Category Archives: kenya

Africa: New Report Commissioned By Born Free Usa Confirms Organized Crime, Government Corruption, and Militia Links to Elephant Poaching and the Ivory Trade

Born Free
21 April 2014

Washington, DC — ”Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa” reveals similarity between the illicit networks that enable terrorism, weapons, human trafficking, and ivory commercialization.

Today, Born Free USA and C4ADS released “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa,” one of the most shocking, rigorous and in-depth analyses of elephant poaching  and the ivory trade to date. The report examines links to violent militias, organized crime, government corruption, and ivory trade to Asia. It further exposes the widespread transnational illicit participants deeply interwoven into the system that moves ivory. The full report is available at www.bornfreeusa.org/ivoryscurse.

According to Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, a global leader in wildlife conservation and animal welfare, “The elephant poaching crisis has reached historic levels and, shockingly, some elephant populations face extinction in my lifetime. Born Free USA sought to understand in a more robust way how destabilizing and corrupt individuals, as well as organized crime networks across Africa, place human security at risk and traffic in elephant ivory from slaughtered animals. Clearly, Ivory’s Curse shows that defense, military, national security, and foreign policy leaders must play a role in stopping the elephant massacre across the continent.”

Roberts explains, “Our findings shine a bright light on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan, and Kenya, where poachers move across borders with near impunity, slaughter elephants with complete disregard, and use the ivory to fund violent operations across the continent. Global leaders cannot stand by while the human tragedy and poaching crisis continue.”

Varun Vira, Senior Analyst at C4ADS and co-author of the report commissioned by Born Free USA, said, “Ivory is a conflict, crime, and corruption issue with severe human impact. It has been a conflict resource for decades, just like blood diamonds or coltan in Central Africa, only without the same level of global attention.”

One elephant yields about 20 pounds of ivory worth approximately $30,000. It is estimated that between 35,000 and 50,000 may have been killed in 2013. At this rate, the ivory trade could be worth one billion dollars annually, and will likely increase with the escalating retail price of ivory.

Ivory’s Curse provides detailed regional case studies on the ivory trade, including:

• From Sudan, government-allied militias complicit in the Darfur genocide fund their operations by poaching elephants hundreds of miles outside North Sudan’s borders.
• In the DRC, state security forces patronize the very rebels they are supposed to fight, providing them with weapons and support in exchange for ivory.
• Zimbabwean political elites, including those under international sanction, are seizing wildlife spaces that either are, or likely will soon be, used as covers for poaching operations.
• In East Africa, al-Shabaab and Somali criminal networks are profiting off Kenyan elephants killed by poachers using weapons leaked from local security forces.
• Mozambican organized crime has militarized and consolidated to the extent it is willing to battle the South African army and well-trained ranger forces for rhino horn.
• In Gabon and the Republic of Congo, ill-regulated forest exploitation is bringing East Asian migrant laborers, and East Asian organized crime, into contact with Central Africa’s last elephants.
• In Tanzania, political elites have aided the industrial-scale depletion of East Africa’s largest elephant population.

Vira explains, “Subsistence elephant poaching barely exists anymore. Impoverished locals may pull the triggers but they source to organized crime, which controls the scale of the poaching and nearly all profits. Saving both elephants and local communities will require moving from the bush into the world of global illicit networks in order to target transnational criminal profits. There are infinitely more young Africans willing to shoulder guns and kill elephants than there are containers full of ivory.”

Roberts concludes, “No one should ever buy ivory, but they should also contribute resources to organizations like Born Free USA that help equip rangers on the ground, and should pressure political leaders to take action to end the corruption. As long as supply chains remain unbroken and consumer demand remains insatiable, poachers will ply their deadly trade to supply the marketplace.”

The trade in rhino horn: asset stripping on an apocalyptic scale

By Paula Kahumbu

The South African government’s plan to legalise rhino horn sales will simply make life easier for the organised crime cartels that are exterminating the species.

White rhinoceros grazing. More than 1000 were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2013

White rhinoceros grazing. More than 1000 were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2013. Photograph: Radius Images/www.jupiterimages.com

I am sitting in a large meeting room at Pretoria University in South Africa at a conference to discuss the trade in rhino horn. Expecting a fierce debate pitting conservationists against hunters and traders, instead I find myself confronting my own impotence against the most horrific poaching of rhinos. What is happening in South Africa is truly in a league of its own.

I already knew that over 1000 rhino are being poached each year in South Africa. But these were just statistics. The fact that it was happening in a far away country made me feel that this was not my problem. Besides, those are white rhinos, the South African species that is still relatively numerous. In Kenya we are mostly concerned about our own species, the critically endangered black rhino.

In short I had many reasons and excuses to not engage with this ‘South African’ problem. Now I am seeing the photos of heartbreaking suffering that poachers are inflicting on rhinos. Faces hacked open, blood saturated soil.

Then, just when I think I am getting used to the images, the videos start flowing.

In one, an animal, barely recognisable as a rhino because its head is just a bloody pulp, moves and tries to get up. I cover my face, then turn to watch, tears streaming down my face. The pain I feel in every cell of my body can not be a fraction of what this once beautiful animal was experiencing.

I look around the room of 50 or so participants, rhino owners, conservationists, scientists, veterinarians, hunters. Every face is a mask of horror and despair.

The rhino without a face tries to walk.His front left leg is broken and he stumbles and snorts in pain, it is a high pitched squeak that sends bubbles of blood out of the hole that was his horn. He struggles painfully, in circles, he can’t see the bush he stumbles into because his eyes are gone, cut out by the poachers. I can’t bear it and have to rush to the bathroom to cry. In the hall there is not a dry face in sight.

The vet and wildlife campaigner Johan Marais showed us these photos and videos to illustrate how some poached rhinos can be rescued, their horrendous wounds will eventually close if careful care is given. It will take months, maybe a year. What is left is a strange deformed creature, with a sad expression, and most of its face missing. It will be scarred for life; the horns will never grow back again. Marais’s work is heroic; rhinos’ lives are saved, but at what cost?

The carcass of a rhino in the Kruger National Park,South Africa, one of 606 killed there by poachers in 2013.

The carcass of a rhino in the Kruger National Park,South Africa, one of 606 killed there by poachers in 2013. Photograph: Foto24/Getty Images

Ironically I was at the conference called by the organization Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching (OSCAP) to discuss the South African government’s proposal to sell rhino horn. The Department of Environmental Affairs says it has done the maths. South Africa has 20,000 white rhino and their horns can be ‘harvested’ sustainably, without killing the animals. Selling rhino horn will generate the funds needed to support rhino conservation.

Whether wildlife conservation is really the motivation for this proposal – rather than simply making money – is open to question. The South African government did not even bother to send a delegation to the major inter-governmental conference on illegal wildlife trade in London this February.

Moreover, South Africa has form as a trader of products from endangered species. In 2000 the government put forward a similar proposal for the sale of ivory. It argued that the country’s good management of elephant populations should be rewarded. CITES approved the sale of ivory by four southern African countries first to Japan and then, in 2008, to China.

Just as conservationists at the time had warned, that sale triggered a massive demand in China and Southeast Asia leading to uncontrolled poaching that is currently decimating elephant populations across Africa. Now South Africa wants to sell rhino horn. This proposal is utterly outrageous. Here are three reasons why.

First, legalising sales will simply make life easier for the organized crime cartels that already control the trade in rhino horn.

In 1968, South Africa began allowing sport hunting of rhino, once again ostensibly to raise funds for conservation. Trophy hunting arouses strong emotions. Some conservationists, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, argue that controlled hunting can play a role in protecting species and ecosystems. Others despise the rich white males who need to kill big animals to demonstrate their masculinity, and are outraged at the idea of them coming to Africa to do it. Nevertheless trophy hunting does generate a lot of money and this has motivated some land owners to breed rhinos.

But the fact is that, of the 200 South African rhino hunts in 2013, only 15 were genuine hunts. The rest were rhinos shot by mostly Vietnamese ‘pseudo hunters’, who pay for the privilege of trophy hunting but have no intention of ever mounting their trophy on a wall. The economics are simple: the cost of hunting is about US $20,000, but the 3.5 kg horn is worth many times more when ground up into a fine dust, for sale as a ‘medicinal’ product. Current prices are estimated at up to US $75,000 per kg.

The scam is widely prevalent and has been exposed as highly organized crime by investigative journalist Julian Rademeyer in his best-selling book ‘Killing for Profit’. He tells how the Vietnamese cartels operate, how they subvert justice, how powerful they are, and how helpless rhino owners are against this foe. Owning rhinos has become a liability: it attracts criminals to your property.

At present, trade in rhino horns is illegal. The proposal to allow legal trade will simply open the floodgates to allow millions of dollars of poached rhino horn – indistinguishable from the ‘legal’ product’ – onto the market. Exactly the same happened when ivory trade was legalised at the start of the century, initiating a catastrophic decline in elephant populations across the continent.

Secondly, the idea that regulated trade in rhino horn will work as a strategy against poaching is preposterous. According to a study supporting the South African proposal, existing ‘demand’ could be met by moving 2000 adult rhinoceros – 10% of the wild population – to fenced enclosures covering a total of 400,000 ha. These a poor animals would then have their horns ‘humanely’ removed once every two years over their lifespan of 35 to 50 years.

But in reality there is no way that the supply from farmed rhino could come remotely close to meeting the demand, which is growing exponentially as consumers in the principal markets in Southeast Asia become richer.

Anyway, the criminal cartels that control the trade have no reason to buy expensive ‘farmed’ rhino, when they could just as easily poach it, or help themselves to more of the dwindling wild population in poorly protected national parks. Violence is deeply entrenched in the traffickers operations and they have no interest in the conservation of the species.

In the short term, the rarer rhinos become, the more prices will rise. Then, when rhinos are extinct, the traffickers will move on and invest their profits somewhere else. Their business model is an apocalyptic vision of asset stripping on a grand scale.

Finally, from an ethical standpoint, what is worst about this proposal is that it is based on peddling a lie. In Southeast Asia, rhino horns have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.

It is now known that rhino horns have no medicinal value at all; chemically they are indistinguishable from horses’ hooves and human toenails. But Vietnamese traffickers are fuelling demand by marketing new ‘benefits’ of rhino horn, as an aphrodisiac or a cure for hangovers, or cancer.

This is quack medicine. A mandarin-speaking colleague of mine recently got into conversation with a Chinese visitor to Kenya and asked him about the purpose of his visit. “I’ve come to get rhino horn,” the man replied. “My daughter is dying and the doctor says that rhino horn is the only thing that can save her.” By allowing rhino horn to be marketed, African nations would be complicit in this kind of cruel deception.

After the conference, shocked, deeply saddened, traumatized, paralysed, and numb, I returned to Nairobi and lay in bed thinking for two days. Then on Monday, I awoke to another beautiful dawn over Nairobi Park, home of black and white rhino, which poachers already have their eyes on. We cannot allow our leaders to be complicit in the desecration of our continent. My message to the South African government is simple: for God’s sake, stop before it is too late.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2014/apr/17/trade-in-rhino-horn-asset-stripping-on-an-apocalyptic-scale

 

Kenya: Alert Over Poaching in Narok

By Kiplang’at Kirui, The Star

11 April 2014

NAROK County Commissioner Farah Kassim has said the security agencies were on high alert following various incidences of wildlife poaching in the recent past.

Kassim said security apparatus were ready to deal ruthlessly with poachers who have claimed a number of endangered species of animals in the world-famous Maasai Mara Game reserve and in private conservancies in the county.

Addressing media in his office yesterday, Kassim said most of the killings were being executed with the use of guns and poisoned arrows and spears, an indication that the locals were involved.

He urged the public to volunteer information every time such incidences occur in order to have the culprits arrested.

The administrator revealed that some three suspects were facing charges in court over the killing of two elephants in the Mara two weeks ago.

A male black rhino was also killed at Paradise plains in Musiala Conservancy last month raising concerns about the safety of our wildlife with several hundreds of kilogrammes of zebra meat also being nabbed during the month.

Alsothe police recovered three elephant tusks worth Sh1.4million in a house near Narok town on Tuesday.

This comes as Conservationists voice concern over the survival of elephants and other endangered species in the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the conservancies around it after Kenya Wildlife Service reported that 10 jumbos had been killed by poachers in the area in the last five months.

The elephant tusks and the rhino horns are said to be on high demand in some Asian countries where they are said to be used to make various ornaments and are said to also be of medicinal value.

Article at the following link:

Rift Valley Police net elephant tusks worth Sh1.2m in Narok, suspects escape (Kenya)

By Kipchumba Kemei, Standard Digital
April 8th 2014
Narok, Kenya: Police in Narok have seized three pieces of elephant tusks worth more than Sh1.2 million in a private residence outside the town.
The tusks, which police say was to be transported to Nairobi by a taxi, are suspected to have originated from areas bordering Maasai Mara Game Reserve
The area county commander Samuel Mukindia said the tusks, which were seized on Monday evening from a residential house in Total area where it was hidden, weighed more than 48 kg, adding that the occupants of the house escaped the police dragnet.
“We were tipped off and we laid a trap but when the house occupants realised we were closing in, they escaped through a back door,” said Mukindia.
He added that the owner of the contraband, who had hired a taxi to transport them to the city at night, was alerted about police presence by the occupants, forcing him to abandon the mission.
The operation, the first in the region where poachers have killed dozens of elephants and a black rhinos this year, was being coordinated by Narok North deputy police boss Paul Cheruiyot and the deputy Criminal CID officer Daniel Gatimu. Mukindia said a hunt for the occupants of the rented house, who escaped moments before the raid, has been launched and asked the public to assist them in giving any information about their whereabouts.
“We have details about them. With the public support, we will definitely apprehend them,” Mukindia said but declined to say how many they were for fear that it would jeopardize investigations.

Will this man’s tears save our elephants? (Kenya)

Daily Nation

March 30, 2014

When an elephant was killed last week at the Aberdare National Park, Mr Allan Wanyama, a game ranger, wept.

Cameras caught the distraught ranger, rifle in hand, crying as he stood desolately over the animal, which still had blood oozing from its wounds.

“It was a mixture of emotion and bitterness,” explains Wanyama, 24. “At that moment I would not have  spared any of the poachers. I almost lost my mind at the sight of the carcass of the animal, which was everybody’s favourite at the park.”

He adds that he had developed a close attachment to the animal during the period he had served at the park.

For Wanyama, painful memories of the friendly animal was the last straw.

The ruthlessness of the poaching cartels and the number of KWS officers whose lives have been cut short by the ruthless gangs had made him a bitter and worried man, hence his sadness at the death of the elephant that Sundaymorning.

“Looking at the carcass of such an animal is like waking up in the morning and finding your boss dead and realising that in a short time you face the possibility of being jobless.

The government has given me a gun and houses me to look after the animals. I felt let down,” he explains.

That morning, as Wayama and his colleagues patrolled the forest, they heard gunshots.

They headed in the direction from which the shots had come and soon came across the animal that had been killed. They interrupted the poachers because the tusks had only been partially removed.

“The poachers must have been on the alert and fled when they heard us approaching,” he says.

The fleeing poachers left food, assorted pairs of shoes, and a tent, an indication that they were so sure they would not be detected that they had camped in the forest.

The slain elephant was the biggest of the herd and, according to Wanyama, very friendly to tourists.

“He was not hostile and many people loved him because, instead of running away the way the others did, he would move closer, causing great excitement among the visitors,” he recalls.

Although some of Wanyama’s friends viewed his reaction as extreme and teased him about mourning an elephant, recent statistics on the poaching of elephants and rhinos in the country is no laughing matter.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) acting director William Kiprono says that in the past three months, poachers have killed 18 rhinos and 51 elephants. Last year, the country lost 59 rhinos and 302 elephants to poaching, while in 2012 it lost 30 rhinos and 384 elephants to the criminal gangs.

“We attribute the problem of poaching in Kenya and the rest of Africa to growing demand and the high prices being offered for rhino horn and elephant tusks in Far East countries as the ready market continues to spur the illegal sale of ivory and rhino horns,” he says, adding that poachers not only use sophisticated weapons, but have resorted to silent methods, which makes it difficult for rangers on patrol to detect their presence.

In parks such as Lake Nakuru, the rising water levels have caused grazing land for rhinos to shrink, forcing the animals to move to areas near the edge of the park, making them easy targets for poachers.

Besides, Lake Nakuru is located in a cosmopolitan area, so poachers easily sneak into the park, kill rhinos, and disappear into the town undetected.

Kiprono says KWS has adopted a multifaceted strategy that brings together law enforcement agencies, the Judiciary, and the community in an attempt to curb the menace.

“We have increased collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, both in the region and internationally, to ensure more robust intelligence gathering. The collaboration includes follow-ups on suspected poaching gangs, surveillance at all ports of entry and exit, and overt operations in wildlife areas,” he offers.

His views are echoed by Mr Aggrey Maumo, the KWS assistant director in charge of the Mountain conservation area, who says that poaching of rhinos and elephants is conducted by a complex web and that what they are fighting is just the low end of it.

“The main movers and shakers of this trade are very powerful people who have created very complex syndicates. It will take more than our efforts alone to crack it. All Kenyans must work with the authorities if we are to succeed,” he says.

PRICELESS IVORY
According to a report released by the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) last month, the high prices that ivory fetches continue to drive the trade.

The reports reads in part: “With ivory’s market value reaching $900 (Sh77,400) per kilogramme in China, the financial stakes are high, and it appears sponsors are adopting bold new tactics to satisfy demand.”

“One criminal syndicate will gather a poaching gang together and that poaching gang will be assigned instructions to kill a specific herd of elephants or to provide a specific amount of ivory,” says Mr William Clark of Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme.

“We are alive to the fact that wildlife, particularly rhinos and elephants, are increasingly becoming vulnerable because of high demand for their horns and ivory respectively. Poaching of this prized wildlife has become more organised, sophisticated, and international in nature,” Clark adds.

Despite the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, which stipulates tough punishment for those convicted of poaching — including life imprisonment or a Sh20 million fine — the trade continues unabated.

Yet for people like Wanyama, the loss of every animal counts. He says the long and lonely hours spent in the wild with the animals not only make the rangers attached to them, it also allows the officers to know the individual character of some of the animals.

“Their behaviour is very similar to that of human beings; some are reserved while others are hostile. Yet others can decide to be naughty, always looking for the slightest opportunity to cause destruction,” he enthuses.

The ranger believes that his destiny with wild animals was determined when his parents named him Wanyama, which is Kiswahili for animals.

“My parents might have had cultural reasons for naming me Wanyama, but throughout school, fellow students often referred to me as a wild animal. Those are the things that shaped my destiny,” he says, gazing into the thick bushes.

He explains that in his Bukusu community, the name Wanyama is given to a boy born during the  circumcision period, a time during which people make merry and, therefore, most homes with initiates have meat in plenty.

And when KWS advertised for recruits, he applied and was successful. After training, he was posted to the Aberdare National Park, where he has served for three years.

“When I was employed, I knew that my responsibilities were to sustain, manage, and conserve wildlife. When one of your biggest animals dies, and if they continue dying at this rate, KWS will have no role in this country as there will no longer be any wildlife to conserve,” he laments.

He acknowledges that looking after the animals is an enormous task.

The rugged terrain, poachers who are getting more sophisticated by the day, and inadequate staff are some of the challenges Wanyama and his colleagues have to contend with daily. It is a job to which he gives his all irrespective of the weather, so it pains him when poachers kill an animal.

Wanyama says he has developed such a strong attachment to the wildlife that he would not trade his gun for any other profession. At home he keeps cows, goats, and doves.

Indeed, Maumo says that some of the rangers get so attached to the wildlife that when an animal is killed, they get deeply affected.

“We are aware that the officers work under difficult conditions but encourage them and try as much as possible to address the issues that arise from time to time.

“But wildlife conservation is not the responsibility of KWS alone. We are engaging with the neighbouring villages to help us fight the poachers,” he says.

Maumo says poachers have created an elaborate syndicate that calls for a multi-pronged approach to deal with.

It is notable that even as he talks of the involvement of criminal gangs, Kiprono acknowledges that 17 KWS employees have been fired over poaching, while 13 others were retired in the public interest, an indication that some insiders could be collaborating with the poachers.

And as long as that continues, poaching will remain a hard nut to crack.

FACTS AND FIGURES
18
Number of rhinos killed since January
51
Number of elephants killed since January
302
Number of elephants killed in 2013
$900
Cost per kilogramme of ivory in China. 3.5 tonnes of ivory were seized in Mombasa last year!

———————————————————————————————————————–
COMPASSIONATE JUMBOS

Elephants are known to be highly social and intelligent creatures.

And now there is evidence that they engage in something like a group hug when a fellow elephant is in distress.

Mr Joshua Plotnick, who leads a conservation and education group called Think Elephants and teaches conservation at Mahidol University in Thailand, studied elephants at a park in Chiang Rai Province in Thailand to look for consolation behaviour.

As defined by Franz de Waal, Plotnick’s PhD adviser at Emory University, “Consolation behaviour involves bystanders responding in a reassuring way to an animal that is in emotional distress because of a conflict with another member of the group.”

“We’re pretty confident it’s relatively rare in animals,” Plotnick said in an interview, adding that there was evidence of the behaviour in apes, wolves, and some birds, and that there had been anecdotal reports of such behaviour in dolphins and elephants.

Elephants clearly have strong emotional connections to other elephants and are highly intelligent, so it made sense to think that they might console one another. To find out, Plotnick observed 26 elephants in six groups at a managed park.

When one elephant was disturbed, he said, other elephants gathered around it. They made high-pitched sounds and touched the distressed elephant, trunk to mouth or trunk to genitals, which are reassuring gestures among elephants.

Plotnick said that since he could not always observe the original source of the distress, he could not say that the behaviour met the narrow definition of consolation as it was not clear whether it followed conflict.

The elephants might have been scared by a person, dog, or, in some cases, a noise that humans could not hear. But he said that in every other way, the behaviour showed that they were acting to reassure the elephant that was upset.

Belgium to Destroy Its Illegal Ivory Next Month

By Denise Chow, Staff Writer   |   March 26, 2014 03:57pm ET

Belgium is slated to destroy its entire stockpile of illegal ivory next month, joining the United States, China and several other countries in taking a stand against wildlife trafficking.

Earlier this month, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx announced plans to destroy all the illegal ivory seized by customs, on April 9. A special ceremony will be held to mark the occasion, with dignitaries from the Belgian government present.

Onkelinx made the announcement March 3 at an event celebrating Belgium’s involvement in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. [In Images: 100 Most Threatened Species]

“The Belgian government should be saluted for taking a firm and public stand on ivory trafficking and working to save the world’s threatened elephants,” Sonja Van Tichelen, European Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement.

Rampant ivory poaching is causing precipitous declines in elephant populations, and the Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that 96elephants are killed each day by poachers in Africa. The ivory trade was banned in 1989, but the demand for ivory now is higher than ever, and lucrative black markets have emerged around the world.

“Not only are we losing an elephant every 15 minutes but the ivory trade is undercutting law and order in elephant range states and enriching organized crime syndicates — the slaughter of elephants must be stopped,” Van Tichelen said.

Belgium is set to join several other countries that recently destroyed their stockpiles of ivory. In February, France crushed more than 15,000 pieces of ivory, which included carvings, jewelry and other trinkets that were confiscated by customs agents.

In January, China, the world’s biggest consumer of illegal ivory, joined the effort by crushing 6 tons of its own ivory tusks and carved ornaments. The United States destroyed its ivory stockpile — collected from more than 25 years of confiscations and smuggling busts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — in November.

Officials in Hong Kong also announced their plan to burn more than 30 tons of elephant tusks and ivory products throughout the first half of this year. Recently, officials with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam announced they are considering crushing the country’s stores of rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger bone.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.livescience.com/44399-belgium-ivory-crush.html

Kenya: Stop This Massacre of Elephants, Rhino

By Alex O. Awaiti, The Star

25 March 2014
Early this year, a story in the New York Times described how 72 boxes of trinkets were all that remained after more than 100 elephants were slaughtered for their incisor teeth.The trinkets included beads, chess sets, bone-white animal figures, bangles and toys, earrings, pendants and bracelets. Similarly, rhino horn is regarded as an irreplaceable ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine.

Its collection is responsible for the shameful massacre of tens of thousands of rhinos. The largest land creatures on the planet are being slaughtered to extinction for vanity and myth of healing.

Like biting your fingernails or munching equine hooves, rhino horn has no effect against pain or inflammation, or muscle spasm or stomach ailments. Elephants and rhinos are not nondescript organisms. They are fascinating, gentle giants.

For instance, a recent study in which researchers played voice recordings to wild African elephants revealed that elephants are able to differentiate between ethnicities – Maasai and Kamba – and gender.

Moreover, elephants are intelligent and social creatures. Invariably, poaching of adult elephants ravages their social structure, reducing elephant populations to leaderless units of traumatized orphans.

Half a kilogram of ivory is worth about US$1,500 in the black market. The price of rhino horn varies between US$65,000 and US$100,000 a kilogram, which is about 2.5 times more than the value of a kilogram of gold.

Profits from illegal wildlife trafficking are now worth an estimated US$8-10 billion annually, making it the fifth most profitable form of transnational organized crime after narcotics, human trafficking, oil, and counterfeiting.

Poachers are now slaughtering up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 African elephants every year for their tusks. In 2013 about 1100 rhinos were killed in Kenya and South Africa.

Over 95 percent of the dead rhinos were killed in South Africa where poachers are using GPS, helicopters and semi-automatic weapons. This year alone, Kenya has lost 13 rhinos and 14 elephants, a majority of them killed inside the most well protected sanctuaries.

Illegal wildlife trade is big, with organized-crime syndicate modus operandi, which operates locally, with links of couriers, buyers and exporters who sell to Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand, the primary ivory and rhino horn consuming nations in the world.

Quoting a recent Interpol report, Kenya’s foremost conservationist, Richard Leakey, said Kenya is now the preeminent conduit for trafficking ivory and rhino horn in East Africa. The Kenyan port of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania are the two largest exit points for illicit ivory.

According to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, there is growing evidence that terrorist groups including Al-Shabaab with its unspeakable attack on Westgate fund their activities from ivory trafficking.

It is believed that Al-Shabaab raises circa US$600,000 a month from poaching to funds its activities. Janjaweed, a militia that operates in Darfur and Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, also raise money directly from poaching.

Poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking poses a grave threat to national security, political, social and economic stability. There is credible evidence money made from poaching is funding Al-Shabaab, giving them the financial and organizational wherewithal to kill and maim innocent Kenyans.

It is plausible that the haul of money made from poaching is used to corrupt public officials, thus undermining the integrity and capability of our institutions.

The inexorable decline of rhino and elephant will change irreversibly, the structure and workings of savanna ecosystems, including pastoralism. Such dramatic habitat changes will wipe Kenya off the list of leading wildlife tourism destinations.

What is scary is that this will happen before 2030. The collapse of tourism will have a Tsunami effect on our economy. Tourism contributes nearly 15 percent of our GDP and supports nearly 900,000 jobs. Poaching is therefore an economic crime of grave proportions.

It is inconceivable that Kenya’s ubiquitous security and intelligence resources cannot find and bring to justice the individuals behind the nefarious wildlife trafficking. Like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, we have chosen to pass by on the other side.

But like the Samaritan, we must stop and save for posterity, the rich wildlife heritage bequeathed to us by our forebears. In honor of these gentle giants, I rephrase the eternal words of English poet and preacher John Donne. Any elephant or rhino death diminishes me, because I am involved in all of nature’s bounty.

Dr. Awiti is the director of the East African Institute and assistant professor at Aga Khan University.

Counting the cost of East Africa’s poaching economy

Organised crime gangs generate staggering profits smuggling ivory and rhino horn

AFP

Published: 15:33 March 23, 2014

Nairobi: Organised crime gangs in East Africa are generating staggering profits smuggling ivory and rhino horn with impunity, experts say, threatening both an irreplaceable wildlife heritage and key tourism industries.

Kenyan and Tanzanian ports are the “primary gateway” for ivory smuggled to Asia, where demand is fuelled by increasingly affluent markets, especially in China, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warns.

Last year, seizures of ivory shipments reached “record levels”, according to a recent Interpol report.

“Large-scale ivory shipments — each one representing the slaughter of hundreds of elephants — point to the involvement of organised crime networks operating across multiple countries,” Interpol said.

 Poaching has risen sharply across Africa in recent years.

Organised gangs with insider knowledge and armed with automatic weapons and specialised equipment such as night vision goggles, brazenly use chainsaws to carve out the rhino horn or remove elephant tusks.

Veteran Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey has now warned that drastic action must be taken, saying that known ringleaders in Kenya are operating with “outrageous impunity”.

The rise in poaching, with animals being slaughtered inside even the most heavily guarded national parks or conservation areas, show that the poachers have little fear of tough new laws designed to stem the wave of killings, he said.

“They could not operate with the impunity we are seeing if you did not have some form of protection from law enforcement agencies,” Leakey said, as he made an appeal for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to take action.

“It is a problem of a few criminals… the ringleaders are known,” he added, claiming that a core group of around 20 to 30 people were organising the mass poaching but that none had faced justice.

It’s a lucrative business: a kilo of ivory is worth some $850 (Dh3,121) in Asia, with UNODC suggesting ivory smuggled to Asia from Eastern Africa was worth over $31 million in 2011.

But such short-term and finite profits generated by the spate of killings are threatening the far more valuable tourism industry, which in Kenya and Tanzania is the second largest foreign exchange earner after agriculture.

“The African elephant is not currently deemed ‘endangered’ as a species, but its decimation in Eastern Africa could be devastating,” UNODC’s report read.

“In addition to the reduction in genetic diversity, its loss could seriously undermine local tourist revenues, a key source of foreign exchange for many of the countries of the region.”

But the region’s two large container ports — Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania — are also notorious trafficking hubs, funnelling more elephant tusks to Asia than all of central, southern and west African nations combined.

The two nations made up almost two-thirds of all large shipments of ivory seized across the entire continent from 2009-2011, according to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a tracking database run by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

Seizures of containers crammed full of tusks — often hidden under foul-smelling fish or dried chili peppers in a bid to confuse sniffer dogs or discourage detailed searches — are regularly found.

Much of the ivory smuggled is destined for China, whose rapidly growing economy has encouraged those enjoying disposable income to splash out on an ivory trinket as a sign of financial success.

“Growing affluence in China, where possession of elephant ivory remains a status symbol, appears to have rendered China the world’s leading destination for illicit ivory,” the UNODC report added.

The smuggling of rhino horns is a bigger problem for Southern Africa, which has far more of the endangered animals. It is often done by air, due to the value of the horn and its smaller size.

But scores of East African rhinos are also being killed despite wildlife rangers often risking their lives to protect them.

 Few convictions

===================

 Action is being taken including far stiffer sentences for wildlife crime, with Tanzania this month jailing a Chinese ivory smuggler to 20 years in jail, and Kenya introducing tough new laws with comparable penalties.

But many escape justice: a recent study by the Kenyan conservation campaign group Wildlife Direct found that just four percent of those convicted of wildlife crime in the past spent time in jail.

Tanzania last year launched a crackdown on suspected poachers, operating under what was reported to be a shoot-to-kill policy and making sweeping arrests.

Leakey, 69, a Kenyan national and former head of the government’s Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), said with the “right management” stemming the poaching was “not an impossible” task.

He was key in stemming the rampant poaching of the late 1980s, bringing in extreme measures to combat poachers including sending helicopter gunships into national parks, and organising the iconic burning of stockpiled ivory.

“It is not valuable, it is tragic rubbish,” Leakey said, waving an ivory carving seized from a smuggler, the tiny tusk of a baby elephant.

“It is putting at risk our heritage… you can regrow a crop but you cannot regrow a wildlife species that disappears.”

This article can be found in this link:

http://gulfnews.com/news/world/other-world/counting-the-cost-of-east-africa-s-poaching-economy-1.1307699

Nyeri County To Establish Elephant Corridor Between Mt. Kenya And Aberdare (Kenya)

Kenya News Agency
March 21, 2014
Nyeri county government is set to establish a 25 kilometre wide elephant migration corridor connecting the Mt. Kenya forest and the Aberdares.
Governor Nderitu Gachagua said that the corridor was an initiative of his government Kenya Wildlife Services and other conservationists aiming at conserving wildlife and environment as well as promoting tourism in the area.
Speaking on Tuesday after an aerial tour of the two water towers, Gachagua added that once the corridor is fenced the county expected to benefit immensely from tourism proceeds, as the elephant migration would be a spectacle to behold almost similar to the wildebeest migration in the Maasai Mara.
“We are hoping that once the project is complete, its going to be our ninth wonder of the world rivaling the wildebeest migration in the Mara National Park.” Gachagua said.
The governor further said that the corridor would open up the area to investments in the hospitality industry adding that the county looked forward to investors putting up holiday homes along some sections of the corridor where holidaymakers could get a view of the animals from the comfort of their balconies.
He revealed that a sub-committee of stakeholders involving KWS, Kenya Forest Services, conservationists and tourism officials from his government was in consultation with land owners whose parcels fall  within the corridor with a view of compensating them to relocate or be partners in the project.
“Am happy that the few land owners within the corridor are upbeat about the project concept and have shown willingness to cooperate and make it a success.” Gachagua said.
Rhino Ark Charitable Trust Executive Director Christian Lamberechts agreed with the governor over the proposed corridor saying that it would greatly minimise human wildlife conflicts that have been common amongst people living on the edge of the two ecosystems as elephants migrating will not have to pass through farms and human habitats.
Lamberechts, an ecological expert, added that the project would help change perception of forest edge communities towards wildlife as they would start appreciating their importance once they start benefiting economically from their existence.
“We are looking at a win-win situation for all as wildlife living on one side will benefit as well as people living in the area as conflicts as a result of competition for resources would come to an end.” Lamberechts said.
The Rhino Ark boss observed that the elephant migratory corridor existed naturally in the past between Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare but human settlements and encroachment had interfered with it leading to the numerous human wildlife conflicts.
Elephants migrate from one ecosystem to another to allow for regeneration as well as searching for naturally occurring salt licks and giving birth.
Article at the following link:

Richard Leakey calls on President Kenyatta to invoke Emergency Response on Elephant and Rhino poaching

19 March 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:Dr Richard Leakey, Founder –WildlifeDirect, leakey@turkanabasin.org

“My fellow Kenyans, poaching and the destruction of our environment has no future in this country”

These were the words of President Uhuru Kenyatta at his inauguration almost exactly one year ago. Today in the year of the 50th anniversary of Kenyan independence, I am asking the president to put his words into action and declare a NATIONAL DISASTER. I ask him to invoke emergency measures to crack down on the poachers and to declare elephants and rhinos National Treasures under protection of the state. In 1989, President Daniel Arap Moi took such extraordinary measures and wildlife poaching was curbed within 6 months. I am certain that this can be achieved again.
Elephants and rhinos declining in Kenya
Though KWS are not making information public, already this year we have lost at least 14 rhinos, more than in the whole of last year. Rhinos have been gunned down in our national parks, often in broad daylight and from sites close to ranger posts. Rhinos have also been lost from heavily fortified private conservancies that were believed impregnable. KWS estimates the population of Kenyan rhinos at more than 1,000 of which just over 50% are in the National Parks. However, independent scientists doubt this figure and question the data – 38 rhinos that have not been seen for more than 3 years are still in the parks are still counted in the total. An independent audit of rhinos is conducted in all conservancies but not parks.

KWS report that fewer than 400 elephants are killed annually across the country. The results of a KWS census last month reveal that the elephant population in the Tsavo Ecosystem alone has fallen by 1,500 over 4 years. The census found 800 elephant carcasses.

Newspaper coverage and conservationists in the field also report that elephant are being shot and killed in Tsavo, Masai Mara, and Amboseli and other parks by poachers armed with automatic weapons. Many others are shot with poison arrows, causing unimaginable pain followed by slow death.
Kenya is the world’s hub for ivory smuggling
The latest Interpol report reveals that Kenya is now No. 1 in the world for ivory smuggling. The port of Mombasa serves as a staging post for ivory from Tanzania and many other countries. More than 13 tons of ivory were seized in Kenya last year and we can only speculate at the quantities that passed through undetected.
A study of trials in Kenya reveal that fewer than 4% of all convicted poachers are ever jailed. Interpol reveal that despite many ivory seizures in Kenya, no dealers have ever been arrested and prosecuted in court. A major rhino horn smugglers caught at JKIA was released. A Chinese ivory dealer was sent back to China. If a Kenyan threatened a Chinese Panda bear, he or she would face life imprisonment.

Current measures are not enough
Despite our best efforts, the new law, the creation of an elite force in KWS, the promises of the Judiciary and DPP, and the commitment stated by the President, our elephants and rhinos are being massacred across the nation.

Tough new laws that mean convicted poachers and traffickers can be given life sentences,have not resulted in a single offender jailed without the option of a fine. In a recent case a Chinese man was arrested in Riverside Drive where he was manufacturing ivory carvings and sending them out of Kenya through Chinese mules who are being sent to Kenya as “tourists”. He was sent back to China without ever going to a Kenyan court. Last week the court acquitted Chinese national, Ou Kai Ming, even though he had been caught red-handed by customs officials at JKIA.

On the ground poachers have a free rein in many places. KWS staff who attempt to do their job are under increasing threat of violence and at least 8 KWS rangers have lost their lives to poachers in recent years. Managers who allow poaching to happen on their watch are simply moved to other locations, instead of being held to account for their dereliction of duty.
Emergency provisions under status as National Disaster
The failure of leadership and resources at KWS is compounded by the failure of the state to recognize that this is not just a wildlife crime. The president can no longer ignore the fact that these criminals belong to international crime rings that pose a major threat to the economy and national security. In 1989 President Moi recognized that the country was facing a national crisis and acted presidentially to stop it.
I am calling on the president of the Republic of Kenya to address the problem because our national security agencies are not working together to combat this threat to national security. I am sure that the Ministry, NIS, CID, KWS all know who the top dealers and financiers of this bloody business are. They number fewer than 50 people, some of whom have been exposed in the media, but not one has been arrested to date.
In responding to the threat of piracy Kenya’s performance was exemplary. This is the kind of coordinated, fully committed response we need to the poaching crisis.
The voice and political will of our president are most critically needed if we are to win this war. The Kenyan public, corporations and our international partners will all respond favorably when decisive action is taken. The president cannot afford to leave a legacy for future generations of Kenyans that does not include elephant and rhinos.

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Richard Leakey, 19 March 2014

About us:
WildlifeDirect is a Kenyan NGO and US registered 501(c) (3) organization co-founded in 2004 by Kenyan conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey, who is credited with putting an end to the elephant slaughter in Kenya in the 1980s and delivering an international ban on ivory trade. Kenyan Trustees include Irungu Houghton, Ali Mohamed and Philip Murgor. The CEO is Dr. Paula Kahumbu. WildlifeDirect is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. WildlifeDirect is dedicated to “Changing minds, behavior and laws to ensure Africa’s critical species endure forever.”

Hands Off Our Elephants, our flagship campaign comprises a winning combination of expertise including wildlife ecologists, communications specialists, lawyers, politicians, media representatives, strategists, and linguists, making us bold, influential, and successful. This African led initiative is supported by Kenya’s First Lady, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta as patron. The campaign has already mobilized the public in Kenya and driven legal reforms in Kenya and East Africa. WLD partners with civil society, government agencies and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative on elephants.
Contact Paula@wildlifedirect.org