or on its way to the Philippines, representing a total of approximately 1,750 elephants.
Devotees believe that through their use of religious icons made of ivory they are honouring God. Ironically, the very opposite is true: they are complicit in the desecration of what Pope Francis calls the “infinite beauty and goodness” of His created world.
In his Encyclical, Pope Francis acknowledges his debt to his namesake Saint Francis of Assisi, who preached to birds and flowers. Pope Francis insists that it was not “naive romanticism” that led Saint Francis to venerate all of God’s creation in this way. In preaching to flowers, Saint Francis was celebrating the miracle of life. Surely, the difference between a flower that turns it head towards the sun and our ‘sophisticated’ human consciousness is only one of degree? Among higher animals, elephants in particular display qualities that fill us with wonder and awe. For example, elephants will go to extraordinary lengths to protect and care for an injured member of the herd.
Convinced that “we are all creatures of one family”, Saint Francis taught that “those who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity will deal likewise with their fellow man”. In modern language: a crime against nature is also – in a very real sense – a crime against humanity. Poaching destroys communities. Ivory trafficking is sustained by a web of violence and corruption. Moreover, in the words of our President in his inaugural address, poaching and trafficking are “economic sabotage”.
The Kenyan government has made great strides towards bringing poaching under control. Pope Francis’s Encyclical contains many insightful passages on the practical measures needed to protect this environment. But he also has an important message for Kenyans about the moral foundations of good governance. He warns: “
“In the absence of … sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species?”
Kenyans will make Pope Francis welcome. We should listen carefully to what he has to say.
Dr Paula Kahumbu OGW has a PhD in Ecology from Princeton University. She is a Kenyan conservationist and elephant expert. She is the CEO of WildlifeDirect, a Kenya based NGO that is running the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign with HE Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya.
– See more at: http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/popes-great-chance-help-end-ivory-trade#sthash.vkTWTlvC.dpuf
Kenyans take to the streets in support of elephants and rhinos. Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, Nairobi, October 3rd, 2015. Photograph: WildlifeDirect
Since 2013, according to the latest estimates, elephant deaths from poaching in Kenya are down by 80% and deaths of rhinos by 90%. This is a success story that deserves to be more widely known.
Kenya was traditionally in the forefront of wildlife conservation in Africa. However, in 2008 the sale of ivory from four southern African countries to China and Japan triggered an explosive demand and poaching erupted across the continent.
By 2012, the situation was almost out of control in Kenya due to corruption, ignorance, poor laws, and an inadequate anti-poaching response. Government agencies such as the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) were in denial.
I was among the many conservationists who felt angry and frustrated at the government’s refusal to respond to our concerns. One of our colleagues was arrested and others went into hiding for fear of being deported for exposing how serious the poaching crisis was.
The turning point came in February 2013 when the government finally agreed to call a special session of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) to discuss wildlife conservation. This landmark meeting was attended by many dozens of representatives of ministries, law enforcement agencies, the private sector, academia and civil society.
It was a tough-talking meeting. We challenged the government’s complacent view of the situation and questioned the capacity and commitment of KWS and border agencies to control poaching and trafficking.
Leading Kenyan conservationists, including Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Agatha Juma and Jake Grieves Cook, warned that thousands of elephants were being killed each year and of the threat this posed to tourism and the economy
Representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife and KWS denied the situation was a crisis; however, they did ask the government for support to tackle the growing poaching problem.
Richard Leakey and I spoke for WildlifeDirect and we presented a 14 point plan of action that had been developed with barrister Shamini Jayanathan. After intensive discussions the NESC adopted most of our recommendations and instructed authorities to urgently adopt a ‘whole government’ response to the crisis.
The NESC meeting was the first major effort of the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign, which was officially launched five months later. Our aims were simple: to bring all sectors of society on board in order to defeat the poachers and traffickers, safeguard elephant populations, and turn Kenya into model for successful wildlife conservation.
The First Lady of Kenya, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta (centre with hat) in her role as Patron of the campaign “Hands Off Our Elephants”, launched in 2013. The marchers are accompanying Jim Nyamu (in the beige t-shirt) on part of his walk across Kenya to raise awareness about poaching. Photograph: WildlifeDirect
Our initiative was coolly received in some quarters. Government officials accused us of being unpatriotic by damaging Kenya’s reputation abroad. Some fellow conservationists said we were being too ambitious.
We knew it would be difficult but we were confident that our aims were achievable, for three reasons:
Kenya has a vibrant civil society and a free press, so we would have the means to get our message across.
We had support in high places. The new President Uhuru Kenyatta, who took up office in April 2013, was known to be sympathetic to wildlife conservation. His wife, Margaret Kenyatta joined the campaign from the outset as its patron.
Kenya had done it before, in the 1990s, when KWS routed the poachers under the leadership of Richard Leakey, and President Daniel Arap Moi transformed global attitudes towards ivory by burning Kenya’s ivory stockpile.
Seven strategies for success
Looking back at what Hands Off Our Elephants has achieved so far, in an informal ‘mid-term evaluation’, I can identify seven things that have worked:
1. An evidence based approach. In making our case, we knew it would be not enough to rely on hearsay. We presented the results of 5 years of courtroom monitoring to prove that those arrested for wildlife crimes were being let off scot free or at most with derisory fines. We demanded – and got – an audit of Kenya’s ivory stockpile, overseen by independent observers.
Paula Kahumbu handing over the “Scoping study on the prosecution of wildlife related crimes in Kenyan courts” on behalf of WildlifeDirect to the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga in January 2014. Photograph: WildlifeDirect
2. Mobilizing public support. We took our campaign into government offices and corporate board rooms, onto the streets and into schools and universities, and into the villages in areas that have elephants. We spoke to young people in language they would understand, with the support of pop stars, comic book authors, and sports personalities. In alliance with private sector, we took the message into supermarkets and onto airplanes.
This broad-based alliance has succeeded in generating a level of popular support for wildlife conservation never before witnessed in Kenya, or any other elephant range state.
3. Mainstream media coverage. Our campaign transformed poaching from a wildlife conservation issue to headline news. Conservationists gave extensive TV interviews in prime-time current affairs slots, with the focus squarely on political, juridical and institutional capacity issues.
If you are reading this in Europe or North America, you might like to ask yourself when wildlife conservation was last given this treatment by media in your own country.
4. Political will. We were fortunate in this respect. In his inaugural address President Kenyatta signalled his intentions by referring to poaching as ‘economic sabotage’, and followed this up with a series of key measures to strengthen the law and the judiciary.
The First Lady, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, made it clear that she intended to take an even more proactive role. She agreed to be Patron of Hands Off Our Elephants and has been a central figure in the campaign ever since.
Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has been behind us all the way, as have US and British ambassadors Bob Godec and Christian Turner. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has convened meetings to create awareness of the problem amongst all Kenya-based diplomats.
US Ambassador Robert Godec with school children from Nairobi on a visit to Amboseli National Park. World Elephant Day, 12 August 2015. Photograph: WildlifeDirect
5. Boots on the ground. One of President Kenyatta’s first acts was to announce additional funds to finance anti-poaching activities, allowing the recruitment of 577 more rangers. He created a specialised multi-agency anti-poaching unit and brought all law enforcement agencies together to tackle the ivory trafficking problem in a coordinated way.
As a result, poachers are more likely to be caught than ever before. But we knew that this would have no deterrent effect unless getting arrested led to some serious consequences. That’s why the next two success factors were key.
6. Strengthening the law. Wildlife law before 2013 treated poaching as a petty offence. Maximum penalties were derisory compared to the vast profits that were being made by organised wildlife crime. We lobbied with many other NGOs and citizen groups for a new Wildlife Act.
The new act finally came into force in January 2104, making poaching and ivory trafficking a serious crime in Kenya, on a par with gun running and drug trafficking. Penalties for wildlife crime in Kenya are now the harshest in the world, including life imprisonment in some cases.
7. Reforms to the criminal justice system. Our courtroom monitoring program had exposed major challenges in record keeping, evidence collection, and prosecutions. The handling of wildlife trials has been transformed through the creation of a specialised wildlife crime prosecution unit under the office of the Public Prosecutor, combined with new operating procedures and extensive training programmes for legal staff.
Being arrested for poaching or ivory trafficking in Kenya has become a big deal.
Measures of success
Summarising the results of my mid-term evaluation: Kenya has managed to turn around the poaching crisis in a remarkably short time. This is in large part thanks to the support of NGOs – large and small – working with the private sector, government, and the donor community. All Kenyans can be proud of this impressive achievement.
Several poachers have gone to jail for life, and many have been fined hundreds of thousands of US Dollars. Jailing of convicted poachers is up from 4 to 11%. Suspected traffickers have had their assets seized and bank accounts frozen, as the law on proceeds of organized crime can now be applied to wildlife crimes.
Poachers are giving up the trade because of the high likelihood of arrest, and the knowledge that it will lead to prosecution and a jail sentence. This is reflected in the dramatic decline in poaching: the ‘bottom line’ that is the most important indicator of the success of our campaign.
Perhaps most importantly, for the first time in Kenya’s its history, Kenya is prosecuting major ivory traffickers. One of the most notorious suspected traffickers, Feisal Mohamed Ali, was arrested with the support of Interpol following the seizure of huge haul of ivory in Mombasa. He has remained behind bars to face trial since December 2014.
The continuing threat
While Kenya can celebrate success today, we cannot be complacent. Just next door in Tanzania thousands of elephants are being gunned down annually and their population has been reduced by over 60 percent in just 5 years. Meanwhile in South Africa, over a thousand rhinos are murdered for their horns each year.
These killing fields will expand back into Kenya without concerted international efforts to reduce demand for ivory and rhino horn.
In Kenya, several factors threaten the sustainability of our successes. By far the most serious of these is the pervasive corruption that disfigures Kenyan society. It seems that corruption is rarely out of the news these days: it threatens the democracy that is bedrock of all our achievements so far.
The power of corrupt money is undoubtedly the reason why, in contrast to the harsh sentences imposed on poachers – the small fry – and despite the arrest of Feisal Mohamed Ali, no trafficker has yet been convicted and sent to jail under the new law.
The way forward
So what comes next? Hands Off Our Elephants will continue to expand its operations in Kenya while coordinating with partners across Africa to replicate our efforts in neighbouring countries. The campaign will focus on key new demands, including:
Corruption should be included among the named charges for wildlife offenders and in cases where police and customs officers, and other government officials are involved.
Existing high level cases should be brought to a rapid conclusion. Every delay increases the opportunities for evidence to be ‘lost’ and witnesses to ‘disappear’.
The must be an end the practice of deporting foreign nationals arrested for ivory trafficking. They should be tried in Kenyan courts. Traffickers should know that if they are caught with ivory at a Kenyan port or airport they can expect to spend the rest of their lives in a Kenya jail.
Visitors to Kenya and those in transit must be made aware of the new law and the penalties for poaching in order to reduce demand.
Kenya’s must destroy its entire ivory stockpile as a signal to the world that no Kenyan ivory will ever again enter into legal or illegal markets.
Above all, there is a need to strengthen accountability by giving civil society a permanent role in monitoring living and dead animals, seizures of illegal wildlife products, and the government’s response to wildlife crime.
The good news is that the foundations for this have been laid by the campaign itself, which has given rise to unprecedented levels of collaboration between government and civil society.
In recognition of the key importance of civil society organisations for wildlife conservation, NGOs have recently come together to form the “Conservation Alliance of Kenya”, a permanent stakeholder forum which will advise government on environmental issues. One of the key thematic groups that has been set up will address wildlife crime.
Thus democracy is not only the rock on which we build our campaigns. The campaigns themselves are an integral part of wider efforts to strengthen democracy.
Our African-led initiative to save elephants and wildlife is driven by a wider vision of an inclusive, prosperous African future; an Africa with effective governance and a vibrant civil society, and proud of its rich natural and cultural heritage.
The Wildlife Warriors event at Brookhouse School attracted nearly twice as many people as we expected. Though we
targeted young people from Nairobi, grandparents, teachers, and many grown ups from all corners of the country
including expatriates came. This revealed a surprising level of interest in citizen participation. It also confirmed that young people feel that their
views about wildlife conservation are as important as those of adults. Hundreds of recommendations about creating a
generation of Wildlife Warriors were generated which revealed some general findings.
We are pleased to finally release the report of the first ever Open Space Technology event to be held in Nairobi. We apologize for the delay in getting this report out to the public and welcome comments on it. Please find the soft copy version of the report here
Kenya’s First Lady at the Launch of the Womens Project in Imbirikani
IMBIRIKANI WOMENS PROJECT WITH UNDP AND WILDLIFEDIRECT ON 23RD OCTOBER, 2015
Her Excellency, Margaret Kenyatta, The First Lady of the Republic of Kenya’s speech at the launch event on Friday.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Just over a year ago, we announced our intention to start a project here aimed at women’s empowerment and elephant conservation, in collaboration with Helen Clark the Administrator of UNDP.
I am delighted to return here today to witness the official launch of this project which remains very close to my heart. Although Helen Clark could not be here with us today, I am sure that she is with us in spirit.
In 2013, I joined WildlifeDirect as the patron of the Hands off Our Elephants Campaign.
The campaign has made great strides in raising public awareness and mobilizing support for the protection of our elephants:
And has successfully used the Amboseli National Park as a showcase of excellent conservation partnerships between host communities, government, scientists, NGO’s and international partners.
The stakeholders have closely worked together to protect the worlds’ most famous elephants and I wish to thank all of you, for playing such an important role in that effort.
To save the elephants, we need the support of the host communities who live with them. They are the most important and first line of defence for these treasured animals.
Women are known to play an important role when it comes to conservation issues world over. Which is why we are investing in women projects in this region, because we can count on you to protect our elephants. Women are never known to kill the elephants.
In this regard, we already have wonderful role models right here, two Maasai sisters, Katito and Soila Sayialel who are amongst the world’s most famous experts on elephants; they are both Maasai women from this community!
I thank you both for your dedication and contribution which has made this community so important for the future of our elephants.
Elephants, are truly magnificent to visiting tourists, but can also be a terrifying threat for individual families and farmers.
I thank the UNDP for making it possible for us to turn this challenge into an opportunity for women, their families, their communities, and for Kenya.
I am also grateful that the women of Imbirikani have accepted the challenge to pilot this ambitious idea, of turning challenges into opportunities.
They have worked so hard on this project despite all the difficulties they face on a daily basis – fetching firewood, collecting water, herding livestock, managing their homes, their children and families.
For our women to effectively play their rightful role in conservation matters, it calls for their empowerment through education; additional investments in women projects and eradication of retrogressive cultural practices that limit their opportunities and possibilities.
As a country, we must realize that the absence of women in our economy, especially in rural areas, is holding back our development and our ability to achieve our aspirations to be a wealthy nation.
This project is a boost for those women who want to do business and it launch marks the beginning of a major opportunity for Amboseli.
I request the County Government of Kajiado through the governor, Dr. David Nkedienye, to support the women and facilitate the marketing of the products from this group; improve their health care and also focus on improving the schools to ensure the girls get quality education.
I am truly humbled to have played a role in this exciting project and I am very grateful to all those who have partnered with us especially Big Life Foundation who have been in Amboseli for over thirty years.
I am especially grateful to you, the women involved in this project for your courage and determination to make this project succeed.
It is now my pleasure to declare the Imbirikani Women Group Project officially open.
WLD Project Officer Robert Kaai shows the First Lady the products made by the women
It was an outstanding event that really showed the world that Kenya is a country of wildlife lovers. The atmosphere was celebratory, there were rangers, students, corporates, bikers, cyclists, roller bladers, vuvuzelas, Kenyan flags, placards reading “Fight Back” and “I am Justice for Wildlife, Are You?”. Marchers of all ages and backgrounds participated including 4 year old Seya who celebrated her birthday by bringing her friends to the march and made a donation of 75 thousand towards 175 children going into Nairobi Park today (curtis of KWS). Representatives of several embassies were present including the Ambassador of Belgium Roxane de Bilderling and Bob Godec of USA.
Bikers leading the March
The Cabinet Secretary Prof Judi Wakhungu walked the entire 14 km which was the longest GlobalMarch (it took place in over 150 cities around the world). The Kenyan marchwas also the biggest in terms of participation. This year our theme was Justice for Wildlife and Judge Nzioki wa Makau made a speech on behalf of the Chief Justice in which he committed to strengthening the judicial response to wildlife crime.
Justice for Wildlife
Prof. Wakhungu also spoke about redoubling efforts to work in cooperation with all stakeholders, and neighbouring countries. She was applauded for the results already achieved in Kenya, and reminded Kenyans that we could not be complacent. Just across the border 30 elephants are dying each day in Tanzania. We stand to lose too much if we do not stop the poachers. She promised that Kenya will be taking some very strong positions at the upcoming CITES conference in South Africa next year to return all elephants to Appendix 1.
She applauded the US and Chinese governments for recent announcements to end domestic trade in ivory.
US Ambassador Bob Godec spoke on behalf of the donor group and applauded Kenya’s efforts and committed to further support.
Peter Moll of Stand Up Shout Out spoke about the powerful role of the youth. Speaking for all NGO’s. In my speech I congratulated the government for the successes achieved in the last 12 months which has seen poaching drop to very low levels, and suspected traffickers being prosecuted for the first time. I welcomed the cooperation between state and NGO’s and invited all participants to volunteer with the NGO’s and government to get more involved in conservation. She thanked the Nation Media Group for screening wildlife documentaries as an important contribution towards creating awareness and love for our heritage.
The speech that stole the crowd was 12 year old Luca Berardi, youth Ambassador of WildlifeDirect, who sent a powerful message to Asians “You don’t need ivory or rhino horn to prove your wealth, there are millions of other things that you can put on your mantle piece”.
Entertainments included a number of super performances and one dance that got us all off our seats feeling very happy.
The GlobalMarch in Nairobi was organized by WildlifeDirect, Stand Up Shout Out and KWS.
SPEECH BY LUCA BERARDI AT THE END OF THE GLOBAL MARCH, 2015 – NAIROBI
Good Afternoon Hon. Cabinet Secretary, Ambassadors, Ladies & Gentlemen.
My name is Luca Berardi, I am 12 years old and I am the CEO & Founder of the YARH organization, which creates awareness for endangered species through workshops and networking with schools about the importance of wildlife conservation. Also, through paper-recycling projects that help us to save trees.
For many years, illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking has been declining the populations of elephants and rhinos resulting in massive biodiversity loss in Kenya and other parts of Africa. Rhino horn and elephant tusks are the main target for the poachers because of the high value in the illegal market throughout the world. As I stand here, representing the youth, most are unaware of the problems the wildlife faces. We need to educate young people on the importance of protecting our wildlife.
To you, Hon. Cabinet Secretary, Judi Wakhungu, we are encouraged with all your efforts. Just the day before yesterday, you were in NY together with the leaders of the world passing the key sustainable goals that we need to meet by the coming years. But, I would like to tell everyone present here today, let us not wait, lets start conserving our wildlife today, for if we wait for the year 2030, we shall have lost them all…..
And to you Sir, Chief Justice, please help us win this war to provide justice for al the families of innocent elephants and rhinos that have died in the hands of these poachers.
And to the World, from my heart to yours, please, you don’t need an elephant tusk hanging over your furnace as a trophy, or a couple of rhino horns as your centrepieces. There are over a million/million ways to showcase your wealth.
KWS and all Partners here today, thank you for all the work you are doing in protecting these vulnerable animals from extinction. I am encouraged to learn about your partnership with WWF in the implementation of the black rhino conservation, Rhino sanctuary in Tsavo and the Forensic Lab. This is good news for us all and our Chief Justice.
I Quote: Wildlife: Save it to Cherish or Leave it to Perish!!
The Kenya Wildlife Service, The Kenya Wildlife Festival and WildlifeDirect invite you to participate in the ‘GREAT ZEBRA COUNT’- the first of its kind citizen science project at the Nairobi National Park, on 1st and 2nd March 2015.
This year, Kenya will participate in the global World Wildlife Day celebrations by hosting a national celebration of her unique wildlife heritage through a week long national Wildlife Festival from 28th February to 7th March.
The GREAT ZEBRA COUNT is one of the festival’s activities.
This citizen science initiative will allow the public to estimate the population sizes of zebras and giraffes within the Nairobi National park. It involves the collection of photographs of Zebras and Giraffes taken by participating teams, which will be analysed using a new software, IBEIS, which identifies individual animals by their unique stripes and patterns.
The software will determine the number of zebra’s and giraffe in the Nairobi National Park, identify specific animals and where they are found. The IBEIS software was developed by 4 American universities. For more information, visit IBEIS.ORG
You are invited to form a team, identify a vehicle to use for the team, get your cameras ready and register your team here: http://www.standupshoutoutworld.org/#zebra-count
After registration, you will be provided with an information pack detailing how the census shall be conducted. The Great Zebra count is done in collaboration with Friends of Nairobi National Park (FONNaP) with the support of Nairobi Tented Camp.
The Wildlife Festival is an opportunity to share the country’s vision and encourage citizens’ participation in a future where people and wildlife coexist in harmony. The festival also presents an opportunity for the public to participate in contributing to important conservation science for the Kenya Wildlife Service.
The KWS Park Entry Fees will apply. For further information contact [email protected]
Your participation in this activity will be highly appreciated.
Keep Tim Alive
An encounter with a wounded tusker reminds me that saving elephants is the only true measure of success of our campaigns
Tim, one of the world’s largest Tuskers
Photograph: John Heminway/WildlifeDirect
Amboseli, Kenya, 7 November 2014.
We are sitting in the beautiful Tortillis camp overlooking the wide savannah. Just as we are about to move on to another item on the agenda, Scott Asen, one of our newest board members, consults his phone and announces: “Tim just sent me a text. He’s waiting. I think we should go now.” Words said in jest that had a profound meaning for all of us present.
Tim is one of the world’s biggest tuskers and his home is Amboseli. Like other bull elephants he leads a nomadic life, roaming far and wide across the vast national park and beyond. We felt blessed that he had shown up on this particular day. After two days of hard work and important progress for elephant conservation we felt Tim was here to say “thank you”. But what we saw shocked us to the core. Tim had not come to say thank you, he was pleading with us: “Help me.”
The WildlifeDirect Board of 14 extraordinary men and women from USA, UK and Kenya had met less than 24 hours earlier with Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya, and with Judi Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources.
We presented the successes of the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign, launched by WildlifeDirect a year ago, in bringing together Kenyans from all walks of life to stand up for elephants and wildlife, and lobbying governments worldwide to take action against the international crime cartels behind the poaching crisis that is threatening Africa’s elephants.
Then we heard about the ministry’s successes in passing new laws and strengthening the protection agencies, and about the many challenges remaining. And then at the most unexpected moment, the usually shy and withdrawn First Lady stepped up to agree to a raft of requests: for her to spearhead the replication of the campaign across Africa, and for Kenya’s elephants and rhinos to be declared national treasures.
She also supported our call for a Kenyan national Wildlife Festival to enlist all sectors of society in wildlife conservation efforts. Everything was going swimmingly, and then the First Lady turned to ask: “But why aren’t you guys working together?” I felt busted and immediately agreed to work with Judi to assemble an independent team of experts to conduct a national assessment of Kenya’s elephants and rhinos.
As we left the meeting The First Lady hugged me and said: “Don’t ever give up, you must fight on”. I left State House on a cloud, and things got better as the day progressed.
That evening we celebrated the achievements of the first year of the campaign with supporters and partners in government and beyond. Our Facebook page described the “colour and pomp, smiles and hugs” of the Hands Off Our Elephants first birthday party.
The US Ambassador Bob Godec brought some members of the audience to tears with a powerful speech from the heart. He said it was not just his job to help us save elephants, but also a deeply held personal conviction.
Our keynote speaker, the Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga, remembered the first day he ‘met’ me through what he described as the first of a series of “angry emails”. I had been going to court, and was appalled to see how ivory poachers and traffickers were being let off. The emails were to tell him just how diabolical it all was. He gave WildlifeDirect permission to continue our hard-hitting approach: “Don’t stop being angry.”
Fast forward, and the next evening we are all sitting atop of Land Rovers, off-road somewhere in Amboseli National Park. It is dense palm thicket and we can hear branches cracking. Tim is near. Then we see a monumental trunk above the palms, reaching high into the branches. It is only when we drive around to get a full view that we see the magnificence of his full body and his gigantic tusks.
It is 4.50 pm and the sun is gleaming on his ivory. An audible “aaaaaahhh” emanates from all of us. Tim is truly spectacular. Then Tim notices us and turns. It is as if he is hiding that which we find so beautiful, which too many Chinese are addicted to, and which translates to dollar signs for greedy poachers.
We sit quietly contemplating the giant Tim. I am acutely aware that it is very strange for this elephant I know so well to be so shy. He is usually proud and confident, and loves attention and cameras. And then the bombshell, as we see the sore his left flank, where blood and white clumps of puss are oozing out. This is why Tim is acting so strangely. He is in great pain.
Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign material was already calling to “Keep Tim Alive” before he was found injured in November 2014. Photograph: John Heminway/WildlifeDirect
Majestic Tim is injured. We can only speculate about recent events, that Tim has possibly been speared by someone from the local community. He may have threatened farmers, or perhaps a poacher was after him.
All of us sit in our own silence as we watch Tim for over an hour. Then Tim steps out in front of us and walks amongst us, but his walk is strained. I cannot describe the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I feel so helpless, but also chastened. We have been celebrating the successes of our campaign, but what right do we have to celebrate when poaching and human-wildlife conflict still threaten elephants every day?
Within seconds the purpose of WildlifeDirect is suddenly vivid. Kenya has already lost two iconic tuskers, Satao and Mountain Bull, this year. Hands Off Our Elephants was already campaigning to Keep Tim Alive. Now he needs our help.
In minutes we have a plan to give the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) 25 thousand US dollars to to monitor and protect Tim 24/7. We call Julius Cheptei, the KWS Assistant Director, and he agrees to assign a vet to the case immediately.
As we leave Tim, the six other bulls that make up his escort are walking off towards the edge of the park. We follow them for a short while, and see they are heading towards some local settlements. I am not worried. It’s their normal routine and the communities here are usually very tolerant of elephants.
But Tim does not follow. He stays 200 meters behind and then peels off towards the centre of the swamp. He is not going to put himself at risk again.
14 November 2014, Nairobi Philip Murgor is Appointed as the new Chairman of WildlifeDirect Kenya
The Board of Directors of WildlifeDirect is happy to announce the appointment of Philip Murgor as the new Chairman of the board of WildlifeDirect Kenya.
Murgor’s appointment was made at a board meeting held at the Amboseli National Park in early November 2014. The international board was in Kenya to mark the first anniversary of WildlifeDirect’s flagship campaign, Hands Off Our Elephants.
This appointment will greatly strengthen the organisation, given his wealth of experience gained over two decades, working in both local and international litigation, serving as formerly as a State Counsel, as Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions and currently as the managing partner of Murgor and Murgor Advocates.
WildlifeDirect is committed and dedicated to changing laws and people’s behaviour and attitudes related to wildlife crime in Kenya and throughout Africa. In the last year, WildlifeDirect, through its Hands Off Our Elephants campaign, was in the forefront in championing the passing into law of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013. Currently, the organisation is conducting a study into the enforceability of the new law in relation to wildlife trafficking crimes in Kenya.
Philip Murgor’s contribution towards this end will not only be felt in Kenya but across the entire African continent where the Hands Off our Elephants campaign will go to.
Other members of the Kenyan board include development expert Irungu Houghton and Ali Daud Mohamed, the Climate Change Advisor in the office of the Deputy President.
The First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is the patron of the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign, launched to advocate for the protection of remaining elephant populations.
For More Information, Please contact CEO of WildlifeDirect Dr Paula Kahumbu on 0722 685 106 or the Communications Manager Bertha Kang’ong’oi on 0720 712 730
Under the partnership, UNDP will sponsor the First Lady’s ‘Hands Off Our Elephants campaign’ to the tune of USD 100,000
UNDP will also scale up its support for wildlife conservation initiatives by communities and other stakeholders involved in the campaign to protect elephants and other endangered wildlife species in the country.
Speaking during the launch at State House Nairobi, UNDP Administrator Ms Helen Clark stressed the need for all stakeholders to collaborate in maintaining the global momentum of awareness campaigns, especially in countries where wildlife trophies are sourced and the consumers.
“UNDP will do all it can to combat poaching in Kenya and other parts of the world. As a result of the spirited campaign, there is international consensus on wildlife conservation,” she said.
The UNDP Administrator commended the First Lady for her efforts to conserve wildlife through her ‘Hands Off Our Elephants’ campaign, and pledged her continued support to the initiative.
The First Lady welcomed the UNDP’s support, saying that the battle on poaching and illegal wildlife trophies trade cannot be won by a single entity.
“We still need to get the poachers before they strike. We cannot win this battle alone. We should work hand in hand. We all stand to benefit when we conserve our heritage because we all have a stake in it”, she said.
She called for closer partnership with all stakeholders to strengthen advocacy for community, national and global solutions to combat wildlife poaching.
At the same time, the First Lady, called for the harmonization of regional wildlife conservation legislation to combat cross-border poaching and smuggling. She said the harmonization would deepen cooperation in the region, especially in jointly combating the ivory trade.
The First lady noted with appreciation that the ‘Hands Off Our Elephants’ campaign she launched last year to raise awareness on the poaching menace both in Kenya and on the global stage was bearing fruit.
“The campaign to end the menace of wildlife poaching especially elephants and rhinos is close to my heart as it is to all Kenyans,” the First Lady said.
As a result of the campaign, she added, an increase of illegal trophy seizures in Kenyan ports has been witnessed and for the first time more seizures have been made on the African continent than in Asia.
The First Lady said the campaign has brought together of communities to conserve wildlife.
However, she regretted the increased poaching of elephant and rhino.
She insisted that that Kenya was home to some of the world’s most beautiful flora and fauna, and that it was ‘our duty’ to conserve and share it with the rest of the world.
The First Lady said over 300,000 Kenyans were directly employed in the tourism sector with many more as indirect beneficiaries.
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