Tag Archives: National Geographic

In Kenya, Justice Catches Up With Elephant Poacher

Noah Sitati, A Voice for Elephants, National Geographic
November 18, 2014
(
An elephant poacher in Kenya is finally behind bars, thanks to a local magistrate and coordination between the wildlife authority and two conservation partners.
In late 2013, community game scouts undertaking an anti-poaching patrol near world-renowned Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya came across a fresh elephant carcass.
Not surprisingly, the elephant’s two tusks were missing. The scouts, guided by tracker dogs and accompanied by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers, managed to track down the poacher, arrest him, and confiscate the two elephant tusks and python skin in his possession.
The pursuit and arrest of Kerumpoti Leyian wasn’t celebrated for long. After posting bail, Leyian failed to show up for his scheduled court appearance and all but disappeared. This was a demoralizing blow to the scouts who tracked down Leyian and recovered the tusks before they could be smuggled abroad, likely to China, where they’d be cleansed of their bloody origin, polished, and carved.
In spite of the setback, the scouts, who operate with a team of tracker dogs under the direction of Big Life Foundation with support from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), continued to monitor Leyian’s home. They also worked the extensive informant network they’d built up in the area for any tips as to his whereabouts.
Time passed, and it began to seem that here again another elephant poacher had evaded justice.
Then in July, the game scouts received intel that Leyian had returned to his village but was living with a relative. They scrambled and with help from KWS re-arrested Leyian. This time, he was not granted bail.
Law Enforcement Workshop Raises Awareness
In the same month that Leyian was being taken into police custody for a second time, KWS and AWF were hosting a workshop for 35 magistrates, revenue authority officials, immigration officials, prosecutors, and county administrators from districts adjacent to Kenya’s Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks.
The workshop aimed to sensitize attendees to the seriousness and complexity of the illegal wildlife trade, drawing particular attention to the illicit industry’s impact on Africa’s elephants and rhinos.
The workshop also focused on Kenya’s new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, which six months before had come into force, empowering Kenya’s courts to deal harshly with convicted elephant and rhino poachers and traffickers.
No longer would the country’s wildlife criminals get a mere slap on the wrist for their offenses. Under the new law, anyone involved in the illegal wildlife trade could be hit with a maximum penalty of $233,000 or seven years in jail.
In January 2014, a Chinese man arrested in Nairobi and convicted of ivory smuggling became the first to feel the full brunt of the new law when he was ordered to pay $233,000 or serve seven years in jail.
Many participants in the workshop were not aware of the scale and devastation of the illegal wildlife trade, nor of the harsher penalties allowed under Kenya’s new wildlife law.
They highlighted the many challenges in bringing alleged poachers and traffickers to justice, from poor techniques in evidence collection to a lack of general knowledge among police and magistrates about the new wildlife act.
Magistrate Evans Mbicha (at back in checked shirt with glasses) at the July training workshop. He subsequently sentenced Leyian to seven years in jail.
Magistrate Evans Mbicha (at back in checked shirt with glasses) at the July training workshop. He subsequently sentenced Leyian to seven years in jail. Photograph by Noah Sitati/African Wildlife Foundation.
At the close of the workshop, Honorable Evans Mbicha, a magistrate from Kajiado District, joined his colleagues in vowing to do more to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
From now on, they gave assurance that they would deal sternly with poachers and traffickers convicted of their crimes. When Leyian appeared in Mbicha’s courtroom last month, he was sentenced to seven years in jail.
Power of Partnership
The year-long effort to bring one of Kenya’s elephant poachers to justice highlights two important things.
First, as demonstrated by Kenya’s new wildlife act, Tanzania’s new anti-poaching national strategy, and the U.S.’s national strategy to combat global wildlife trafficking, countries everywhere are prioritizing shutting down the illegal wildlife trade.
The sentencing of Leyian in Kenya comes amid news of the U.S. indictment of two South African brothers for their alleged operation of a rhino horn trafficking ring, suggesting that the law is finally closing in on poachers and kingpins alike.
Second, combating an illicit industry as pervasive and global as the illegal wildlife trade will require partnerships and coordinated efforts at the regional, national, and global level.
Conservation groups bring resources and different types of expertise that can help to extend and enhance the rule of law in many countries—and in the far-flung counties, districts, conservancies, group ranches and chiefdoms—in which they work.
Game scouts on patrol in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, southern Kenya.
Game scouts on patrol in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, southern Kenya. Photograph by Fiesta Warinwa/African Wildlife Foundation
The arrest of Leyian could not have happened without cooperation and coordination between Big Life Foundation game scouts and Kenya Wildlife Service staff.
And were it not for the July workshop facilitated by KWS and AWF, Leyian may have been charged with a petty offense and received a lighter sentence.
Leyian’s arrest and sentencing bring attention to some rare successes that often go unreported.
During the past couple of years, anti-poaching patrols have intensified and expanded in certain areas of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, and elephant poaching in those areas has declined as a result.
Wildlife authorities and game scouts on both sides of the border are coordinating their patrols and sharing information and in some cases resources to intercept and track down poachers and traffickers.
Recently, community scouts, magistrates, and others in the law enforcement establishment in Tanzania have requested similar training as that provided to their Kenyan counterparts in July.
Only by working together and joining in smart partnerships will we put the poachers, traffickers, and kingpins out of business.
For the elephants of the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem, they can rest a little easier now knowing that one less poacher is stalking them in the bush.
Noah Sitati is Kilimanjaro Landscape Manager for African Wildlife Foundation and Jeremy Goss is Conservation Project Manager for Big Life Foundation, both based in Kenya. AWF and Big Life are working together and with national wildlife authorities in the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem of southern Kenya, and across the border in Tanzania with another local NGO, Honeyguide Foundation, to counter wildlife poaching and trafficking.

U.S. Ivory Crush Should Be Just a First Step

Bryan Christy, National Geographic
November 12, 2013

This Thursday, the United States government will destroy nearly six tons of ivory, which represents a good portion of the ivory the U.S. has seized since the late 1980s, when a national ban on commercial African ivory imports went into effect.

It will be a symbolic act. But symbolism matters.

Ivory destruction ceremonies have been a litmus test for where a country stands on the ivory trade ever since Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi torched 13 tons of ivory in 1989, setting the stage for a vote to ban international trade in ivory by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

That ban went into effect in 1990. Six months later, the U.S. ivory market collapsed.

With no international market, it might have been reasonable for all CITES parties to destroy their ivory stocks after the 1990 international ivory ban took effect.

But the ban did not last. In 1999 and again in 2008 parties to CITES voted to allow ivory sales.

The first sale was of 55 tons to Japan and the second, of 115 tons to Japan and China.  In the wake of the China sale, elephant poaching and ivory trafficking have boomed. So has the need for international action.

Last year, Gabon burned 4.8 tons of ivory. Earlier this year the Philippines became the first non-African country to destroy its ivory stocks when it crushed five tons of ivory.

Each was an act by a relatively poor country sacrificing a potential asset for principles that go beyond money. “The Philippines will not be a party to this massacre, and we refuse to be a conduit to this cycle of killing,” Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said last summer, when his country crushed its ivory.

But not all ivory destructions are alike.

One of the most amazing things about the African elephant is its ability, despite its immense size, to blend in with its surroundings. Just meters away, even seasoned scouts can overlook an elephant.

So, too, does the language surrounding the elephant’s protection easily conceal the size and nature of the ivory trafficking problem.

The United States banned the import and export of African ivory in 1989 but it did not ban its domestic sale. So ivory continues to be openly available for sale in luxury shops just off Madison Avenue in New York City, just as it is in San Francisco and other American cities. (See pictures of the ivory trade around the world.)

As recently demonstrated by criminal cases in New York and Philadelphia, America’s legal ivory market has offered an incentive for ivory smugglers.

In 2012, New York state announced guilty pleas by two ivory dealers. In 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agents raided the African art store of Philadelphia African art dealer Victor Gordon, seizing an estimated ton of ivory from his facilities and his customers. (According to USFWS officials, Gordon’s ivory is considered evidence and is not part of the ivory to be destroyed this week.)

But it would be a mistake to think ivory trafficking to the United States compares in any meaningful way to ivory smuggling to China.

U.S. Customs and USFWS inspectors are among the most respected border patrollers in the world and have only interdicted a total of six or so tons of ivory since 1989.

It’s not been surprising to find that amount of ivory in a single illegal shipment or two bound for China. In 2011 alone, 46.5 tons of illegal ivory were seized, much of it headed for China.

In choosing to destroy its national ivory stock a quarter century ago, Kenya took a big risk. Its ivory burn put that country in conflict with its southern neighbors who wanted to expand the ivory trade, and it cost Kenya a lot of potential revenue.

But Kenya made a calculation that tourism for live elephants was more valuable than trinkets from dead ones. In destroying its ivory stocks this week, the United States has much less at stake than Kenya did in 1989, or even than Gabon or the Philippines did more recently.

“We hope this is only the beginning and as a next step the U.S. bans its domestic ivory trade,” said Paula Kahumbu, director of Kenya-based Wildlife Direct. “Every single thing that demonstrates individual or national responsibility is a step in the right direction.”

When it comes to today’s ivory trade, one important resource the United States has that other countries don’t is its economic relationship with China. Unlike the U.S., China’s government seeks to expand its domestic ivory trade and to import more ivory from Africa.

Law enforcement in Asia and Africa is inadequate to stop ivory trafficking syndicates. So calling upon China and other countries to ban the domestic sale of ivory and to join the U.S. would be an even more meaningful expenditure of American political capital.

How to end the elephant slaughter

By Cristian Samper, Patrick Bergin, Peter Seligmann, Azzedine Downes, and Carter Roberts, CNN
September 27, 2013

(CNN) — Dzanga Bai is a magical place of natural wonder. It is on the Central African Republic’s southwest border with the Republic of Congo and is widely considered the most important gathering place for forest elephants in the entire Congo basin. For decades — and probably centuries — elephants by the hundreds from across the region have congregated there, reconnecting with family members and drinking the mineral-rich waters.

Last May, a group of heavily armed men, believed to be linked to the Seleka rebel group, entered Dzanga Bai and slaughtered a reported two dozen elephants.

By the time Dzanga Bai’s elephant carcasses were discovered, the perpetrators were gone, leaving in their wake a horrific crime scene of heads carved up for their precious ivory. Tusks like these, typically destined for Asian markets, where growing demand has quickly driven up prices, have in recent years presented a new opportunity for quick cash to finance the operations of armed gangs from the Central African Republic east to Somalia. It is now widely understood that groups ranging from Darfur’s Janjaweed to Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army have turned to this revenue source.

“The devastating poaching crisis that has gripped Africa over the past decade has left multiple tragedies in its wake…”
The growth of these groups, with funds from illegal wildlife trafficking, is destabilizing African governments even as it devastates populations of elephants, rhinos and other high value wildlife. Operating through terror and intimidation, roving rebel armies undermine democratic governance and responsible resource management while devastating regional economies through disruptions to tourism and local livelihoods.

In meetings in the United States, Asia and Africa this year, we have listened as leaders have shared their growing anxiety. The new poachers are tied to criminal syndicates. Rifles and machetes have been enhanced or replaced with helicopters, night visions goggles, sophisticated telecommunications and automatic weapons. Local communities are terrified and national governments fear losing large swaths of territory to these gangs.

Out of these conversations has emerged a challenge to the world—from African nations–to stop buying ivory. Representatives of the governments of Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda, along with the international nongovernmental organizations we represent, have gathered in New York this week to announce an important commitment through the Clinton Global Initiative. Together, we have three straightforward goals: (1) stop the killing; (2) stop the trafficking; and (3) stop the demand.

To stop the killing and the trafficking, the international community can help states that make up the present range of the African elephant by providing equipment, training and expertise. President Obama recently dedicated $10 million for law enforcement efforts and the creation of a wildlife trafficking task force at the highest levels of the U.S. government, complementing existing U.S. initiatives. European and other nations, along with private citizens, need to join him in committing emergency resources to enforcement efforts in elephant landscapes and ivory trafficking ports.

Despite a ban on international trade in ivory imposed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1989, domestic sales remain legal in a number of countries, including the United States. Because these legal markets can provide a front for laundering illegal ivory into the trade, moratoria on domestic sales of ivory are also a vital part of anti-trafficking efforts.

Stopping the demand requires new strategies. Removing the prestige associated with buying ivory requires creative new uses of social media and other tools to change consumption behavior in China and elsewhere. Once the demand for ivory is curtailed there will be little financial incentive for criminal groups to continue elephant poaching and trafficking.

Yet because carved ivory is a centuries-old cultural tradition, this change will take time — something the world’s dwindling elephant populations don’t have. That is why African nations with the greatest remaining elephant populations have begun to call for nations across the globe to stop selling and purchasing ivory until all African elephant populations have recovered to healthy levels.

The devastating poaching crisis that has gripped Africa over the past decade has left multiple tragedies in its wake: the loss of roughly three-quarters of all remaining African forest elephants; the murder of hundreds of courageous wildlife guards; regional government resources stretched to their limits as villagers across sub-Saharan Africa live in daily terror.

The initiative launched this week by representatives of elephant range states, ivory consumer nations, and our organizations has been endorsed by an unprecedented group of conservation partners that include the African Parks Network, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Freeland Foundation, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, National Geographic, Save the Elephants, TRAFFIC, WildAid, and Wildlife Direct.

This effort is our best bet at saving these majestic, highly intelligent and socially complex creatures while bringing much-needed stability to governments whose hopes for a brighter future require that armed gangs no longer operate within their borders. Before it’s too late, let’s stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand.

Editor’s note: Cristián Samper is the president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Patrick Bergin is the president and CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation; Peter Seligmann is chairman and CEO of Conservation International; Azzedine Downes is the president and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare; and Carter Roberts is the president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund