I wrote the following article for our parish magazine HHQ, 5th edition. It saddens me that Kenya is loosing its wildlife heritage at such an alarming rate, more than 150 elephants and 34 Rhinos this in the last eight months.
Hands off our Elephants!
Kenyans say “no” to Poaching
Some memories just don’t go away. As a primary school pupil, one of my fondest memories was the trip to the national park. Like other children, I begged my parent to pay for these trips. I remember my school would hire two KWS buses. Since they took only 120 pupils, there was stiff competition for spaces! Nobody wanted to be told of how much fun the trip was; you had to make the trip! The marvellous sites and animals are a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, our children and grandchildren may not experience this beautiful heritage. Unless we do something to save our wildlife, especially the Elephant, we will only have stories to tell future generations.
Poaching: The Elephant’s worst Nightmare…
On 6th January 2013, a family of 12 elephants was killed in Tsavo East National Park. This “massacre” was but one in a series of poacher attacks on the elephant.
Among the dead was a one-year old calf. Sometimes when poachers attack, some calves survive but like young children they need care and protection from the next slaughter. KWS wardens rescue these calves and bring them to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an orphanage in Nairobi National Park, a short drive from Bomas of Kenya junction. Here the calves are cared for till they are strong enough to fend for themselves. Founded in 1977, the trust has been receiving growing numbers of orphaned elephants due to the rise in poaching. Speaking to AP, the founder Dame Daphne Sheldrick raised concerns about the growing numbers and called for stricter rules to end poaching.
The Elephant: A giant but helpless against poachers!
A mature elephant weighs between 2,268 and 6,350 kgs, has an average height of 8.2 to 13 ft (2.5 to 4m), with an estimated life span of 60 to 80 years. They have a longer pregnancy than any other mammal—almost 22 months.
The most valuable part of the elephant is the tusks. They are used for digging, stripping bark, moving things out of the way and as weapons for defense. Unlike human teeth, the tusks continue to grow as the elephant ages. A third of the tusk is hidden deep inside the head.
Most of us detest visits to the dentist and only seek attention when we can no longer stand the pain. Now multiply that pain 10,000 times and you (may) understand what the elephant experiences when the poacher first shoots it then starts sawing through its tough skin to extract a 3kg tusk rooted in its head. The pain is unimaginable!
Kenya’s elephant population is shrinking; tourism is threatened …
Kenya has 38,000 elephants, the fourth largest population in the world. This is a huge decrease from 1989 when the country had 161,000 elephants. That year, retired President Daniel Moi set ablaze 12 tonnes of elephant tusks, sending a powerful message against poaching. The same year, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) approved a ban in international trade in ivory.
Unfortunately, CITES allowed a one-off sale of government ivory stock piles by southern Africa countries in 2008. This fuelled the local black market which, in turn, increased elephant poaching in most elephant ranges in Kenya. The one-off sale was not enough to quench the appetite for ivory in the Asian market. As a result the price of ivory rose and demand peaked. Poachers are now willing to go to any length to acquire the commodity and sell it off at the cost of the country’s heritage.
Speaking in Parliament in May 2013, Hon. Francis Ganya, MP for North Horr, said: “Over 211 elephants were poached in 2011 alone, with 384 elephants poached in 2012, and another 74 elephants lost since the beginning of 2013.”
The estimated price per kilogram of ivory is US$ 900 (about KES 70,200). Poachers are making a killing, literally! According to the African Economic Outlook, in 2011 tourism earnings rose by 32.8% to KES 97.9 billion. Wildlife is a major attraction to tourism in Kenya. If poaching is not stopped, Kenya might as well say goodbye to the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Legislation: The weakest link in fighting poaching
The main challenge in curbing poaching in Kenya has been weak laws. Criminals found with ivory are charged small fines. Sadly, this has turned some conservationists into poachers. In May 2013, Deputy Director of Community Development at Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Susan Soila and her son Robert were charged for being in possession of 19 kilograms of Ivory.
On 22nd May 2013, parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly to increase fines charged on poachers. They amended Cap. 376 of the Wildlife Bill, raising penalties for killing wildlife, especially elephants and rhinos, to 15 years in jail and/or a fine of up to KES 10 million.
This is a huge step towards conservation of elephants. But there is little the government can do without the support of its citizens.
What can WE do?
Celia Ho is a 14-year-old girl from Hong Kong who started the “School United for Elephants” campaign to fight against poaching. She initiates conversations with school going children, thus creating a platform of discussing the importance of conserving elephants. This young girl took the bold step as a result of watching a documentary on elephants. Unlike many of us, Celia has never seen an elephant! Imagine how much more she would accomplish if she had half the opportunity most of us have of seeing these magnificent creatures in our national parks.
‘Ivory belongs to Elephants’ Campaign
Back home, Jim Nyamu, co-founder of Elephant Neighbours Center, walked 487km from Likoni in Mombasa to the Nairobi Arboretum to raise awareness on the effects of elephant poaching. Nyamu has chosen the theme, ‘Ivory belongs to Elephants’ for his campaign.
On 11th May 2013, Nyamu started his second walk from Maasai Mara to Nairobi and on June 29th 2013, was joined by hundreds of Kenyans and elephant lovers at Uhuru Park. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Prof. Judy Wakhungu, graced the occasion. The 1700km walk ended at KWS headquarters.
Nyamu plans to continue walking for elephants and educate Kenyans and the world on the importance of conserving wildlife. Later this year, he will walk from Kampala to Dar es Salaam. He also plans to take his walks to China and USA. He is engaging schools and organised groups in becoming involved.
Each of us can do something to support this cause. The benefits of getting involved are enormous. But so are the costs of doing nothing: billions in lost revenue from tourism and future generations of Kenyans who may never know how an elephant looks like! Remember the dinosaur?
Want to get involved? Here is how:
· Educate yourself. Attend seminars.
· Join groups such as Friends of Nairobi National Park (FONNAP), Elephant Neighbours Center (ENC), Elephants 4 Kenya
· Volunteer at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
· Join online discussions on social media (Facebook/Twitter) to learn what others are doing
Finally, follow me; I will keep you up to date