Kenya’s economy largely revolves around wildlife tourism. The sector is close to earning US$ 1 billion / year, all in hard currency. Both the government and the private sector recognize that the country’s biodiversity must be protected and nurtured. To this effect, Kenya is a member of various international treaties that seek to protect natural resources, and it is a strong voice for conservation in Africa.
A major issue that Kenya and other African countries confront is poaching. The killing of animals, including elephants, lions and rhinos, for commercial purposes is ever rising.
For many years, the African elephant was listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which effectively prohibited the ivory trade between member states. However, four African countries – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – have won approval to transfer their elephant populations to Appendix II of CITES, thereby allowing restricted international trade. In addition to downgrading protection for country prides, in 2008, CITES also authorized the 4 countries to sell massive stockpiles of ivory to China and Japan.
Despite continued bans and restrictions on the sale of ivory, legitimate and black markets are increasing dramatically, promoting ruthless and relentless poaching. During the first 6 months of 2012, an estimated 35 elephants have been killed just in the Laikipia District in northern Kenya. In October 2012, authorities in Hong Kong seized an illegal shipment of ivory resulting from the deaths of approximately 600 elephants.
Kenya has fought to reinstate a world-ban on the sale of ivory. At the 2010 CITES meeting in Doha, Kenya led a coalition to oppose successfully requests by Tanzania for authorization to sell its stockpiled ivory as well as petitions by Tanzania and Zambia to downgrade their elephant populations to Appendix II status. Kenya is now preparing for next year’s meeting in Thailand.
Domestically, the government has recently introduced a bill to increase the penalties for poaching to 25 years of imprisonment. The members of the Kenyan Wildlife Service I spoke with are pleased with the increased sanctions. If passed, enforcement will send critical message to the poacher community.
Seeing the wildlife of Kenya is an epic experience. Among them, elephants are amazing creatures who live in extended family prides and who mourn their dead. Killing them is not only inhumane, it is cruel and unacceptable. As long as there is a market, however, there will be poaching.
Next week, we’ll explore other conservation efforts in Kenya and how it has implemented the Conventional on Biological Diveristy.