Fighting the elephant ivory poachers of Kenya   1 comment

Source: Graham Boynton

With the slaughter of elephants showing no sign of slowing in Kenya, Dr Paula Kahumbu is a conservationist who is taking the fight to the poachers

Dr Paula Kahumbu’s eyes are blazing and she is jabbing her finger at the distant African horizon. At anyone, everyone, who is responsible for the elephant slaughter engulfing this continent. ‘You realise that Kenya is now Africa’s primary gateway for ivory smuggled to Asia,’ she says. ‘What that tells us is that organised crime has taken root in this country. It is corrupting the entire chain, from the wildlife areas to our ports.’

We are standing on the plains of the Maasai Mara, the most northern extension of the fabled Serengeti, one of Africa’s most beautiful wildlife ecosystems. Out here today there is tranquillity: wildlife going about its business, uninterrupted by the predations of modern man. As the sun begins to set behind the hills, zebras, wildebeest, giraffes and a small herd of elephants head towards the Sand river for water. Above, eagles and vultures are riding the thermals like so many kites against a cobalt-blue sky. Right now the only predators these animals need fear are the lions, hyenas and occasional leopards that are part of the ecological chain.

But this serene snapshot of the African wilderness adhering to its ancient order contrasts starkly with the blizzard of recent reports of elephant, rhino and big-cat poaching. Over the past three years, more than 100,000 elephants across the continent were killed for their ivory. South Africa, which has 80 per cent of Africa’s rhinos, is losing about three a day to poachers. Elsewhere lion, leopard and cheetah numbers are declining dramatically, and even less-endangered species such as giraffe and zebra are being hunted illegally for the shabby trade in skins and bushmeat.

A shocking study published in August by American academics states that Africa’s elephant population has reached tipping point, that poachers are now killing more elephants than are being born, and the species is heading for extinction. According to the lead author, Colorado State University’s George Wittemyer, ‘We are shredding the fabric of elephant society and exterminating populations across the continent.’

Paula Kahumbu knows better than most that the African wilderness we are looking at – the idyllic Maasai Mara of so many tourist brochures – is under serious threat. For the past six years this vivacious Kenyan crusader has been playing a leading role in WildlifeDirect, the most creative, outspoken and politically active environmental NGO to emerge in recent years. Most African wildlife organisations – the AWF (African Wildlife Foundation), WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and Tusk Trust, for example – are dominated by white Western males, all with the best intentions but required by African political protocol to remain polite, relatively docile and deferential to the political leaders.

Dr Kahumbu is the opposite: confrontational, fearless and ready to tackle African politicians head on. ‘In this country,’ she says, ‘the conservation world is dominated by people who aren’t African Kenyans, and that has allowed the powers-that-be to look at it as a black versus white issue. So having me speaking out and enlisting Africans from all sectors has been an important change.’

Her approach has exposed her to personal danger, and she admits she has received what she calls ‘veiled threats’. ‘Dealing with issues that touch on organised crime, corruption and politics – and you can be sure these criminals are engaged with the political fraternity in Kenya – then that could be dangerous,’ Kahumbu acknowledges. ‘But the stakes are too high to back down now.’

She is equally emphatic about what needs to be done to stem demand. The most ‘blindingly obvious move in the short term’ is for the Chinese government to ban the domestic trade in ivory. ‘It would instantly reduce international demand by about 80 per cent,’ she says, ‘but at the moment the Chinese government is sending out mixed signals. It says it is trying to reduce demand by allowing organisations like WildAid to put out anti-poaching posters in subways and on the sides of buildings, but at the same time there are ivory exhibitions, they promote ivory markets and they recently started carving degree courses at Chinese universities. Everyone is terrified of upsetting China, but the situation is now urgent so there is no longer time for diplomatic niceties.’ More….

One response to “Fighting the elephant ivory poachers of Kenya

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  1. Pingback: Stop any Safari hunting, even in private areas. | Don Lichterman

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