Tag Archives: kenya

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

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, [email protected]

“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.

___________________________¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬____
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 [email protected]

Passing of a giant: death of an elephant

Paula Kahumbu, The Guardian
March 8, 2014

Those who collaborate in this suffering by buying, wearing and displaying vanity products made from smuggled ivory should know their true cost and feel deeply ashamed.

The following article was written by Mark Deeble , a film maker living and working among elephant herds in the Tsavo National Park in northern Kenya with his partner Victoria Stone. It is an edited version of a longer article that originally appeared on Mark’s own blog. The content speaks for itself.

“Recently, we went on a recce for the film. We arrived at a distant waterhole – seemingly hewn out of ochre. That warm glow seemed reflected in the animals that, as we watched, came to drink. A magnificent bull elephant, encrusted with dry mud, drank calmly and deeply.

He might have travelled thirty miles to reach the water. He wasn’t going to hurry now. He’d drink a while and then rest in the shade, and then drink again as the shadows lengthened – or so we thought. What actually happened was that he drank deeply, stepped away, and then suddenly collapsed. His legs spasmed as he thrashed in the dust – and within minutes he was dead.

It was utterly shocking.

Our plans for the day changed rapidly after that. A call to a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) vet resulted in an impromptu post-mortem beside the waterhole. He removed the head of a poisoned arrow embedded in the bull’s flank, and released over 100 litres of pus from the hidden infection – the result of the bull’s encounter with a poacher months before.

There are many different ways to kill an elephant. Across Africa, elephants have been targeted with rocket-propelled grenades, helicopter gunships, automatic rifles, poisoned arrows, wire snares, spears, poisoned foot-spikes, poisoned food, and poisoned salt-licks and waterholes.

In Tsavo the poachers’ method of choice is the AK 47. It can bring down an elephant quickly, and a gang of poachers can target whole elephant families. The huge number of illegal weapons in Somalia and its porous border with Kenya means that sourcing weapons is easy.

The problem for the poacher is that the sound of a gunshot can carry for miles. Almost every Kenyan now has a mobile phone and a call to KWS can result in an aircraft on site in under an hour. The influx of cheap Chinese motorbikes into Kenya in recent years has meant that poachers, weapons and ivory can be moved around more quickly and easily than in the past. Still, poachers have to work fast to chop the tusks out, cover their tracks and get away before rangers arrive on the scene.

The alternative is poaching with bows and poisoned arrows and we are seeing many more elephants now with festering arrow wounds. Bow-hunting sounds clean and selective. The reality is quite different. This isn’t the extraordinary long-bow style of hunting that powerful Waliangulu hunters traditionally used, which earned the admiration of chief Park Warden David Sheldrick over sixty years ago and could, reportedly, fell an elephant from 200 paces.

Today’s bow hunting poacher shoots from a blind by a waterhole. He fires an arrow, smeared with poison, into the flank of the elephant in the hope that it can pierce the body cavity. If it does, and the poacher is lucky, the elephant might die in an hour or two; if not, he might have to follow the elephant for days before it collapses.

Often the arrow head fails to penetrate the body cavity properly, and localized infection produces a grapefruit-sized boil. It doesn’t mean that the poison won’t eventually kill the elephant, but it will be a slow and lingering death.

I recently spent a month at a waterhole, filming the herds as they came to drink. On one occasion a herd of eleven big bulls came in that I hadn’t seen before. They were nervous and aggressive. Almost all of them had wounds on their flanks – some old, but some fresh and oozing pus.

On two bulls I could see broken shafts protruding where the elephant had tried to pull out the arrow. One bull carried five wounds. It was too late in the day for the vet to come and assess them. The next day, the bulls did not appear and we never saw them again. It felt like they were on the run – but where they were going, we’ll never know.

When I think about the death of that magnificent bull at the waterhole, what stays with me after the shocking thump of his body hitting the ground, was the extraordinary quiet that descended. Eland and hartebeest raised their heads, and guinea fowl froze. Even the pond-skaters stilled a while on the surface of the water.

In those few seconds it felt like we all were united in acknowledging his passing. With the death of such a magnificent animal, the world seemed a poorer and emptier place.”

Kenya: Wildlife Protection Can Bring Peace, Jobs

By Ambassador Robert F. Godec, The Star

3 March 2014

Protecting wildlife is a central challenge of our time. Far too many elephants, rhinos and other animals are dying at the hands of poachers. Just in the last year, poachers in Kenya alone killed hundreds of elephants for their ivory and at least 59 rhinos for their horns. Unless the carnage is stopped here and elsewhere, our children may be left with no more than photos of many magnificent species.

If we work together with creativity and determination, it doesn’t have to be this way. Last week in Nasuulu Community Conservancy, I saw first-hand one example of how hard work and commitment can protect wildlife while building peace and creating jobs. Communities can solve problems; I saw it happening in Nasuulu. After a day in Isiolo speaking with leaders and citizens, I was deeply impressed by what they had achieved. Thousands of people have better lives and new hope while many animals–including elephants, rhinos and the elegant Grevy’s zebra–are thriving. All as the result of local people coming together to make a difference.

The Nasuulu Community Conservancy is the newest of the 27 conservancies that form the Northern Rangelands Trust. The trust uses a community conservation model that brings together villages and groups historically at odds with one another in a democratic, multi-ethnic forum to manage their own resources. Everyone involved has a stake in the outcome of their conservation efforts. The model has been extraordinarily successful in a part of the country where a harsh environment and distance mean communities feel marginalized. Now local residents benefit from greater investment in the area and in turn feel less sidelined. When asked what this has brought to their communities, leaders answer, “peace, jobs and wildlife.”

Clearly community conservation is only one piece of the larger conservation effort in Kenya. The Kenya Wildlife Service and its dedicated employees are on the front line of safeguarding wildlife throughout the country, managing large tracts of protected land and fighting the scourge of poaching, occasionally at the tragic cost of their own lives. Their leadership is crucial to species protection in Kenya.

In addition to KWS, Kenya’s leaders and citizens are making important contributions. President Kenyatta signed the impressive Wildlife Conservation and Management Act in December. The new law stipulates serious punishments for poachers and allocates greater resources to the national parks and reserves. It will help Kenya end the terrible killing of elephants and rhinos. Civil society also plays a critical role in wildlife conservation in Kenya. NGOs, funded and staffed locally and internationally, contribute ideas, help with wildlife management and assist communities with conservation. Organizations such as Save the Elephants, which I also visited last week, are doing vitally important work. First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is making a difference through her support for such powerful initiatives as the “Hands Off Our Elephants” campaign.

The international community has also stepped up to help. President Obama has made the protection of wildlife a priority and conservation is a top goal of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. The United States has long prohibited the import of ivory and we recently banned domestic commercial ivory sales. Last November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crushed six tons of ivory to demonstrate our commitment to end the ivory trade and draw attention to the seriousness of the elephant poaching problem.

Here in Nairobi, I meet frequently with government and KWS officials, with civil society and with other leaders in the wildlife conservation community. At the Embassy we created a task force to focus our assistance and ensure it has the greatest possible impact. Today, we provide support to community conservancies such as the Northern Rangelands Trust and training for both KWS and community conservancy rangers. These rangers risk their lives to protect Kenya’s wildlife and we want to ensure they are well-prepared and well-equipped for the task. Since 2004, the Embassy has spent Sh4.4 billion to help wildlife and communities in Kenya. And, last year, President Obama committed another Sh250 million to the effort. In the fight to protect wildlife, the United States is “all in.”

Of course, there remain tough challenges ahead. For example, we must find ways to reduce demand for ivory and rhino horn. Nevertheless, there is hope. During my visit to Nasuulu, I was impressed by the commitment of the community and how fully it understands the value of wildlife. The people of Nasuulu recognize how protecting animals can bring jobs, roads and schools where there were none before. They were grateful for the peace the conservancy has brought and value wildlife as part of their heritage. They are justly proud of what they are doing for themselves, and for the world.

Although it is not the answer for every problem, the community conservancy model is powerful. In making their community better and protecting our common heritage, the people of Nasuulu and the Northern Rangelands Trust have a lesson for all of us.

As a partner for 50 years, the United States is fully committed to working with Kenya on conservation. Together, by marshalling our resources and working creatively, I’m confident we can succeed and protect Kenya’s wonderful wildlife for future generations.

The author is the US envoy to Kenya.

Crush course

Alex Hofford, South China Morning Post
December 15, 2013

Thick clouds of fine, choking white dust fill the winter afternoon air as a giant rockcrushing machine rumbles on. Coughing and spluttering, I struggle to hold my gaze as the spectacle is lost behind swirling clouds.

A cascade of crushed ivory is spewed out by a giant blue machine used more often to crush stones to mix with bitumen than grind up parts of an endangered species from another continent.

Surrounded by conservationists and journalists looking on in deafened awe, wildlife officials in hard hats and highvisibility vests load an excavator with large pieces from a giant pile of elephant tusks and with carved ivory statuettes, trinkets and jewellery. The excavator shuttles back and forth, from tusk pile to rock crusher, feeding the metallic beast as it feasts upon what remains of countless herds of elephants.

This was the scene Hong Kong schoolgirls Lucy Skrine, 11, and Christina Seigrist, eight, hoped to witness in their hometown when they started a petition (bit.ly/BanHKIvoryTrade) through online activist network Avaaz in September to have the city’s stockpile of more than 33 tonnes of confiscated ivory destroyed. It was the scenario they wanted to achieve with the 10,000 signatures they asked for.

But this is not Hong Kong. The rock crusher is at work in Denver, Colorado, where it is crushing the United States government’s six-tonne stockpile of ivory seized from tourists and smugglers at the country’s land borders and airports since the 1980s.

Wildlife officials say it is hard to estimate exactly, but they believe the total being crushed here amounts to the tusks of between 1,000 and 2,000 elephants – a fraction of the number of dead animals represented by Hong Kong’s stockpile.

In June, the Philippine government crushed and burnt its five-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory; and since 1992, three elephant range states in Africa – Zambia, Kenya and Gabon – have destroyed by incineration their seized ivory stockpiles. The five nations that have now destroyed their confiscated ivory stockpiles have (along with the Indian state of Maharashtra and France, which has just announced it is to follow suit) sent an unequivocal message to poachers in Africa, ivory dealers everywhere and consumers in China that the trade will not be tolerated by their governments.

“If Manila can do it, and Denver can do it, why can’t Hong Kong follow their lead?” asks Lucy.

The girls are protesting against what they describe as a brutal trade in blood ivory going on right under the noses of Hong Kong officials, because here the legal market for ivory has been providing cover for a parallel illegal market for decades. Retailers are allowed to sell ivory in Hong Kong as long as it has come from pre-1989-ban stocks or the 108 tonnes four African nations sold to China in 2008, and has been carved in the city. There is no way to ascertain whether a particular piece of ivory in a shop conforms to these stipulations or not, though.

Their petition captured the public imagination. Supporters joined forces to form Hong Kong for Elephants, an NGO whose members staged a vigil for the dead outside a Kowloon branch of Chinese Arts & Crafts – thought to be the city’s major ivory retailer – on October 4, as part of the International March for Elephants.

The demand for ivory in China is now so strong that poaching in Africa has reached unprecedented levels, with some conservationists warning that unless something is done – and fast – elephants will be extinct in the wild within a decade. The US government and conservation body WWF believe that about 36,000 elephants are being killed each year for their tusks. That’s a devastating 96 per day, or one every 15 minutes.

“By crushing its contraband ivory tusks and trinkets, the US government is sending a signal that it will not tolerate the senseless killing of elephants,” said WWF president and chief executive Carter Roberts in a US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) press release. “Other countries need to join the US, Gabon, Kenya and the Philippines to take a stand against the crime syndicates behind this slaughter.”

US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell echoes Roberts’ sentiments in the release: “Rising demand for ivory is fuelling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent. We encourage other nations to join us both in destroying confiscated ivory stockpiles and taking other actions to combat wildlife crime.”

The logic behind the destruction of ivory is that, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) agreement, any government-seized ivory would never be made available to the market, anyway. Therefore, its destruction sends a powerful message to traffickers while having no impact on the overall supply, and thus not creating an incentive for poaching.

One aspect of the stockpile crush in the US troubles some wildlife groups, however. The USFWS, which organised the Denver crush, stopped short of incineration, ostensibly out of concerns about emissions. So, in effect, it has left itself some unfinished business.

Wildlife officials are instead planning to give the crushed ivory to the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which will then divide it up and send it to member zoos across the country, to be made into elephant conservation memorials. In so doing, the USFWS will pass the security headache – and cost – of maintaining safe custody of the crushed ivory to individual zoos. Since ivory is worth even more than gold by weight, though, it’s hard to imagine how some pieces will not go missing in the process.

“The decision to donate crushed ivory to American zoos is misguided,” says Joyce Poole, co-director of ElephantVoices and a renowned Kenya-based elephant behavioural scientist and advocate. “A monument to slaughtered elephants to remind people of the terrible consequences of trading in the body parts of animals is important, but using elephant ivory is in bad taste. Would we use human body parts in a memorial to those men and women who have succumbed to war?

“Furthermore, the chunks of ivory are still large enough for criminals to remove and make into small items of jewellery for resale. The crushed ivory should be incinerated and put beyond reach.”

It is also not entirely inconceivable that the AZA may one day be the subject of a buyout similar to that in September of Smithfield, America’s biggest pork producer, which merged with Shuanghui, its counterpart in China. If the zoos association were to one day be rescued by a Chinese white knight, all its assets, including any elephant memorials made of crushed ivory, would probably become the property of the new owner, to do with as it pleased. It is therefore possible that, notwithstanding any of the trade bans currently being lobbied for in the US Congress, the market could become flooded with tiny gravel-sized trinkets, such as the ivory stud earrings that retail for HK$480 a pair in shops on Hollywood Road, made with the ivory crushed in Denver.

“If the crushed ivory ends up as small, usable, raw pieces, there is the risk that this can be reused and so, perhaps, a more thorough means of destruction such as incineration may be necessary,” says Sharon Kwok, a Hong Kong-based conservationist and executive director of the AquaMeridian Conservation and Education Foundation.

Other conservationists are satisfied to adopt a less purist approach, however. “Crushing is a symbolic measure,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “[The actions of ] both the US and Philippines … are particularly important for Hong Kong, as Hong Kong is not just a pure consumer region, it’s a transit region as well. Hong Kong is a gateway for mainland China [and it] is really important for China to follow suit.

“If the Hong Kong authorities are able to incinerate the ivory without emissions, then sure, but if they are crushing it and we’re worried that the little bits and pieces will have nowhere to go, then maybe the officials can dump it in the sea when it is crushed. It can be done in really deep sea.”

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has, in fact, already conducted a successful trial burn. Last year, it incinerated three tonnes of confiscated ivory in the extreme high temperature environment of the Tsing Yi Chemical Waste Treatment Centre. Not only did the trial burn give off zero emissions, it even generated power.

When asked, a department spokesman indicates that a Hong Kong crush is not entirely out of the question: “Since 2003, seizure of ivory amounts to about 32 tonnes, which makes up the bulk of the ivory stockpile in Hong Kong. The AFCD has been exploring destruction as a means to dispose of the confiscated ivory, [as] permitted under the Cites guidelines.

“When we come to a more concrete proposal, the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, a [local] statutory advisory body on protection of endangered species, will be consulted.”

All eyes in the elephant conservation world are now on Hong Kong – with its huge stockpile, will it crush, crush and burn, or do nothing?

Unfortunately, there seems to be a paralysis in the city. With awareness levels roughly where they were 10 years ago on the shark-fin issue, the current poaching crisis is just not on the radar of the average Hongkonger. Even WWF Hong Kong does not have an active ivory reduction campaign.

Activists fear that if Hong Kong, which plays a large role in the ivory trade – not only as a major transit point for the mainland but also as a large consumer in its own right – does not wake up to this pressing issue soon, it could be too late.

As Lucy and Christina’s petition approaches the 10,000-signature mark, another youngster, Hong Kong International School Year Six student Nellie Shute, 11, has also taken action.

Nellie successfully lobbied her school principal to return to the AFCD the ivory tusks and carved ivory pieces it had loaned to her school under what she believes is the misguided Endangered Species Specimen Donation Programme.

“The tusk and ivory carvings on display in my school were not educating students, they were reinforcing the idea that it’s acceptable to display ivory as artwork,” says Nellie. “Now my school has agreed to send them back with a petition signed by students asking for the ivory stockpile to be destroyed.

“I’m trying to make change because I refuse to believe that’s the future. I don’t want to tell the next generation that there used to be these magnificent creatures, but human greed ended their existence and we did nothing to stop it.”

On the subject of elephant conservation, it seems, Hong Kong’s schoolchildren are putting the city’s adults to shame.

The elephant emergency: Summit to be held in Botswana

Katie de Klee, Daily Maverick

18 Nov 2013

The African elephant is the world’s biggest land mammal; walking the earth at a dignified pace, the elephant has earned its place in the folklore and legend of many cultures. But this impressive creature is being slaughtered at alarming rate for its ivory: it is estimated one elephant is killed every 15 minutes. Check the time now; mark the moment the next grey giant falls. An emergency summit addressing the problems of the illegal ivory is to be held in Gaborone, Botswana at the beginning of December.

———-

President Ian Khama of Botswana will open the summit, and Heads of State and representatives of African elephant range countries will be in attendance, along with high-level representatives from transit and destination countries.

The summit will aim to address the following topics: penalties for ivory trading, law enforcement, population monitoring and public awareness.

A study conducted by the Conservation Action Trust (CAT) found that there were radical differences in the legislation and penalties surrounding poaching in African countries. Punishment must be seen to outweigh the potential financial rewards of the illegal ivory trade, acknowledging the severity of the crime and acting as a real deterrent. Maximum and equivalent penalties should apply in all countries.

National task forces should be formed and an increase in law enforcement and wildlife rangers should be facilitated. Ivory poachers are now often part of organised, armed networks, better equipped and connected than the rangers trying to stop them. More worryingly, the money from the poaching is increasingly often going towards armed rebellions and terrorism. The recent attack on the Nairobi mall by terrorist group al-Shabaab was partly funded by the illegal ivory trade.

The threat to national and international security would also be addressed by better intelligence sharing amongst States, another issue that will be given some time for discussion in Gaborone.

The IUCN will also propose that there needs to be better elephant population monitoring at national levels, and more effort should be put into raising public awareness.

Although the summit calls for global action, eight countries have been identified as being central to recent surges in elephant poaching. These countries are source countries Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, transit countries Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, and destination countries Thailand and China. These countries are known as the ‘gang of eight’.

If satisfactory action is not taken by these eight countries to halt the trade of illegal ivory, the IUCN is suggesting heavy trade sanctions on all wildlife products – including the lucrative orchid and crocodile skin industries. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in many African nations, and the heads of these states must be shown that the greatest economic value comes from the living beast, and not from its by-products.

At the beginning of the last century there were 10 million African elephants on earth. Now there may be as few as 400,000. According to IUCN, the number of elephants killed has doubled in the last decade. Southern Africa is their stronghold, but at the rate they’re being killed, in 50 years’ time there won’t be one wild elephant left. That would be an unforgivable indictment on our species.

Ivory stockpile to be publicly destroyed as Obama seeks to end illegal trade

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
10 November 2013

The ivory stockpile in the secure government warehouse – six tonnes of scarred tusks, glossy Confucius statuettes with $10,000 (more than £6,000) price stickers, coffee table items, and too many chunky cuff bracelets to count – represents millions of dollars and the slaughter of thousands of African elephants.

On 14 November, at Barack Obama’s instruction, and in front of visiting dignitaries and television cameras, every last intricately carved and high-dollar item will be fed into the jaws of an industrial strength rock-crushing machine and smashed to splinters.

The hope is that this public act of destruction will serve as a turning point. White House officials and conservation groups calculate that demonstrating the president’s commitment to breaking up the illegal ivory trade will persuade other governments to take similar measures, and help put the wildlife traffickers on the run.

But it may be too late. Two decades after an international ban on ivory sales, an explosion in wildlife trafficking has once again brought African elephants to the brink of extinction. Nearly 100 African elephants are killed every day for their tusks to feed a huge demand for ivory trinkets from newly wealthy buyers in Asia who see ivory as a status symbol.

US security officials say the global trade in illegal ivory has grown to $10bn (about £6.2bn) a year – just behind drugs and human trafficking. The huge profit potential has also turned ivory into an important line of financing for terrorist networks such as al-Shabaab, the al-Qaida affiliate that carried out September’s attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi.

“This is not the kind of poaching that we have dealt with in the past,” said Dan Ashe, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency leading the US fight against wildlife trafficking. “It’s syndicated and sophisticated criminal organisations that are driving the trade.”

The grisly results are visible in the vast storehouse outside Denver – ordinarily off-limits to the public – where six tonnes of ivory seized by US law enforcement officials over the past 25 years is heaped among stuffed tigers, caiman ashtrays, and other artifacts of the illegal wildlife trade.

The smuggled ivory was seized by US agents at airports and cargo ships, hidden in the false bottoms of suitcases and shipping crates, buried in jars of face cream, or disguised by being stained dark brown with tea. Some of the ivory – the big display case of bracelets – made it as far as a jewellery shop off Times Square in New York city, before it was seized by agents.

“There could be several hundred elephants represented on this pallet alone,” said Bernadette Atencio, the supervisor of the US Fish and Wildlife repository.

America is one of the top destinations of illegal ivory from Africa, as well as an important transhipment point for the carved ivory trinkets bound ultimately for the leading markets in China, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries.

But the six-tonne haul is only half that seized in China this week alone – 3,1888 pieces of elephant tusks were found in Xiamen city, with an estimated value of 603m Yuan ($99m or £62m) on the black market. The sheer volume of trade is depleting populations of African adult male elephants, Atencio said, reaching for a polished tusk, carved with renderings of the “big five” in African game.

“I think the baby tusks are the most heartbreaking,” she said. “What I see here are lost generations of elephants, many many generations of elephants that will never be because these elephants were not allowed to mature and to reach an adult size.

By ordering the destruction of the ivory haul in Denver, American officials hope to send a definitive message to traffickers that the bottom is about to fall out of the ivory trade, and that there is no use hanging on to stores of ivory, because it will eventually end up being destroyed.

The strategy has been endorsed by leading conservation groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund, and wildlife officials in Kenya and other states which depend on African elephants for their tourism industries.

“It does send a signal that ivory is not going to be a good investment for very much longer,” said Allan Thornton, who heads the Environmental Investigation Agency.

US diplomats are now reaching out to other governments to carry out similar high-profile acts of destruction. Kenya has destroyed its stores of illegal ivory in the past. The Philippines carried out a crush earlier this year.

The Obama administration is stepping up aid and training for park rangers in Africa to try to stop the traffickers on the ground. The Clinton Global Initiative has also aligned with the US government efforts, with Hillary Clinton in September announcing an $80m initiative to train park rangers and sniffer dogs at 50 poaching hot spots across Africa.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is promising to strengthen penalties against those caught smuggling ivory, a White House adviser said. “The laws need to be changed. They need to be stiffened,” said David Hayes, a former deputy secretary of interior who was appointed last September to a new White House council on wildlife trafficking. “I think that’s going to be a primary focus for the advisory council – enforcement penalties, and what we allow and what we don’t.”

The push to end trafficking comes at a desperate time for African wildlife, with rhinos and elephants under threat from mass poaching gangs. The explosion in poaching threatens to reverse a conservation successory story, with African elephants showing signs of a comeback after a 1990 ban on ivory sales.

But conservation groups say that positive outcome was undermined by a misguided decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the entity set up to protect at-risk wildlife, to allow limited sales of ivory. In 1997, Zimbabwe was granted permission to conduct a limited sale of 50 tonnes of ivory. In 2008, China was also allowed to import 60 tonnes of ivory. The idea was to slake the demand for ivory among the newly wealthy elites of China. But the result was a catastrophe for African wildlife, said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive of Wildlife Direct. “We have seen in Kenya an eight-fold increase in poaching since 2009,” she said. “The volume of ivory being taken across the country is just staggering.”

Campaign groups said the combination of new buying power in Asia – where there is a surge in demand for ivory – and armed groups was overwhelming poorly paid and trained rangers in African wildlife parks.

A new breed of traffickers, armed with night-vision goggles and high-powered rifles, began staging mass attacks – such as last September’s cyanide poisoning of 300 elephants at a Zimbabwe watering hole.

What put elephants on the top of the US agenda however was terrorism. Over the past few years, US intelligence officials have accumulated evidence that wildlife trafficking is funding rebel armies and causing instability in Africa.

US security officials and campaign groups have said the militant group al-Shabaab was getting up to 40% of its funds from the illegal wildlife trade, with ivory financing their operations and paying their footsoldiers, by acting as middlemen in the wildlife trade.

The result is a grisly kill-to-order system, with brokers paying poachers as little as $20 a pound for the raw tusks, and selling them onwards for as much as $800 a pound in some parts of Asia. Finished pieces sell for up to $4,000 a pound.

By last year, Clinton, then secretary of state, was so concerned about the links with terrorist groups that she designated wildlife trafficking a national security threat. Barack Obama during a visit to Africa in July also pledged action against the traffickers.

On 14 November, the international community – and the traffickers – will witness the first instalment of Obama’s anti-trafficking plan. It’s far from certain, though, whether Obama will be able to pull African elephants back from the brink, yet again.

“I believe that the scope and impact of the poaching crisis has now reached the highest levels of the US government,” said John Webb, a former Department of Justice environmental prosecutor who is also a member of the new White House advisory council. “But, unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a huge effort to turn it around this time.”

A black year: Major ivory seizures in Hong Kong 2013 (China)

China Daily

October 11, 2013

January 3:

A 20-foot shipping container from Kenya declared to contain architectural stones is found to have inside it 779 ivory tusks weighing 1,323 kg and worth around HK$10.6 million. The tusks were packed in 40 sacks inside five wooden crates and were covered by stone plates.

April 30:

Customs officers seize 113 ivory tusks weighing 300 kg and with a value of around HK$3 million at Hong Kong International Airport. The consignment marked as containing spare parts came from Burundi in Africa and was due to fly on to Singapore.

July 18:

A 20-foot container said to contain planks from Togo is found to contain 1,148 ivory tusks weighing 2,183 kg with a value of around HK$17.46 million. The tusks were packed in 30 sacks and covered with wooden boards.

August 6:

In a joint operation with mainland customs, Hong Kong customs officers seize 1,120 ivory tusks in a container shipped from Nigeria. The tusks were found inside sealed wooden crates in Kwai Chung marked as containing ‘Red Cam Process Wood’.

October 2:

A total of 189 ivory tusks weighing 769 kg and worth HK$11.53 million are seized in a container claimed to be carrying soya from the Ivory Coast, West Africa. The tusks were packed in linen and nylon bags and covered with bags of soya.

WildlifeDirect & Conservation Partners Announce Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action: Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants

***NEWS RELEASE***

CEO Dr. Paula Kahumbu represents Kenya’s “Hands Off Our Elephants” Campaign in Meeting with Hillary & Chelsea Clinton

Commitment’s Goal: Stop the Killing, Stop the Trafficking,
Stop the Demand

Commitment Makers include: Wildlife Conservation Society,
African Wildlife Foundation, Conservation International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and World Wildlife Fund

Commitment Partners: African Parks Network, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Freeland Foundation, Howard Buffett Foundation, International Conservation Caucus Foundation, National Geographic, Save the Elephants, TRAFFIC, WildAid and WildlifeDirect

Nations joining in commitment include: Botswana, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi, and Uganda

NEW YORK (Sept. 26, 2013) – Conservation groups announced today a three-year $80 million Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment to Action to stop the slaughter of Africa’s elephants, decimated due to poaching for ivory. Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect, met with former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, of the Clinton Foundation. “We are proud to join forces with these two formidable women who are dedicating real commitment and power to this cause,” Kahumbu said; “It is notable that Hillary herself raised the issue of the connection between the slaughter of elephants and the slaughter of humans by terrorist groups who fund their attacks by this greed. I only regret that President and First Lady of Kenya could not be here because of the tragedy in Nairobi, but am proud Africa was well represented at this table.”

The Commitment Makers and their partners commit to funding and facilitating partnerships to advance a new three-pronged strategy that will catalyze a global movement to coordinate and leverage influence, constituencies, and resources to protect key elephant populations from poaching while reducing trafficking and demand for ivory. Funding for this commitment has been provided by myriad public and private sources, including U.S., European, and African governments; along with multi-lateral institutions, foundations, and concerned individuals. Nations joining in the commitment include: Botswana, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi, and Uganda.

These funds will be used to support national governments to scale up anti-poaching enforcement at the 50 priority elephant sites including hiring and supporting an additional 3,100 park guards. In addition, anti-trafficking efforts will be increased by strengthening intelligence networks and penalties for violations and adding training and sniffer dog teams at 10 key transit points. New demand reduction efforts will be implemented in 10 consumer markets over the next three years.

Further, leaders from African nations led a call for other countries to adopt trade moratoria on all commercial ivory imports, exports and domestic sales of ivory products until African elephant populations are no longer threatened by poaching.

The commitment was announced at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting underway in New York City. CGI’s 2013 theme, Mobilizing for Impact, explores ways that CGI members and member organizations can be more effective in leveraging individuals, partner organizations, and key resources in their commitment efforts.

Today’s announcement is the culmination of work by Secretary Clinton while serving as Secretary of State, as well as Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton’s engagement, who visited conservation sites on a trip with the Clinton Foundation to Africa this summer. Together, they have convened the NGO’s and nations to ensure rapid progress to a solution to prevent the extinction of Africa’s elephants and the proliferation of the violence caused by the criminal syndicates wiping out the elephants.

In addition to the funds already committed, the partnership urgently seeks additional partners to provide $70 million in financial or in-kind support over the next three years to reverse the decline of Africa’s elephants.

African elephants are being lost at an unprecedented rate, and the demand for ivory shows no decline. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed illegally each year across Africa with some 35,000 lost in 2012 alone.

In addition to uniting national leaders and concerned groups and citizens, the commitment will focus attention on the national and global security implications of wildlife trafficking. As one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities, valued at $7-10 billion annually, illegal wildlife trade ranks fifth globally in terms of value, behind the trafficking in drugs, people, oil and counterfeiting. Notorious extremist groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army, the janjaweed, and al-Shabaab poach ivory to fund terror operations.

Commitment Makers include: Wildlife Conservation Society, African Wildlife Foundation, Conservation International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and World Wildlife Fund.

Commitment Partners are African Parks Network, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Freeland Foundation, Howard Buffett Foundation, International Conservation Caucus Foundation, National Geographic, Save the Elephants, TRAFFIC, WildAid and WildlifeDirect.

The commitment runs through 2016 and addresses the problem on three fronts: stop the killing; stop the trafficking; and stop the demand:

Stop the Killing: The Commitment will scale up “on the ground” anti-poaching enforcement in African range states to reduce the amount of illegally killed elephants to below 50 percent.

NGO partners will support government efforts to scale up law enforcement in and around 50 key protected areas in Africa that together harbor approximately 285,000 elephants, or some two-thirds of the entire African population. NGO partners pledge to support the anti-poaching efforts of over 5,000 park guards at these sites. Partners project that this investment will reduce the average percentage of illegally killed elephants (PIKE) across these sites from 66 percent to 48 percent, with elephant population decline halted in about half of the 50 sites (PIKE less than 50 percent). Thus this effort will take the commitment halfway to its ultimate goal, reversing the decline in Africa’s elephants.

Stop the Trafficking: Partner NGOs will support governments in identifying and implementing priority actions to combat trafficking in ivory. A complimentary range of urgent actions will be used to strengthen enforcement capacity at ports and markets; increase intelligence-led crackdowns on illicit networks; secure ivory stockpiles, and reform laws and penalties can be tailored to rapidly reduce trafficking.

This commitment includes an African government led call for other countries to adopt trade moratoria on all commercial ivory imports, exports and domestic sales of ivory products until African elephant populations are no longer threatened by poaching. Government partners will initiate and support an African range state-led call to other range, transit and consumer countries to declare or restate domestic moratoria on all ivory and ivory product sales and purchases.

The partners commit to helping governments to reduce the number of large scale ivory shipments by 50 percent from 2011 baseline levels (the worst year on record for these ivory seizures) and extrapolating for changes in enforcement effort. In addition, the partners will work with governments to improve the potential detection and prosecution of illegal ivory trade by increasing the number of law enforcement officers and judiciary trained in Africa and Asia by 50 percent compared to 2011 levels by 2016.

Stop the Demand: The Commitment will target key consumer markets to increase awareness about poaching and illegal ivory trade, including generating 10 million actions taken via social media platforms to reduce ivory consumption and highlight the impact of ivory sales on the African elephant.

NGOs will use increased awareness to drive behavioral changes that will reduce consumption as well as result in “grassroots” political pressure on the governments of key consumer countries. Partners will work together to reduce the demand for ivory among potential consumers by both increasing awareness of the issues and providing mechanisms for civil society to take action. Partners pledge to take action, both individually and collectively, to reduce the stated intention to purchase ivory by at least 25 percent in key markets by the end of 2016 as measured by market research conducted at regular intervals throughout the duration of the commitment. This will be achieved by producing awareness content/materials and improving penalties and prosecutions that will spur behavior change and/or online action in key consumer countries. To measure success, standardized, replicable, scalable public opinion polls and surveys will be conducted within priority consumer countries.

Wildlife Conservation Society President and CEO Cristián Samper said: “On behalf of all the NGO partners involved in this initiative, I’m proud to announce that the Wildlife Conservation Society and their partners commit to providing $80 million over the next year to protect elephant populations by stopping the killing of elephants, stopping the trafficking in ivory, and stopping the demand for ivory across the world. We thank the Clinton Global Initiative, Sec. Clinton and Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton for helping to convene all the partners and for their long-time dedication to end this crisis. I know, together, we can move beyond extinction stats to the solutions to save elephants.”

African Wildlife Foundation CEO Patrick Bergin said: “We cannot hope to reverse the dramatic decline in elephant populations in Africa without addressing all three parts of the problem: the poaching of elephants on the ground in Africa, the global trafficking of ivory, and the insatiable demand by consumers for ivory products. This joint Commitment to Action demonstrates how much the resolution of this crisis relies on the coordination of efforts by multiple parties, from conservation organizations to governments around the world. African Wildlife Foundation thanks the Clinton Global Initiative for providing all of us with an opportunity to elevate the visibility of this crisis, and we personally thank Sec. Clinton and Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton for shining a spotlight on Africa’s elephants.”

Conservation International’s Co-founder, Chairman and CEO, Peter Seligmann, said: “We applaud the Clinton Global Initiative for bringing this issue to the world stage, and greatly appreciate the deep and sustained personal involvement of Secretary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, as well as that of our NGO, Foundation and government partners. Wildlife trafficking is directly connected to the global economy and security. It weakens ecosystems, fuels terrorist organizations, and threatens livelihoods. Conservation International is proud to be a part of this Commitment to Action, as it is in all of our enlightened self-interests to put an end to this deadly trade.”

Azzedine Downes, IFAW President and CEO, said: “The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) committed to this partnership from the outset because it represents the kind of large-scale and strategic collaboration it will take to save African elephants. Animal welfare and conservation organizations, range states and consumer countries, law enforcement and communities that live around the elephants—we all need to work together on a common plan if there is to be any hope of success.”

Carter Roberts, President & CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said: “We know how to solve this crisis. What’s been missing is a united front from governments, NGOs and the private sector to scale up resources to stop the killing and crush the demand. Look at what has been done with conflict diamonds and fur from endangered species. The more people are aware of the consequences of what they buy, it changes what they do. We need to do the same with elephant ivory and rhino horn and tiger bone. What person would buy these things if they knew they slaughtered the most magnificent animals in the world? Because when people buy parts of these animals, they are contributing to the catastrophic killing taking place right now.”
Increasing consumer demand for ivory, particularly in Asia, is causing the price of ivory to skyrocket and is driving elephant poaching. Today’s ivory traffickers are primarily well-organized syndicates that operate as transnational criminal networks and often participate in other illegal activities, including trafficking in narcotics and weapons, and with links to terrorist networks. The poachers not only threaten the lives of elephants, but at least 1,000 park rangers have been killed in the line of duty over the past ten years, as they try to protect elephants and other wildlife.

Dr Paula Kahumbu with members of the CGI group in New York

Dr Paula Kahumbu
with members of the
CGI group in New York

###

About the Clinton Global Initiative
Established in 2005 by President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), an initiative of Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. CGI Annual Meetings have brought together more than 150 heads of state, 20 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations and NGOs, major philanthropists, and members of the media. To date CGI members have made more than 2,300 commitments, which are already improving the lives of more than 400 million people in over 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, these commitments will be valued at $73.5 billion. CGI also convenes CGI America, a meeting focused on collaborative solutions to economic recovery in the United States, and CGI University (CGI U), which brings together undergraduate and graduate students to address pressing challenges in their community or around the world, and, this year, CGI Latin America, which will bring together Latin American leaders to identify, harness, and strengthen ways to improve the livelihoods of people in Latin America and around the world. For more information, visit clintonglobalinitiative.org and follow us on Twitter @ClintonGlobal and Facebook at facebook.com/clintonglobalinitiative.

http://t.co/nZe8wYpRI3

Media Contacts:
Tim Smyth

Beverly school helps with elephant research in Africa

By Taryn Plumb, Boston Globe
August 04, 2013

At daybreak, the researchers set off across the tree-dotted plain.

A spotter team in the air swooped over to identify pachyderm potential; a veterinarian and capture crew on the ground then moved in, eventually darting a suitable male.

In just a few minutes, the 5-ton elephant was pacified, and different groups started to work: Watering the animal to prevent overheating, tagging its back with white paint, deploying a collar, measuring tusks, back, and shoulders, estimating age, and taking blood and parasite samples. Soon, the animal lumbered back to its feet and continued on its way.

This was the typical protocol for several successful elephant taggings this spring in Kenya, as part of a partnership between the Beverly-based School for Field Studies and two other programs trying to learn as much as possible about one of the world’s largest mammals.

The goal is to “ask elephants some questions, and actually learn from them,” said project leader Moses Makonjio Okello, a senior director for the School for Field Studies’ center for wildlife management studies in Kenya and Tanzania.

‘We want to just inspire. They’re seeing the wonders of the world — touching it, feeling it, contributing real knowledge.’

Founded in 1980 – starting out in Kendall Square in Cambridge, then moving to Beverly a few years later — the environmental study program enables roughly 550 students from 300 colleges a year to partake in, and contribute to, ongoing research at its field stations in Africa, Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, Panama, the Turks and Caicos islands, and Bhutan.

“It’s very hands-on. They understand that you’re a student, but they treat you like a fellow researcher, which can be rare when you’re 18, 19 years old,” said Stoneham native Jennifer Clinton.

While an undergrad at Fairfield University in 2008, she took part in the Turks and Caicos program; she described waking up to crashing waves and spending afternoons out on the water working with fishermen and local fisheries to determine sustainable harvesting practices.

Today, she’s continuing her interest in islands and political policy with an internship at the Institute for European Environmental Policy in Belgium.

“The program really set me on the course I’m on now,” she said via Skype from Brussels. “That was definitely the first major stepping stone on my career path.”

Which is the nonprofit’s goal, explained Mark Seifert, dean of academic programs.

“We want to just inspire,” said Seifert, who also is an alumni of the program. In 1988, he studied deforestation in Costa Rica as an undergrad at the University of Maryland. “They’re seeing the wonders of the world – touching it, feeling it, contributing real knowledge.”

Although based out of the school’s Beverly headquarters, he regularly visits all the sites — including new ones forthcoming next year — traveling about four or five times a year.

“It’s never tiring, even though I’m away for weeks on end and come back with bug bites,” he said. “A bad day in the field is better than any day in a cube.”

By next fall, the Beverly organization will operate programs in 11 countries, with the introduction of two new offerings focused on biodiversity and development in the Amazon in Peru and the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam. Both will focus on environmental ethics, natural resource management, and sustainable development issues, according to Seifert.

Particularly in the Amazon, he said, “students will be enmeshed in this wonderfully rich environment — moist, wet, green, thick, birds, insects, you name it.” Meanwhile, students involved in the Vietnam and Cambodia program will get a chance to see the world-renowned Angkor archeology sites.

In eastern Africa, the focus is on one of the most beloved yet imperiled animals on the planet. The goal of the five-year study, according to Okello, is to determine the preferred habitats, range, and space needs of elephants, how they ultimately interact with humans, and the threats and conflicts they face. The majority of the research is taking place in southern Kenya around Amboseli National Park, an area home to an estimated 1,500 elephants. The issues are compounded by the transitioning of the Maasai people and other ethnic groups from the traditional nomadic, pastoral lifestyles, to more sedentary, agriculture-based ones.

As the endeavor moves forward, various groups of students from the School for Field Studies will have the opportunity to take part, engaging in hands-on research in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Kenya Wildlife Services. Students will look at the Maasai steppe through the lenses of ecology, resource management, and socioeconomics.

And as the paths of humans and elephant herds continue to criss-cross, those issues become more complex, according to Okello, speaking via Skype from his base in Africa.

Elephants are a “flagship species,” helping boost tourism and conservation awareness on the continent, he said, as well as a “keystone species” important to diversifying habitats for other animals (such as by opening up dense bush through their daily foraging). He also called them one of the most intelligent animals outside of the primate family, with a social organization that reflects that of humans; however, because adults weigh anywhere from 3 to 5 tons, they can do a lot of damage, and ultimately need a lot of room, not to mention resources.

As he noted, they can eat for 16 hours nonstop, and drink 80 to 100 gallons of water a day.

So as the landscape of Africa changes due to human interference and climate change, “there’s a compression and lack of sufficient space,” he said.

Going forward, the project is to focus on five main research areas: First, tracking elephant movements (their general home range, places they frequent, places they avoid); their habitat (their different homes, what draws them to each one, what routes they use); population sizes and structure (what other elephant groups they interact with, how they’re related); the overall cost and benefits to humans (their role in tourism, negative impacts on livestock and crops, the competition they pose); and threats (poaching for their tusks, encroachment of increasing human populations – about 4 percent per year in Kenya – new settlement blocking their migration routes trodden by centuries, retaliatory killings).

Overall, the goal is to encourage separation and discourage competition, while fostering coexistence, he said. Eventually, they also hope to affect policy and planning on a higher level.

What ultimately makes this project unique, Okello noted, is that it attempts to look at the world through the eyes and experiences of the elephants, rather than forcing it through the prism of human understanding.

“Maybe instead of saying ‘the elephant needs this and that,’ maybe we ask the elephant and find ingenious ways of getting answers,” he said during a lecture given earlier this year at the School for Field Studies headquarters.

The initial — and admittedly most challenging and dangerous — step was the collaring process, which took place over several days this spring. Four males and two females were tagged (at a cost of roughly $12,000 each); next year, the goal is to collar another 11, Okello said.

Okello hopes the research leads to a deeper human understanding and appreciation for creatures that have marched back and forth across Africa for thousands of years.

“The courage for humanity to consider other species and their viability is something we need to have,” he said.