Africa: It Is Not Just the Elephants That Are Dying – Jobs Too


Allan Brian Ssenyonga, The New Times

Date Published

Yesterday, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta set ablaze 105 tonnes of ivory at the Nairobi National Park. We are talking about 16000 pieces of ivory from about 8000 elephants. This is not the first time that Kenya is getting rid of a stockpile of ivory; it has been done before starting in 1989 by President Daniel Arap Moi and later by Mzee Mwai Kibaki.

The most disturbing fact here is that only about 5 per cent of those 8000 elephants are said to have died of natural causes. The remaining 95 per cent were killed by poachers and that is in Kenya alone. The situation is said to be even much worse in Tanzania. Some estimates reveal that in a mere five years, Tanzania’s elephant population declined by a whopping 60 per cent!

In January, a British helicopter pilot working with the Friedkin Conservation Fund, Roger Gower, was killed by poachers during an anti-poaching operation in Maswa Game Reserve, which borders the famous Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania. He was shot as he flew near the carcass of one of the three elephants that had just been killed by poachers and died before he could be rescued.

Recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, African Parks reported that three of its rangers had died of bullet wounds sustained during clashes with elephant poachers on April 23 in Garamba National Park. Two other rangers were left in critical condition after the incident. African Parks is a conservation organisation that also manages Rwanda’s Akagera National Park.

In South Sudan, the civil war has seen a lot of poaching going on largely to fund rebel activities. In general, it is estimated that over 30000 elephants are killed each year in Africa by poachers. The stockpile that the Kenyans burnt included rhino horns that also have a huge market in China and South East Asia, where it is believed to have medicinal powers.

On the black market, a kilogramme of rhino horn is said to go for about $60000. Sometimes the horn is cut off and the animal is left to bleed to death. The poachers who go after rhinos and elephants are not your common thugs or poor peasants living near the parks, this is an organised crime that ropes in park officials and customs officials at airports who make it easy for the poachers to walk through airports with their cargo without a bother in the world.

Trade in wildlife trophies is to sub-Saharan Africa what the drug trade is to South America. It is very lucrative and there is a lot of complicity from those who are supposed to stop it.

What is not emphasised enough in this conversation is that the death of our elephants and rhinos is not the only death happening. Wildlife tourism is the biggest selling product of the larger tourism industry in the East African region. Many of the animals we have cannot be seen elsewhere in the world and people fork out a lot of money to come and see them here.

When a tourist arrives from Europe, Asia or the Americas, think of all the people who have to handle that tourist from airlines staff, airport taxi guys, hotel staff and folks selling airtime to art and crafts, the park officials and those who make the meals for tourists, the rangers, guides and drivers not forgetting those who grow the food eaten by these tourists.

In other words, so many people are employed and or benefit from this tourism business, some even have no idea they are benefiting. You may sit there and fail to see how the death of our elephants affects you and yet the death of these animals will certainly result in the death of the industry sending hundreds of people into unemployment which, as we all know, is the main source of those who end up in criminality.

Today being the International Labour Day, it is important for governments to take a stronger stand against poaching to save an industry that employs so many people. This part of the world already has a huge burden of youth unemployment and so poaching should be a serious concern to those in government.

If indeed unemployed youth are easy to lure into terrorism then the fight against poaching should be taken as serious as that against terrorism. To be honest I would have preferred that instead of burning ivory we burn the poaching kingpins instead. These animals are worth more alive.