Ivory seizures from Kenya: festering sore in wildlife haven

INTERPOL recently seized ivory during their Operation WORTHY.Barely three months have gone since the last ivory seizure and now we have another large one in Asia that is implicating Kenya. Again!

Last weekend, Hong Kong officials seized 3.81 tonnes of ivory that had been declared as rose coco beans (red beans) and plastic scrap from Kenya and Tanzania. Bearing whole, raw tusks and ivory fragments, this consignment was the largest seizure ever in the history of China, and the largest worldwide in two years.   

The previous seizure in Asia implicating Kenya was in July when about 600 kilos of ivory was impounded in Thailand and Vietnam.  

From the images taken of the Hong Kong shipment, the tusks have signs of having been buried in earth, probably for purposes of stockpiling before shipping. The shipment was done separately too, possibly to avoid detection – modus operandi of criminal syndicates.

At this rate, I dread that in a month or less, there will be another seizure implicating Kenya and Tanzania, the two major conduits or sources or both of large consignments of illegal ivory in the last two years.

In the 90s and early 2000s, Kenya did a commendable job in deterring poachers from killing elephants as well as nabbing the culprits who would be caught after the act. The relevant authorities had also sealed most of the loopholes at various exit points. Criminal syndicates would avoid Kenya and use other easier routes.

However, the situation has changed in the past 5 years for the worse. There has been an unprecedented rise in poaching incidents throughout the country, and the trend of ivory seizures globally in the last two years is worrying.

We probably have a situation in our hands that may rival the 1970s and 80s when the elephant and rhino slaughter was at its peak, if the ivory seizure reports are anything to go by. Fighting bandits in Tsavo during that infamous poaching era was tough, to say the least! It took no less than three years to bring the situation under control. The international ban in ivory trade also helped immensely. Having worked as a warden in Tsavo, I know that it entails a lot of hardwork and sacrifice to curb poaching.

The poaching era cost was extensive and we still bear the scars to date.  Today, many of the adult elephants in Tsavo are aggressive, they haven’t forgotten what their families went through in the hands of humans. Nationally, we lost 95% of the elephants and 99% rhinos, and several rangers and security officers paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Therefore, there is need and urgency for all Kenyan authorities and other elephant range states’ agencies to protect elephants from poachers as well as to seal off these routes to deter criminal gangs involved in this vice.

The Kenya Government owes its citizenry and the global community an explanation for the seizures in Asia that pass through or originate from the country. Kenya Wildlife Service has also made numerous contraband interceptions and arrested suspects in the last few years. Kenyans deserve to know what action has been or is being taken against these criminals who seem to be having a field day.

We also need to know if the present high poaching incidences in the country are feeding into these criminal syndicates, who their local links are, and what action has been taken to arrest the situation both for elephants in the wild and the criminals involved in the vice. If our sea ports and airports are secure conduits for illicit ivory, then it can also be concluded that the same applies for other contraband which could be detrimental to our very own security.

Beyond doubt, most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, particularly China, where it is now viewed as an asset of choice for the wealthy, in some quarters, surpassing gold. However, the latter is a recent trend while the former (ivory markets in Asia) has traditionally been so. We deserve to not only hear authorities pointing fingers at the Asian markets, but need to see action being taken in the country to deter the poachers before they kill our precious wildlife. We all have a role in ensuring that this gift of wildlife is protected for our children’s children.

If you are as concerned as I am on this issue, I hope you will leave your comment below to see how to help heal this festering sore of poaching and wildlife trafficking before it is too late.

- JI

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia