“My fellow Kenyans, poaching and the destruction of our environment has no future in this country. The responsibility to protect our environment belongs not just to the Government, but to each and every one of us”. - President Uhuru Kenyatta
The 1989 ivory burning by Kenya is undisputedly the most powerful conservation symbol the world has ever seen and led to the successful international ban on trade in ivory. Despite the challenge that we are currently facing, Kenya now stands at the nexus of being an agent for change: historically, geographically technically, and now, politically.
In a recent article in this newspaper, I contrasted the words of Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Kenya to the actions I witnessed in a court of law in which a Vietnamese ivory trafficker was fined less than one per cent of the value of the ivory he was smuggling. One week later, a Chinese man facing similar charges met the same fine.
Attending court was a horrifying experience – I witnessed firsthand the self confessed criminals responsible for the destruction of Africa’s majestic wildlife being set free to continue their deadly trade.
My article was aimed at provoking readers to cross the threshold of the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, and accompany me into grimy underworld of wildlife crime.
I described the pain of sitting for hours on a hard wooden bench in unventilated heaving courtrooms and the relief when our case was announced after an hour in which our file could not be found. I wanted readers to become the despirted law enforcement agents who repeatedly witness their work coming to naught as wildlife criminals are hastily dispensed of by dispassionate magistrates, and unleashed back onto the streets.
It occurred to me that day how incredulous it is that the government of Kenya has makes such enormous investments in anti-poaching and customs controls; thousands of armed rangers, sniffer dogs at ports, vehicles, aircraft and helicopters, when the penalty for wildlife crime is less than a slap on the wrist.
Thanks to greater media coverage, Kenyans are now aware that our elephants are under greater pressure than in the last 20 years, and our populations are now declining. It is time to wake up to the fact that it is not just our elephants that we are losing; Kenya is also enabling the slaughter of elephants across Africa by virtue of the ease with which ivory is trafficked across our borders.
Like it or not, Kenya is now at the center of illegal ivory trafficking worldwide.
Since 2009 Kenya and Tanzania have rapidly ascended to become the two most prominent countries connecting African ivory with Asian demand. In 2009, Kenya was merely an “emerging force” due to two large shipments of Central African ivory passing through Mombasa. Since then Kenya become a primary conduit for large shipments of ivory to be reported to Asia.
“The Eastern African sub region has consolidated its position as the primary exit point for illicit ivory leaving the African continent, with Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania as prominent countries of origin and export in the trade constituting at least 64 per cent of the total volume of ivory seized in these transactions. During that period, Kenya accounted for over 21.6 tonnes of ivory in volumes of 500 kg or more,” says Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC.
“The African Elephant is facing the greatest crisis in decades. Reports of mass elephant killings in the media vividly illustrate the situation across many African range states …In some areas the elephant may soon disappear unless urgent action is taken,” says Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP.
Kenya’s positioning at CITES compared to her actions at home have been described as story like A Tale of Two Cities.
“On the one hand, within the CITES arena, Kenya is ardently passionate about elephant protection and speaks out at every opportunity, on the other hand the ETIS trade data seemingly show unfettered flows of large volumes of ivory leaving Kenya from Mombasa in particular for Asia, over 21.6 tonnes of ivory between 2009 and 2011 in cases of 500 kg or more” says a frustrated Tom Milliken.
Kenya’s prominent role in ivory trafficking is a major shift in African trade routes and the scale of these consignments suggest the handiwork of organized criminal syndicates, and few believe that they could operate without some degree of political protection.
Kenya cannot afford to lose any more time. Members of The Kenya Elephant Forum have devised a plan for Uhuru Kenyatta and the Government of Kenya called Saving Elephants - 10 Ways in 100 Days.
The real cost to Kenya
While many Kenyans can grasp the economic impact of the loss of tourism associated with elephants, consider that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Environmental and conservation loss includes the disappearance of key species.
- There will be economic loss of revenues from reduced taxes, fees, tourism earnings, jobs.
- Protection costs will increase due to heightened security and indirect due to environmental degradation. Resources will be diverted from other conservation priorities.
- There will be reduction in economic growth, livelihood options and economic potential at local and national level.
- Insecurity will increase because of armed nature of poachers and financing of criminal groups. Communities in particular are being attacked by and coerced into criminal activities by violent armed gangs.
- Transnational organised crime networks similar to drug cartels will become entrenched in Kenya.
- The organised nature of poaching, and associated corruption diminishes Kenya’s attractiveness for foreign investors, particularly in tourism and nature based businesses.
Why we must act now
Kenya has traditionally been a leading voice on the world stage in the conservation arena through tourism, collaboration with international agreements, branding, partnerships with the NGO and scientific communities, and documentaries which have shown the world “Magical Kenya.”
Our national wildlife enforcement agency, the Kenya Wildlife Service, is respected worldwide for wildlife enforcement. Kenya is home to the world’s longest running research on elephants, and headquarters for most of the greatest experts on this species including, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Save the Elephants, Ifaw, IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, Space for Giants, WWF, WildlifeDirect, Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE)/Unep, amongst others.
Despite Kenya’s historical role, the gains of the past, and the increased investment in anti-poaching, we are still losing ground. And Kenya is not alone. Most African countries are unable to respond adequately. All have acknowledged the need for a global response and trans-boundary collaboration. Kenya can be the model for pan-African application.
What we must do
We propose a simple and definitive action plan, 10 Ways In 100 Days to restore Kenya to her prestigious position on the front line in combating the rampant poaching and trafficking taking place across Africa, and regain her worldwide reputation as the premier wildlife conservation and tourism destination.
The ten point plan covers the following key areas; Compliance with existing local and international laws and agreements , enhanced law enforcement, Improved governance and legislation, public accountability to Kenyans and the international community, outreach and communication to raise local and global awareness, create understanding of the crisis and to enlist support from all sectors of society in halting the crisis facing elephants.
President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya can take on a pre-eminent and progressive role as the saviour of this iconic species which will have an immediate positive impact on the conservation of all other species. We ask His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of the Republic of Kenya to adopt the following 10 point plan
SAVING ELEPHANTS 10 WAYS IN 100 DAYS
1. Task the National Council on Administration of Justice to take on wildlife crime as a priority and develop Standard Operating Procedures to robustly prosecute cases and appeal lenient sentences.
2. Identify wildlife crime hotspots and request the Chief Justice to assign a dedicated judge in each of the conservation areas. Together with the Attorney General, CJ and DPP, seek agreement to take judicial notice that poaching offences are 'organised criminal activities’, and support the DPP with adequate capacity to prosecute these crimes under the full range of laws.
3. Announce a crackdown on corruption within relevant government agencies involved in protecting wildlife, transport and export of wildlife products.
4. Fast track amendment under the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act to address penalties.
5. Enhance enforcement capacity in government agencies, private/community conservation areas, and KWS; increase sniffer dogs and scanners in transit areas, airports and seaports; provide wildlife crime hotlines for public involvement; give rewards for intelligence leading to conviction..
6. Adopt an ivory crisis outreach campaign to educate a broad range of local stakeholders, including customs, KRA, transporters, judiciary, air and seaports, general public, targeted communities.
7. In partnership with international agencies, initiate a diplomatic campaign with range, transit and consumer states to formulate mitigation strategies including intelligence, information sharing, education, reducing demand and banning domestic markets.
8.In partnership with leading experts, produce elephant and rhino status reports, and a study which determines the impact of poaching to the economy of Kenya.
9. Take a leadership role in developing Africa’s first comprehensive ivory inventory and audit system in collaboration with key partners and global accounting firms.
10. Scale up engagement with regional and global enforcement agencies in order to crack down on key cartels. These include LATIF and the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime comprising UNODC, CITES, Interpol, WCO and World Bank.
Kenya stands at the nexus of being the world’s role model for leadership in endangered species protection
If we take on this opportunity, Kenya will create a bold vision for a worldwide response to save elephants across Africa. Kenya will be at the forefront of developing effective models and best practices for conservation that are applicable for all species and other countries. Once again, Kenya will be an innovator, on the cutting edge of management, research, assessment and information sharing.
And, Kenya will restore confidence in the ability of African nations to respond effectively to challenges through compliance, enforcement and legislation. We believe that President Kenyatta can reinstate Kenya as the world’s role model for leadership in endangered species protection.
Responding to pressure from conservationists and the tourism industry, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, went on record last week decrying the escalating cases of wildlife crime and calling for the judiciary to overhaul of laws and impose stiffer penalties on offenders.
He stated that he recognises the linkage between transnational organized crimes and wildlife crimes and confirmed is already working on dealing with those crimes under the Prevention of Organised Crimes Act and under the Anti Money laundering legislation. Tobiko said that the KWS must be supported by other government agencies in dealing with the crisis, and said that his office had set up a special unit to deal with wildlife crime.
Already two cases have shown the seriousness with prosecutions are now being handled – in the case of a young man caught at Galleria with ivory, his bail was set at a record 2 million with sureties and bonds at 5 million each, while bail for five men in Nanyuki, suspected to be members of a gang that killed a rhino at Il Ingwewsi, was set at one million each. The tide is finally turning and the dark days of impunity amongst poachers and dealers are closing.