Jumbos, rhinos ‘could perish’ as we poach, encroach and pollute (Kenya)


Gilbert Koech, The Star

Date Published

See link for photo. 

In the December 4-6 third UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 3), countries committed to have a pollution-free planet.

Speaking to the Star on the sidelines, CITES secretary general John Scanlon said Kenya has done a lot to secure iconic wildlife species, but a lot still needs to be done.

Scanlon oversees the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Kenya has made significant strides in fighting poaching. We now have harsh, deterrent laws and a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory to help prosecute suspected poachers. What can other countries learn from Kenya?

Over the past 10 years, we experienced a surge in illegal killings of the African elephant for its ivory. It reached a high point in 2011, where we estimated around 30,000 elephants killed for their ivory.

The last five years in a row, because of the collective effort underway, we have seen a slight drop, which is great.

What we need to do is to work from source countries, range countries to transit and destination countries, and to work with both demand and supply.

Here in Kenya, we have seen great work underway, and in fact, in Eastern Africa as a whole, we have seen poaching levels go down to pre-2008 levels.

What we are seeing here in Kenya first and foremost is a very strong political will from the highest level.

That is what we really need to drive this issue forward, and we have that on display, including the ban on ivory last year here in Nairobi.

We have also seen laws being strengthened. We are seeing efforts to tackle corruption at ports, and we are seeing good work within range states and with destination states in Asia.

Overall, it needs collective effort, along with a very strong political will and strong laws that can be implemented.

Some of the mega infrastructural projects, including roads and the Standard Gauge Railway, are cutting through wildlife corridors. Does this worry you?

Each country will have to make its own assessments. Here in Kenya as in any other country, when there are infrastructure projects, the government will have to factor into account developments and the protection of flora and fauna.

Wildlife faces many threats. We have a growing population, infrastructure, land conversions, pollution, poaching and smuggling. So there are all kinds of threats to wildlife, and it is incumbent on each country to work together within its region and globally to address those threats.

Infrastructure is something that needs to be addressed within the context of Kenya, and I hope it will go through due process and see what the threats are and where the balance lies.

The EU has signed 17.2 million Euros (Sh2.1 billion) as part of 30 million Euros (Sh3.7 billion) towards the intervention on wildlife and the trafficking of wildlife products throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Indian Ocean.

Which priority areas will these funds go towards?

We are very grateful to a number of donors. In particular, the EU has been very generous in providing funding to combat illicit trafficking in wildlife.

Last week, we had about $20 million (Sh2 billion) available to the international consortium on combating wildlife crimes, and just this week, we had a further announcement of 17.2 million Euros being available to East and Southern Africa. That is gonna be used in a number of ways.

Firstly with CITES, through its Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (Mike) programme, which is based here in Nairobi, Kenya. We are going to focus on particular sites, help rangers with the use of technology, access to equipment, sharing intelligence and training. At the country level, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime is going to help countries working on sea ports, airports to tackle illegal trade.

The funds will also help implement Wildlife and Forest Analytic Tool Kit, which allows the country to assess where its weaknesses are.

At the cross-border level, we are going to see the Convention of Migratory Species bring countries together with policies and laws so they can deal with cross-border migration of animals.

The three organisations — CMS, CITES and UNODC — are working together through the through the generous funding of the EU, and will all be applied at the site level, country level and cross -country level.

Some local communities, such as the Maasai, have lived among wildlife for ages. What role should they play in conserving them?

Local communities are critical to the long-term survival of wildlife. Here in particular, CITES will involve them in the work that will be done by.

I think overall, we have seen the Convention recognise the importance of working with local and regional communities in conserving wildlife. Last week in Geneva, we had a meeting that reinforced the role communities play in the survival of wildlife.

We have seen that happening in Northern Kenya — the Northern Rangelands Trust. Deep involvement of local communities has seen a dramatic reduction in poaching and smuggling associated with elephants and rhinos.

Demand for ivory in Asian Market still persists. What measures have countries put in place to close ivory markets?

Strong decisions have been taken about domestic ivory markets. We have seen countries such as China and the United States say they are closing domestic ivory markets.

In China, they have gone a step further. Chinese customs, for instance, has done an extraordinary job in intercepting illegally traded ivory. It is not only that, but we have seen a number of prosecutions and convictions.

Some of the prosecutions in illegal ivory have seen people go to jail for anything between five and 12 years.

The measures put in place in China by President Xi Jinping to combat corruption are also stemming illegal trade in ivory.

Poaching in Kenya has reduced significantly but we still have porous borders that poachers exploit. In your opinion, what needs to be done?

We are tackling trans-national organised criminal gangs that move from one place to another. They encounter resistance in one place and they move to another. That is why we need collective effort. We need countries to act within the country together then regionally and globally. And that is happening, which is positive.

We are seeing good cross-border cooperation within this region but also across the board, and also good cooperation among enforcement agencies within and between countries.

We have not done everything yet, but we are on the right track. And the evidence is the decrease in poaching and illegal trade. We have not won yet, but the prospects are very positive.

The CITES Standing Committee held their 69th meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, between November 27 and December 1. What did the meeting yield?

That was the largest meeting ever. The Standing Committee is in 19 countries and we had 600 observers coming to participate in this meeting.

We saw many issues discussed, including on the elephant ivory issue, domestic markets and a national ivory action plan, which the over 20 countries are implementing. The progress made in implementing these plans was discussed.

There was discussion on unsustainable and illegal trade on rose wood, which is common in this continent.

It was a huge meeting that had about 100 agenda items. It was a very important meeting that showed the real impact of CITES. It is not a convention discussing policies and talking theory. It has very much real-world impact and is having a lot of great success at the moment.

How do you envision the status of iconic wildlife species in the coming generations?

The future of wildlife is up to us. We human beings are going to determine the fate of these iconic species. The prognosis going forward is quite worrying. We have a lot of threats. Here at UNEA 3, we are discussing pollution and the impact that has on wildlife. We have threats such as infrastructure, the ever-growing population that has seen land being converted, and we have poaching and smuggling.

We are making good headway on poaching and smuggling, though, but we also need to look at these other multiple threats.

I am a bit of an optimist, I have to say. I think people will be convinced and be clever enough at the time to realise there are ways to ensure people live in harmony with nature.

We have a lot of work to do, but at the same time, we have to work with people, local communities and politicians to put ourselves in a pathway where we can have people, a strong economy but also wildlife.