Kenya’s elephant management strategy brings hope, but is their protection guaranteed?

This particular ivory burning was done during the first African Elephant Law Enforcement Celebrations held on July 20, 2011 at Kenya Wildlife Services Field Training School at Manyani, Kenya. C. IFAW/J. IsicheRecently, I had the privilege of representing the International Fund for Animal Welfare at the launch of the “Conservation and Management Strategy for the Elephant in Kenya” for the period 2012-2021 at the symbolic “Ivory Burning Site” in the Nairobi National Park.

The Ivory Burning Site is the location where, in 1989, the then President Daniel Arap Moi torched 12 tonnes of ivory as a message to the world that Kenya was committed to putting an end to the rife elephant poaching, and also to rally global support towards the end in ivory trade. A total ban in international trade in ivory was effected the following year.

This site and the timing could not have been more appropriate for the launch of the Management Strategy for two reasons. Firstly, elephant poaching has been on the upsurge in Kenya as well as other range states in Africa. 

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya lost 278 elephants in 2011 compared to 177 in 2010. Elsewhere in the continent, the picture was just as bad, if not worse.  

The question that lingers in my mind is whether elephants will fare any better in 2012.

Sadly, it does not seem so, if the recent elephant slaughter in Northern Cameroon is anything to go by. In mid-January, Sudanese armed gangs massacred at least 100 elephants in Bouba Ndjida National Park. This trend needs to be curbed immediately.

Secondly, the legal trade in ivory is back. As early as 1997, trade in ivory resumed with Japan buying 49 tonnes from three Southern African countries.  In November 2008, China and Japan bought 108 tonnes of ivory in a "one-off" sale from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. IFAW was among the conservation organizations that campaigned against this sale due to the risks of it fanning a parallel avenue for illegal trade. The unprecedented rise in ivory seizures suggests that these concerns were well-founded. According to TRAFFIC, the 13 largest seizures in 2011 contained more than 23 tonnes of ivory, the worst since 1989.

The insatiable appetite for ivory in China, fuelled by an increased national prosperity not to mention the rise in individual wealth and purchasing power, must surely put the lives of all elephants in all range states in jeopardy if trade was to continue. Yet, China is not the only destination for elephant ivory, as there are other markets in Asia and the West.

Against this backdrop, the launch of the Elephant Management Strategy signifies the Government of Kenya’s renewed commitment to conserve her elephants into posterity.  The strategy is anchored on a set of objectives, chief amongst which are:

  1. Providing protection for elephants from poachers
  2. Winning more space for elephant conservation
  3. Mitigating human-wildlife conflict and
  4. Using cutting edge research and monitoring to enhance elephant management.

The management strategy is refreshing, but the hard work of making is an uphill task. It will require significant resources and goodwill of local communities, among other things

IFAW’s five-year project in the Amboseli Ecosystem is right on cue in addressing these objectives and, therefore assisting Kenya in implementing the elephant Management Strategy. 

Not only is the rise in poaching in Kenya a threat to Amboseli’s 1200 elephants; the rapid expansion of settlements, unplanned land-use changes and the resultant increase in human-elephant conflict are also taking their toll on elephants as well as putting people’s livelihoods at risk.

Working with KWS, the local community and like-minded partners, IFAW will engage in activities that lead towards securing of the Amboseli ecosystem and its elephant population.

Overall, the contemporary challenges to elephant conservation demand that action be taken from many fronts. Besides working on the ground with elephants through law enforcement training and equipment support, IFAW also continues to raise awareness in China. It is also rallying support in the European Union and across the globe for a final definitive ban in international trade in ivory.

IFAW looks forward to the continued support of our supporters to ensure that elephants are secured into posterity.

-- JI

Help the International Fund for Animal Welfare protect elephants from poachers by adding your name to our "Say NO! to Ivory" petition. 

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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