Wildlife

Kenya’s Concerted Conservation

Posted on 22 May 2009. Filed under: Wildlife |

It is 20 years since a small group of Kenyan conservationists set out to protect the few remaining black rhino living in the Aberdare mountains national park.

Their plan was simple: to raise enough cash to erect a stretch of fence to keep the beasts inside the park and away from poachers and from people’s gardens. The government paid little attention, but the local communities living on the slopes of the heavily wooded hillsides were delighted because rhino and elephants kept destroying their crops.

In a few months’ time the labours of the group, Rhino Ark, will be largely over. The seven-strand, 2.5m-high electric fence will be finished, but it is nothing like that which was envisaged in 1989. Instead of being just a few kilometres long, it encircles the whole Aberdare mountain range, which includes some of Africa’s most rugged landscapes and spectacular forests. What is possibly the longest conservation fence in the world stretches up and down hills with a 1-in-2 gradient, passes over rivers and along the edge of hundreds of communities. It will be 400km-long, enclose nearly 2 000km2, has needed nearly 6 000km of wire and the cost will be more than $8-million. Almost certainly, it will become a blueprint for other parks in Africa.

“It just grew and grew,” says Colin Church, chair of Rhino Ark. “In the early days, the motivation was to protect the black rhino, but then we all woke up to the fact that the farmers [who lived near the fence] were celebrating and the reality that this forested mountain area was the lifeblood for millions of people.”

Twenty years ago rhino and elephant poachers could enter the Aberdares with impunity and there were believed to be only around 100 black rhino left in all Kenya. Today, says Maurice Otungah, assistant director of the government’s Kenya Wildlife Service, the park is threatened not just by ivory poachers, but by squatters wanting to farm, illegal loggers, hunters, villagers wanting firewood, and by corporates trying to source illegal water for flower and vegetable farms. Ironically, the threat to the rhino has lifted and there are now more than 600 in Kenya — mostly on heavily protected private game reserves.

Increased human poverty, climate change, a burgeoning population of several million people around the park and greater demand for wood and water in Kenya have all led to new pressure on the Aberdares. At stake now is not just the rhino, say scientists, politicians and conservationists, but Kenya itself.

“It is vital for communities,” says Wangari Maathai, the Nobel prize-winning Kenyan environmentalist, whose family home at Ihithe is just two miles from the eastern line of the fence. “It works well. People must be kept out of the forests. The Aberdares is one of the most important water catchment areas of Kenya. Kenya borders the Sahel, and with climate change it could become a desert [if the trees are felled]. People want to go to the forest because they can grow food, but they do not realise they undermine the future of all Kenya.”

Otungah says: “If in 1989 a few men had not said ‘Let’s fence the Aberdares’, we would only be seeing half of the forests there now. The rest would have been farmland. The fence is some of the best money that has ever been spent in Kenya. Our biggest achievement is the protection and conservation of a whole ecosystem.” — © Guardian News & Media 2009

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Alarm as New Study Shows Widespread and Substantial Declines of Wildlife in Maasai Mara

Posted on 22 April 2009. Filed under: Environment, Wildlife |

Monthly surveys over 15 years link surge in human settlements near Mara Reserve with large losses of wildlife that have made Kenya popular safari destination

IMAGE: This is a zebra at the edge of the Mara.

Click here for more information.

Populations of major wild grazing animals that are the heart and soul of Kenya’s cherished and heavily visited Masai Mara National Reserve—including giraffes, hartebeest, impala, and warthogs—have “decreased substantially” in only 15 years as they compete for survival with a growing concentration of human settlements in the region, according to a new study published today in the May 2009 issue of the British Journal of Zoology.

The study, analysed by researchers at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and led and funded by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is based on rigorous, monthly monitoring between 1989 and 2003 of seven “ungulate,” or hoofed, species in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, which covers some 1500 square kilometers in southwestern Kenya. Scientists found that a total of six species—giraffes, hartebeest, impala, warthogs, topis and waterbuck—declined markedly and persistently throughout the reserve.

The study provides the most detailed evidence to date on declines in the ungulate populations in the Mara and how this phenomenon is linked to the rapid expansion of human populations near the boundaries of the reserve. For example, an analysis of the monthly sample counts indicates that the losses were as high as 95 percent for giraffes, 80 percent for warthogs, 76 percent for hartebeest, and 67 percent for impala. Researchers say the declines they documented are supported by previous studies that have found dramatic drops in the reserve of once abundant wildebeest, gazelles and zebras.

“The situation we documented paints a bleak picture and requires urgent and decisive action if we want to save this treasure from disaster,” said Joseph Ogutu, the lead author of the study and a statistical ecologist at ILRI. “Our study offers the best evidence to date that wildlife losses in the reserve are widespread and substantial, and that these trends are likely linked to the steady increase in human settlements on lands adjacent to the reserve.”

Researchers found the growing human population has diminished the wild animal population by usurping wildlife grazing territory for crop and livestock production to support their families. Some traditional farming cultures to the west and southwest of the Mara continue to hunt wildlife inside the Mara Reserve, which is illegal, for food and profit.

The Mara National Reserve is located in the northernmost section of the Mara–Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa. The reserve is bounded by Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to the south, Maasai pastoral ranches to the north and east, and crop farming to the west. The area is world-famous for its exceptional wildlife population and an annual migration of nearly two million wildebeest, zebra and other wildlife across the Serengeti and Mara plains.

Ogutu and his colleagues focused much of their attention on the rapid changes occurring in the large territories around the Mara Reserve known as the Mara ranchlands, which are home to the Maasai. Until recently, most Maasai were semi-nomadic herders—known for their warrior culture and colorful red toga-style dress—who co-existed easily with the wildlife in the region.

IMAGE: This is a Maasai elder with his livestock.

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But over the last few decades, some Maasai have left their traditional mud-and-wattle homesteads, known as bomas, and gravitated to more permanent settlements—on the borders of the reserve. For example, Ogutu and his colleagues report that in just one of the ranchlands adjacent to the reserve—the Koyiaki ranch—the number of bomas has surged from 44 in 1950 to 368 in 2003, while the number of huts grew from 44 to 2735 in number. Their analysis found that the “abundance of all species but waterbuck and zebra decreased significantly as the number” of permanent settlements around the reserve increased.

“Wildlife are constantly moving between the reserve and surrounding ranchlands and they are increasingly competing for habitat with livestock and with large-scale crop cultivation around the human settlements,” Ogutu said. “In particular, our analysis found that more and more people in the ranchlands are allowing their livestock to graze in the reserve, an illegal activity the impoverished Maasai resort to when faced with prolonged drought and other problems,” he said.

In addition, the study warns that retaliatory killings of wildlife that break down fences, damage crops, degrade water supplies or threaten livestock and humans is “common and increasing” in the ranchlands. Ogutu said the various forces threatening wildlife in the ranchlands “could have grave consequences” for protecting wildlife in the reserve. That’s because, given the seasonal movements of the animals in and out of the reserve, on most days, most of the wildlife in the region regularly graze outside the protected reserve, in the ranchlands.

While not covered in their analysis, the researchers involved in the study are quick to point out that the Maasai’s transition to a more sedentary lifestyle has been driven partly by decades of policy neglect that left many Maasai with no choice but to abandon their more environmentally sustainable practice of grazing livestock over wide expanses of grasslands.

“The traditional livestock livelihoods of the Maasai, who rarely consume wild animals, actually helped maintain the abundance of grazing animals in East Africa, and where a pastoral approach to livestock grazing is still practiced, it continues to benefit wild populations,” said Robin Reid, a co-author of the paper who is now director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University in the United States. “There appears to be a ‘tipping point’ of human populations above which former co-existence between Maasai and wildlife begins to break down. In the villages on the border of the Mara, this point has been passed, but large areas of the Mara still have populations low enough that compatibility is still possible.”

Previous research by Reid and Ogutu has shown that moderate livestock grazing in the Mara Reserve could also benefit wildlife. For example, many species of grazing wildlife avoid the reserve when the grass is tall in the wet season to avoid hiding predators and coarse, un-nutritious grass. Instead, wildlife tend to graze near traditional pastoral settlements where grass is nutritious and short because it’s used to feed pastoralist herds, and predators are clearly visible.

Reid added, “These apparently contradictory findings are now being used by local Maasai communities to address the loss of wildlife. They see that wildlife are lost when settlements are too numerous, but that moderate numbers of settlements can benefit wildlife.”

Maasai landowners are working together with the tourism companies to establish conservancies where they carefully manage the number of settlements and the number of livestock to achieve this balance. They also have the incentive to do so because the local community receives a share of the profits from tourism on their land.

Dickson Kaelo, a Maasai leader, works with tour companies and local communities to design these conservancies. During a recent experience at the new Olare Orok Conservancy, he found that wildlife initially flooded into the area when people removed their livestock and settlements. But soon, the grass grew tall and many wildlife left for the shorter grass near settlements beyond the conservancy.

“We know from thousands of years of history that pastoral livestock-keeping can co-exist with East Africa’s renowned concentrations of big mammals. And we look to these pastoralists for solutions to the current conflicts,” said Carlos Seré, Director General of ILRI. “With their help and the significant tourism revenue that the Mara wildlife generates, it is possible to invest in evidence-based approaches that can protect this region’s iconic pastoral peoples, as well as its wildlife populations.”

Another such initiative already under way, the Wildlife Conservation Lease Programme, is being implemented in the Kitengela rangelands adjacent to Nairobi National Park. The programme uses cash payments to encourage pastoralist families living on leased lands not to fence, develop or sell their acreage. This lease programme, which is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has been highly successful in keeping rangelands open for wildlife and livestock grazing, while also providing Maasai families with an important source of income. ILRI believes the scheme should be broadened to include more families here and should be introduced in other pastoral ecosystems and rangelands.

“We have evidence that the sharp declines of East Africa’s wildlife populations in recent years can be slowed and ecosystem crashes prevented by bettering the livelihoods of the Maasai and other pastoralists who graze their livestock near the region’s protected game parks,” concluded Seré. “Our work demonstrates that scientists, policymakers, and local communities can work together to build the technical means and adaptive capacity needed to keep this region’s pastoral ecosystems, and the people who depend on them, more resilient, even in the face of big changes.”

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About ILRI:

The Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality science and capacity-building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development. ILRI is one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It has its headquarters in Kenya and a principal campus in Ethiopia. It also has teams working out of offices in Nigeria, Mali, Mozambique, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and China. For more information, please visit: www.ilri.org.

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Why The African Lion Could Become A Distant Memory

Posted on 17 December 2008. Filed under: Governance, Wildlife |

Is this a bad thing? Well, looking at the positives, it’s a whole lot better than seeing this proud creature wiped off the face of the Earth completely!

The Lion’s Demise

The african lion’s numbers have been a cause for great concern in recent times in fact, there has even been talk of extinction. It’s a dirty word in the world of conservation and while the lion presents as a creature vending machine dimensions, the sad fact is, the one creature on the planet capable of wiping it out, man, has been responsible for it’s dwindling numbers.

Take for example just over 100 years ago, the African lion was around in numbers south of the Sahara desert. Today, it’s almost got to the stage where the only place you can see the king of the beasts in it’s “natural habitat” are large conservation parks. The reason; man’s yearning for progress.

An African Lion Safari Without Lions?

Strange as it may seem, the big cat may be something children in the future will learn about only in history books. Is it that serious? It sure is and it seems left to a few individuals with the foresight to recognize there is a problem.

It’s understandable progress must be made in certain areas of Africa, particularly from an agricultural standpoint but at what cost? Some will argue the safety of lions has been assured through their conservation and while this may be true, the free ranging lion has retreated so dramatically in numbers it’s questionable whether it could even be saved from extinction in some areas.

Lion working groups can only do so much with limited funding and the task of maintaining lion groups is not an easy one. So and African lion safari without the star of the show is not as far-fetched as it may sound.

African Lion Facts

The lion is unquestionably at the top of the food chain in Africa. The fact remains, if the lion’s demise becomes permanent, then the repercussions for some of Africa’s ecosystems could be dramatic. The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one area where the survival of the lion is imperative.

The Best Lion Safari Destinations

Despite the gloom and doom over the lion’s preservation in Africa, there is little doubt an African lion safari is still the preferred choice for many would be adventurers.

When you visit your local zoo, which animal holds the biggest mystique? The big cat with the flowing mane always attracts a crowd. and Kenya are two excellent destinations to see the lion in all it’s glory under the strict supervision of guided tours. South Africa’s Kruger National Reserve is also a popular choice for lion lovers. And don’t forget the magnificent Serengeti!

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Insecticide ‘killing Kenya lions’

Posted on 17 December 2008. Filed under: Environment, Wildlife |

Environmentalists in Kenya are worried that an insecticide is being used by farmers to kill lions and other predators.

Carbofuran is a very powerful and toxic insecticide.

Spread in the soil, it destroys bugs in the ground and is taken up by plants and kills insects which feed on the sap or foliage.

It is so powerful and toxic that it has been banned in Europe.

In the United States it cannot be used in granular form, and the US Environmental Protection Agency is seeking a total ban.

But in Kenya, carbofuran can be bought across the counter without restriction.

According to world-famous naturalist Dr Richard Leakey, it is being bought not by farmers wanting to control bugs and insects, but mainly by herdsmen who use it to kill lions, leopards and other predators.

Among the latest incidents two lions were poisoned and killed in the Maasai Mara game reserve after eating the carcass of a hippo that had ingested carbofuran.

Put down

Vets and wildlife rangers were called to watch the pathetic sight of the lions staggering and weakened from the effects of the poison.

Dr Richard Leakey

(Carbofuran has) become known in rural communities in Kenya as an easy way to get rid of predators

Naturalist Richard Leakey

One of the lions was shot to bring a quick end to its suffering.

Another lion died a few months ago from carbofuran poisoning on a private ranch in Laikipia.

In November last year, a dead camel was apparently found laced with carbofuran near Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

The result was the death of at least two lions and 15 vultures which feasted on the carcass.

Also near Lewa, several lions from the nearby Samburu Wildlife Reserve were poisoned; again, it is thought carbofuran was responsible.

There are many other cases throughout Kenya of predators dying after eating meat contaminated with the chemical.

Dr Leakey says carbofuran is “deadly poisonous” and he has called for it to be banned in Kenya.

“It’s become known in rural communities in Kenya as an easy way to get rid of predators: lions, leopards and hyenas,” he says.

Dr Leakey says his research shows that Furadan, the trade name of the biggest-selling carbofuran insecticide in Kenya, is being bought not by farmers but by pastoralists who do not have any land for growing crops, and use the chemical to kill lions and leopards which threaten their herds.

There is no record for the number of predators killed in Kenya by poisoning, but many naturalists believe carbofuran is responsible for thousands of deaths, not just of big cats but all carrion eaters.

I literally saw vultures dropping out of the sky
Vulture expert Simon Thomsett

Simon Thomsett, a world renowned expert on vultures, eagles and other birds of prey, says there has been a “dramatic drop-off in the number of birds of prey in the past few years”, and the finger of blame is being pointed at carbofuran.

He gives the example of 187 vultures that died when they fed on a carcass of an animal that was apparently laced with the deadly poison in an area by the Athi River.

Simon Thomsett says the poison cannot be detected when sprinkled on the carcass and is very fast to act.

“I literally saw vultures dropping out of the sky just a few minutes after they had eaten the poisoned meat,” he said.

Easy to buy

Carbofuran comes in granular form, tiny dust-like purple pellets.

I went into several agricultural merchants in the capital, Nairobi, and found it easy to buy.

A vulture killed by poison at the Athi River, Kenya

Vultures have died after feeding on laced carcasses

Three shops said it posed no health threat to animals or humans.

“It’s safe, it’s perfectly safe,” one shop assistant told me.

Others warned it was poisonous and one shop-keeper even described carbofuran as a “lion-killer”.

The container warns that it should be kept “locked away out of reach of children”, but there is not a word on the label about a potential threat to wildlife.

Kenya’s Pest Control and Products Board is carrying out research into carbofuran’s dangers and toxicity, and say it is too early to come to a conclusion.

Dr Leakey says the evidence is there for all to see.

His worries are shared by Thomas Manyibe, a vet with the Kenya Wildlife Service who carried out post-mortem tests on the lions that were killed in the Masai Mara.

He says evidence shows that carbofuran is being used to target lions and leopards.

I spoke to pastoralists who said they had heard that Furadan was used to kill big cats.

On the edge of the Maasai Mara a young herdsman, Ndigwa, said he lost many cows every year to lions and leopards, but he said he would never resort to poison to take revenge on the predators.

We take stewardship of our products very seriously and condemn any intentional baiting misuse of carbofuran
FMC Corporation

The Masai on the escarpment above the Mara reserve know that a healthy, abundant population of predators is important to their livelihoods, derived in part from income from tourists coming to watch the game; and there is no suggestion at all that they have been involved in trying to poison lions.

Others do not hesitate.

Carbofuran comes from a number of different overseas suppliers, but the main producer is the US firm FMC Corporation.

The company said in a statement: “We take stewardship of our products very seriously and condemn any intentional baiting misuse of carbofuran.

“FMC is very concerned about reports of carbofuran (Furadan) being used to bait lions in Kenya and we have offered our services to the Kenya Pest Control Products Board in their investigation.”

Concerns about the use of carbofuran are not new.

Fifteen years ago there were a number of cases of mass killings of birds in western Kenya; what is lacking is a comprehensive record of predators killed by poisoning.

There is lots of circumstantial evidence but few hard facts.

Detailed information is elusive, affected animals often disappear into the bush to die, and the evidence is then eaten by other carnivores.

Source: BBC

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Danger: The African Elephant Under Siege from Poachers!

Posted on 16 August 2008. Filed under: Wildlife |

Massacre of the giants: Once hunted to near extinction, Africa’s elephants slowly pulled back from the brink

But the end of a ban on ivory slaves – backed by Britain – has launched a savage new bloodbath by ruthless poachers

By Sue Reid
Last updated at 10:54 PM on 15th August 2008

With the poisoned tip of a metal arrow piercing her right leg, a pregnant elephant stumbles miles through the African bush towards her death.

After two days of agony she falls to the red earth, while her killers, following on bicycles and carrying butchering knives, wait for the end to come.

In the darkness of a Kenyan night, the four poachers watch as she first loses her unborn calf in a spontaneous miscarriage provoked by the poison in her body.

Poachers launched a new attack on the African elephant after the end of a ban on ivory sales

Under threat: Poachers launched a new attack on the African elephant after the end of a ban on ivory sales

An hour later, after the 35-year- old elephant dies, they move in – hacking off her face to steal the two precious ivory tusks which will make them rich for years.

Soon, they hope, the tusks will have been smuggled out of Africa and be on their way to a factory in Beijing, to be carved into jewellery and chopsticks.

Just a few weeks ago, though, these poachers were caught. James Ekiru, the head ranger at Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary (which is in sight of Mount Kilimanjaro and two hours’ drive from the port of Mombassa), says: ‘We followed their tracks, and 24 hours after they killed this mother elephant, we found them with the tusks lying on the ground.

‘They were starting to butcher her meat – cutting it into kilo pieces. We arrested two of them, but two more got away. They were local men.

‘We suspect the elephant was killed “to order”, and that her tusks would have been smuggled to China.

James Ekiru is on the frontline of a new and brutal war over Africa’s elephants.

Today, the fight has caught public imagination following a controversial decision last month by an international committee – which includes British representatives – to lift a strict ban on the sale of ivory.

Kenyan Wildlife Service handle illegal elephant tusks seized in a town on the border with Ethiopia

Kenyan Wildlife Service handle illegal elephant tusks seized in a town on the border with Ethiopia

The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva ruled that for the first time in nearly 20 years, China should be allowed to buy 108 tonnes of ivory stockpiled in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe – countries where elephant numbers are rising so fast in some areas that they are officially culled.

The decision has provoked fury. Many conservationists and 148 British MPs have opposed the decision, saying the sale to China will be a death sentence for elephants, because it will ignite the widespread illegal poaching of ivory.

Critics argue that the lifting of the ban will make it impossible to tell whether tusks have come from an official stockpile or have been supplied by poachers.

So what does the future hold for Africa’s elephant population? Thirty years ago, there were a million elephants in Africa.

But in the 1980s, poaching took its toll – and over a period of nine years half of Africa’s elephants were slaughtered for their tusks.

Even Kenya, which goes to great lengths to protect its elephants, lost huge numbers to poachers. In 1979, there were 130,000 roaming the bush of this East African nation.

A decade later, numbers had dropped to 16,000.

At the height of the crisis, in 1989, CITES agreed a worldwide moratorium on ivory sales. Almost immediately, an end was brought to the trade – both legal and illegal – in tusks.

An ivory sculptor from the Ivory coast carves elephant tusks to make jewelry and ornaments

Prehistoric custom: An ivory sculptor from the Ivory coast carves elephant tusks to make jewelry and ornaments

In Britain and Western Europe, the use of ivory became taboo, and it was no longer considered acceptable to have a piece of jewellery made from a tusk.

As a direct result of the CITES agreement, elephant numbers recovered. Today, there are an estimated 400,000 across the African continent.

Predictably, though, the shortage of ivory meant that prices crept up and poaching has returned with a vengeance.

At the heart of the problem is China’s insatiable craving for tusks.

With 1.2 billion people, it is the biggest consumer of ivory, and over the course of four centuries has enthusiastically traded in African elephant tusks. (Asian elephants’ ivory is not as desirable because it is too brittle for fine carvings).

It is a tradition for every Chinese citizen to have an ivory seal to print their name (it means their signatures do not change

over the years); every home has ivory chopsticks, and hundreds of gift shops are devoted to selling ivory figurines and jewellery.

With no legal ivory available after the international ban, an illicit market started to thrive. Black market prices have risen by 73 per cent over the past two years.

The rewards are huge. Dubbed ‘white gold’ in Africa, ivory is sold illegally at up to £40 per kilogram, and prices can reach ten times that amount once smuggled to Chinese factories for carving.

Every dead elephant can yield ten kilograms of ivory – worth £4,000.

In Africa, where corruption is endemic and poverty never-ending, the sums are a fortune and can change people’s lives.

Indeed, according to Interpol, tusks are so valuable that Somali warlords send soldiers over the border into Kenya to kill elephants for tusks – and use the proceeds to buy guns.

The ivory-for-arms trade is booming in every conflict-riddled nation of Africa.

Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe regime is exploiting the crisis, too. According to newspapers in Harare, the government sold £850,000 of the country’s ivory stocks illegally as part-payment for a shipment of ammunition and grenades from China.

”]Bones of a dead African elephant caught up in the Ivory Wars [from the BBC2 series called Ivory Wars]Whatever the precise truth, the catastrophe is growing. Experts at America’s Conservation Biology Centre in Washington DC estimate that 240 tons of ivory are smuggled out of Africa every year – which must mean the deaths of 24,000 of the world’s largest land mammal.

Winnie Kiiru, the Kenyan wildlife consultant for international animal conservation charity the Born Free Foundation, which successfully campaigned for the 1989 trade ban in tusks, said this week: ‘There are not enough elephants on the globe to satisfy China’s market for ivory.

‘They do not care if they get it legally or illegally. They just want it now.’

The decision by CITES to allow the ivory sale to China follows unrelenting pressure from South Africa, Botswana and Namibia – countries where the majority of Africa’s elephants live.

They believe they should benefit financially from their elephant herds, and that they deserve to be rewarded for their treasure troves of ivory which have either been confiscated from poachers or collected from carcasses of elephants which died naturally or have been culled since the 1989 ban.

On the other hand, other African countries, which have lost almost all their elephants to poachers, are deeply opposed to the trade.

While Kenya now has 30,000 elephants, in some of the poorest African countries, elephants can be counted on the fingers of a careless sawmill worker.

Senegal, which a decade ago had 20,000, can find only two.

In the enormous spaces of Sierre Leone and Liberia, they have just a few hundred apiece.

Throughout all of Western Africa there are only 7,500 elephants – a miserable total that is once again falling fast as poaching takes hold.

It is the same story in Central Africa.

Patrick Omondi, senior assistant director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, says: ‘The CITES decision last month was wrong. The elephant is in for a very tough time.

‘In some parts of our continent, the elephant will disappear. This official sale of ivory to China will provide a smokescreen for the evil elephant killers who trade illegally in tusks.’

Others are still more vocal. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, the conservationist who runs a home for Kenya’s orphan elephants (many have lost their parents to poachers) outside Nairobi, said: ‘The decision to sanction the legal sale of ivory to China has potentially signed the death warrant for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wild elephants.

‘Britain’s support means that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has the blood of hundreds of elephants on his hands. By this deed he will succeed in upsetting the British people – most of whom care deeply about elephants.

‘All who trade or buy ivory have cost an elephant its life, and that of its dependent young.’

So can Africa’s elephants survive? Perhaps no organisation can predict the answer more accurately than the Kenya Wildlife Service, which was set up in 1990 to manage and protect the country’s animals, birds and plants.

It controls 32 national parks and has 400 rangers armed with the most modern Russian-bought Kalashnikov rifles.

The Kenya Wildlife Service says the decision to sell ivory to China is already encouraging a poaching free-for-all.

In the past six months, 41 elephants have been killed in their national parks, compared with 50 in a normal year.

The animals have been shot with rifles, snared and, increasingly, killed with bows and arrows laced with sap from the acokanthera tree – an African shrub dubbed ‘the bushman’s poison’.

The sap contains a toxin deadly to humans and animals, and the arrow technique is preferred to guns because rangers cannot hear them.

Since June, nearly 100 poachers of elephants have been arrested in Kenya.

According to Dickson Lesimirdana, assistant director of the KWS Wildlife Protection Unit: ‘There has been an increase in poaching on Kenya’s borders, where it is easier to smuggle ivory out of the country.’

Most of the arrests are linked to the ivory trade with China.

Nowhere is this more obvious than at Kenya’s main international Jomo Kenyatta airport on the outskirts of the capital Nairobi. Earlier this year, just before the contentious decision to approve the sale of ivory, a Chinese woman was found trying to take four tusks out of the country in three suitcases.

‘She was middle-aged, but had managed to get the heavy cases with an enormous 46 kilograms of elephant ivory to the airport,’ explains Robert Muasya, the KWS head of security.

‘Suspicion was aroused when she went through the security gates hoping to take a flight to China. Our sniffer dogs working at the airport were called in immediately.’

A week later, three more Chinese nationals were discovered trying the same trick at the airport’s international departure gates.

They were arrested trying to smuggle 36 pieces of carved ivory.

They are thought to have been using Kenya as a staging post, bringing in the figurines, bracelets, blank name seals and jewellery from other parts of Africa and hoping to take them on to China.

In Tsavo East, Kenya’s biggest wildlife park, which is the size of Wales, the fight against poaching is at its fiercest.

Rangers protecting elephants there have been killed by poachers.

Senior warden Yussuf Adan says a 56-year-old local farmer was recently arrested with 46 kilos of raw ivory tusks that he was offering for sale.

The arrest followed a ‘sting’ set up by the wildlife service. An officer successfully trapped the man after disguising himself in Arab robes and pretending to be a trader from Mombassa sending ivory to China.

A fortnight ago, a local court sentenced the farmer to four years in prison.

Yussuf explains why poaching has become so rampant: ‘The money the farmer would have got for the ivory is enough to feed his family for five years.

‘But we need elephants for everyone in Kenya. They give us a tourist trade. By protecting them, we deter the poachers and protect all our wildlife.’

Nearby is a locked store room containing ivory that has been collected by rangers.

Each tusk is dated in indelible ink and itemised over ten closely printed pages on Yussuf ‘s desk.

The collection weighs 5,000 kilograms – worth almost £2 million if ever sold on the world market.

But the Kenyan government says that ivory should never be traded, and rejects the argument used by some economists that if all African countries sold their stockpiles, the market price for ivory would collapse and poaching would disappear.

The official policy is supported head ranger James Ekiru’s British boss, Rob Dodson, a former public schoolboy who came out to Africa on his gap year 20 years ago, fell in love with the continent and stayed.

The 80,000-acre Rukinga sanctuary, adjoining the Tsavo park and home to more than 1,500 elephants, has lost four beasts in four months to poachers. Only two had been taken in the previous five years.

Rob is a committed conservationist and believes China’s greed is jeopardising Africa’s elephants.

‘If you kill their national treasure, the panda, you get executed,’ he says with an ironic laugh. ‘How can a country that protects its own wildlife so strictly care so little about our animals in Africa?’

* To make a donation to the Born Free Foundation’s work providing rangers to fight elephant poaching, go to http://www.bornfree.org.uk or call the hotline on 0870 777 4321.

Republished from the Daily Mail

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    A blog created to cover environmental and political information in Kenya with a view to promoting POVERTY ALLEVIATION through creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals

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