Government must act fast to avert complete extinction of some species
By Ben Oduor
On April 30, a rainy Saturday afternoon, heads of state, United Nations officials, conservationists from around the globe, businesspersons, politicians and the world press gathered at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) headquarters in Nairobi to witness a historic burning of 105 tonnes of ivory.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta led the delegation in setting ablaze poached tusks, eight times more than have ever been destroyed at once in history, in a bid to show his commitment to ending the illegal trade.
Addressing the crowd during the ceremony, President Kenyatta said Kenya was making clear its stand on ending the illegal trade.
“Kenya is making a statement that, for us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants,” he said
Echoing his sentiments, KWS Director-General Kitili Mbathi said before the ceremony: “We are doing this to send a message that there is no intrinsic value in ivory, there is only value in elephants. Anybody who owns ivory should be ashamed of themself. Do not buy ivory.”
Huge losses, few charges
However, addressing a separate gathering in Meru County, Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga accused the government of hoodwinking citizens by burning illegal ivory yet the poachers were not charged.
“Which poachers have they put behind bars? What is the essence of burning illegal ivory if it (Jubilee administration) can’t arrest the poachers?” he asked.
The African elephant faces extinction due to mass poaching fuelled by demand for illicit ivory, mainly in Asian markets. Around 30,000 elephants are killed every year across the continent — a rate of slaughter that sources predict could bring about extinction within two decades.
According to KWS, the 12 ivory towers that were set ablaze were elephant tusks and rhino horns from more than 8,000 elephants and 343 rhinos, estimated to cost more than $172 million (Ksh17.3 billion).
Poaching Facts, an organisation dedicated to uncovering and disclosing facts of wildlife trade, says in a 2013 report that KWS announced that 302 elephants were lost to poaching and a census it carried out that year noted a steady growth to 1,940, a number that was reduced by poachers as Kenya lost 137 elephants and 24 rhinoceros the following year.
The group further says that Kenyan authorities reported that government-held stockpiles had 25,052 pieces of ivory weighing 137,679 kg, which included raw elephant ivory from elephants which died of natural and unnatural causes as well as ivory recovered by other agencies from poachers, traffickers, and raw and worked ivory originating from inside and outside the country.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1989 banned commercial trade in African elephant ivory, but has since permitted one-off sales, a move that has increased poaching in Africa, and campaigned against by African heads of state who want a total ban.
A BBC feature Uncovering China’s illegal ivory trade reports that there are around 150 legal, government-licensed ivory shops in China — the only ones allowed to sell ivory to individual buyers in the country.
But, “Chinese consumers, increasingly wealthy, desire ivory. Some think it is lucky, while for some it is a way to display their status. Others see it as a good investment and many give ivory as a gift or bribe to win favour with an official or business contact. It is certainly good business.”
To avoid the law, the BBC says, China’s ivory traders have moved online. “Selling ivory on the internet is illegal and major websites have banned it. But on sites specialising in auctions, antiques and collectables, it is easy to find dozens of photos of ivory pieces for sale.”
Obviously, it is for this reason that Africa, mainly central, eastern and southern countries have been seeing an increase in poaching.
According to Dr Max Graham, chief executive of Space for Giants, parent charity of the Giants Club, a historic gathering of African heads of state, business leaders and conservationists dedicated to saving Africa’s elephants, “improved ranger forces, forces to reduce human-elephant conflict and enhanced legal frameworks for convicting poachers and traffickers will help conserve a significant number of elephants and buy us time to end the demand.”
In Kenya, human-wildlife conflict is a reality with communities, mainly pastoralists, occupying land reserved for game parks and wildlife. Frequently, humans are entangled in fierce battle with wild animals that prey on their livestock.
Further, Poaching Facts notes that land encroachment by communities around game reserves leads to subsistence poaching — an issue that Kenya must consider in its efforts to control internal poaching from communities within or near game reserves.
“A vast majority of poaching throughout the world is of small and medium-sized game that are killed for meat. The meat may supplement or be a primary source of nourishment for people living in destitution or in isolated rural communities lacking significant access to regional trade.”
And, projects spearheaded by the Jubilee government such as the standard gauge railway and massive road expansion have worsened human-wildlife conflict as some of them pass through game reserves.
Two months ago, Mohawk, a 13-year-old lion was gunned down by a KWS ranger when it escaped from the Nairobi National Park and attacked a man. The killing sparked criticism from the public who questioned why the rangers did not use a tranquiliser gun.
Kenya’s tourism indistry, largely founded on wildlife, contributes about 12 per cent to the East African country’s GDP and has been one of the top contributors to the economy.
The sector contributed KSh229 billion ($2.3 billion) to GDP last year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The ivory market is as lucrative, with industry reports saying “ivory sales in China had risen for a kilogramme of raw ivory from $750 (Ksh75,459) in 2010 to $2,100 (KSh211,285) in 2014.”
Hence, the Kenyan government should be seen to be practically enforcing stringent legislative frameworks on wildlife conservation to avert a complete extinction in the next decades.