Think globally, act locally: Summit pledges ‘social contract’ among conservancies, NGOs to protect elephants


This week’s Giants Club Summit and the weekend’s historic ivory burn in Kenya will be monumental exhibits of solidarity in the global fight to protect elephants from epidemic levels of poaching. I am honored to have been invited as an NGO delegate to the summit and to witness the historic burning of 105 tonnes of ivory in the following days.

But the International Fund for Animal Welfare and our fellow NGOs cannot ignore an integral player in the effort to save the species: the local community.

As per one of our core principles to work with local communities, to learn from their struggles on the ground regarding these issues, we joined the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) and the Conservation Alliance of Kenya (CAK) yesterday in a meeting that discussed the urgent need for stronger community action to maintain open space for wildlife, reduce human wildlife conflict and end illegal wildlife trade.

We need to ensure that the voices of communities are heard in the global dialogue.

And we need to know how local communities, particularly those living nearest to wildlife, can support global and national efforts.

Why? IFAW believes communities have the solutions to saving wildlife.

The summit brought together traditional leaders, community and conservancy leaders and conservationists from different regions and conservation areas to better understand:

  • local and traditional perspectives linking people and the environment,
  • community rights to natural resource,
  • maintaining space through conservancies and
  • legal and policy frameworks.

After all, only with the local communities’ help can we understand current wildlife crime trends, address illegal wildlife trade, foster coexistence for people and wildlife and discuss alternative income sources to benefit communities while reducing costs associated with living with wildlife.

The outcome of this meeting? To establish a “social contract'” whereby communities will be called to reconnect with and conserve Kenya's wildlife heritage.

Based on the meeting dialogue, the social contract is currently being drafted by KWCA staff. A Maasai elder handed over a symbolic contract to Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu of the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities. Wakhungu will then hand over the contract to President H.E Uhuru Kenyatta at the Giants Club Summit.

The promise this contract embodies is not a casual promise. It’s saying “I will not leave you, I will not forget you, I’m here by your side.” Not just the governments, but people all across Africa – of all political, cultural and religious affiliation – must come together and make this promise to elephants.

We also held a reception in which we introduced our pioneering tenBoma project to the community and NGO leaders here in Nairobi this week who may not be familiar with the project.

I was also given the honor, along with colleagues James Isiche and Vivek Menon, of bringing some of the massive tusks from the Kenyan government cache to the burn site. The ivory burning site is open to the public though security is tight.

The sheer enormity of the multiple piles is immense and the somber feeling you get when you are in their presence can be overwhelming, even to people like me who have seen large caches of dead elephant ivory on other important occasions.

Kenya's national image and economy is dependent upon the work of the communities of which it is comprised. Without these communities, there would be no Kenya.

And unless we all come together to address the poaching epidemic, there will be no elephants.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime