Lupita Nyong'o, Sauti Sol, Caroline Mutoko launch anti-poaching campaign

Sauti Sol
Sauti Sol

Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o, popular Afro-pop band Sauti Sol and radio personality Caroline Mutoko Wednesday morning launched an anti-poaching campaign in Kenya.

Dubbed "Hearts and Minds" the campaign uses public service announcements, documentary shorts, billboards and social media to urge support for conservation and reporting of wildlife crime.

This comes at a time when the Kenya Wildlife Service is preparing to hold the world's largest ever ivory burning to be held this weekend in Nairobi, an exercise to be led by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The campaign, headlined by Kenya-based African Wildlife Foundation and WildAid’s "Poaching Steals From Us All", has an initial focus on elephants and will later cover other threatened species including lions and rhinos and certain species of birds like the vultures.

"Many of us know about the poaching crisis, but too many assume that someone else, the government or a conservation group, will take care of it", said Daudi Sumba, vice president of Program Design for AWF.

"If we lose our elephants and other wildlife to this threat, it will not be because we lacked the knowledge or tools to save them, but because we all failed to take ownership of our wildlife heritage. None of us can afford to be bystanders when so much is at stake," he added.

In a 2015 campaign survey of 2,000 Kenyans, more than 96 per cent felt wildlife was important for national identity, heritage and the economy. Only 13 per cent said they didn’t care about wildlife, 21 per cent said it was a nuisance, and 28 per cent said poaching didn’t affect them.

A further, 87 per cent said the government should do more about poaching, and 75 per cent said losing elephants would matter to them a great deal. There was little difference between urban and rural Kenyans.

“Clearly the vast majority of Kenyans strongly support conservation and understand its economic value. But our messages are designed to encourage a more active involvement in combating wildlife crime and we hope that this will extend greater protection to animals like pangolins and vultures that are not as charismatic as elephants and rhinos", said Peter Knights, WildAid CEO.

In recent years, KWS and its partners have done much to curb elephant poaching, such as deploying detection dogs to seaports and airports and strengthening the country's wildlife laws and penalties. Numbers of poached elephants fell from 384 in 2012 to 93 in 2015.

Rhino poaching has also declined as a result of intensive protection efforts. But the pattern of poaching in Kenya has been cyclical, rising and falling in response to a wide range of factors.

AWF and WildAid, while acknowledging the progress made to date, warn that poaching is an ever-present threat as long as markets for ivory and other wildlife products exist.

In addition to the PSAs, the campaign also released a mini doc and photo diary of Lupita’s trip last year to Kenya, where she visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and Amboseli, with the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

In 1975, Kenya had more than 160,000 elephants. By 1989, when the global ivory ban was enacted, this figure dropped to 16,000. After the ban, populations slowly began to stabilise and then to grow, and they now stand at around 35,000.

CITES has listed Kenya as a country of "primary concern" for its role in the global ivory trade. Despite the very positive steps the country has taken in recent years to curb poaching, Kenya’s seaports and airports remain trafficking hot-spots for smuggled wildlife products. The country’s more than 35,000 elephants also remain targets so long as there is a market for ivory.

The vast majority of the profits from ivory trading are made in the importing countries. In 2008, when CITES allowed four southern African countries to auction over 100 tonnes of ivory to Chinese and Japanese buyers, the average price per kilogram was $157 (Sh15,800). By the time that ivory reached local Chinese buyers, the price ranged between $450 (Sh45,400) and $1,500 (Sh151,500) per kilogram.

China and the United States, two of the world's biggest ivory markets, recently announced that they would take steps towards banning the domestic trade in ivory, with Hong Kong planning to follow suit.

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