Kenya Not Bad At Saving Elephants
Last week I explained how the explosive combination of human population pressure; widespread rural poverty; and increased trade and travel between Africa and the Far East were the fundamental factors underlying the increase in poaching throughout East and Central Africa. These factors combine to produce a situation in which the insatiable demand for ivory and rhino horn in the Far East creates an immense pressure on local poaching operators to supply this demand. But the problem is not limited to East and Central Africa. For many years, Kenyan tourism stakeholders, as much as Kenyan environmental conservationists, have used South Africa as a benchmark for their best practices.
There is good reason for this. While Kenya is only now heading towards 1.5 million visitors a year, South Africa, post-apartheid, has averaged 5 million tourists annually. And those who are attentive to news about the latest happenings in wildlife circles will know that South Africa has donated dozens of rhinos to Kenya over the past several years, to help restore our massively depleted population of rhinos. So it might come as a surprise to many readers to learn that South Africa is currently losing at least two rhinos every day to poachers and this, despite the fact that in the most important game park in South Africa, the Kruger National Park, the South African Army has now been brought in to help fight the rampant poaching.
This year alone, South Africa has lost 250 rhinos to poaching. In 2011, they lost 448 rhino to poachers. In comparison, Kenya lost 23 rhino last year, and has only lost four rhino to poachers this year. Bear it in mind that South Africa effectively accounts for half the wealth in sub- Saharan Africa. As such, what our Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has available by way of resources, is mere peanuts, compared to what South Africa National Parks (SAN-Parks) can mobilise. And despite this, and even with the extreme measure of calling in the army, South Africa still continues to lose its rhinos at a devastating rate.
These figures put into perspective the pan-African nature of the illegal trade in rhino horn and the elephant tusks which are greatly prized in the Far East. With rhino horn having an estimated value of $65,000 (Sh5.5 million approx.) per kilo; and an adult rhino carrying roughly 7 kilos of horn on its head; you could say that each adult rhino carries anything from Sh30-40 million on its head.
This is far more than even the most audacious gangs of bank robbers manage to make off with here in Kenya, in a heist involving many people both inside and outside the bank. Ivory is not quite as valuable; but at a current historical high of $2,000 (Sh170,000 approx.) a kilo, ivory poaching is an extremely lucrative business, if you can get your illegal store of ivory to the Far East.
So if we consider the comparative success in limiting the number of rhinos killed every year in Kenya; and the fact that Kenya’s elephant population actually grows by about 1,000 elephants every year (despite poaching); we have to concede that KWS is actually doing a pretty good job in preserving Kenyan wildlife.
The question bound to arise then is, “What about all that ivory that was found a few months ago in containers just about to be shipped out in Mombasa? And what about the equally big haul of ivory discovered in Sri Lanka, which had already escaped the surveillance of the KWS teams at the port of Mombasa?”
Well, while undoubtedly some of that ivory has to be from Kenya. But by far the greater quantity of those ivory-bearing freight containers are actually from the Congo DRC, coming to Kenya via Uganda. Unlike in Kenya where elephant populations are monitored by satellite track-
ing, the comparative lawlessness of eastern Congo DRC is the perfect environment for industrial-scale poaching.
It should be borne in mind that a lot of cargo to be found moving through Kilindini port in Mombasa at any one time, is actually from Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo DRC, all of whom rely on the Kenyan port for their exports. So whereas the casual newspaper reader might easily form an impression that Kenya’s elephant population is being decimated, the fact is that it is the Congo DRC — which by some accounts has more elephants in its forests than all of East Africa combined — which is the real location of this massive elephant poaching.
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