Kenya: As Elephant Poachers Move North, Kenya Should Expect an Onslaught


By Paula Kahumbu, The Daily Nation

Date Published
The one-off sale of ivory from Southern African nations to China and Japan in 2009 has caused an explosion of demand for ivory, skyrocketing prices, and a slaughter of elephants across the continent.

The best estimate of the rate of killing is based on the number of tusks seized and reported in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), and the proportion of elephants killed in the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE).

Experts put the loss at 100 elephants per day or more, an unprecedented massacre that has been sustained for three years now. At this rate, elephants will be gone from the wild within the next 15 or so years.

In recognition of the dire threat facing elephants, conservationists have adopted the mantra ‘Stop the killing, stop the trafficking stop the buying’ as a solution to the problem. So where are we on each of these fronts?

Poaching has reached unprecedented levels. According to Sam Waser at Washington State University, who has analysed 28 large ivory seizures of greater than 500kg between 1996 and 2014, most of the seizures made after 2012 came from only four areas in Africa; the tridom northeastern Gabon, northwestern Republic of Congo and southeastern Cameroon, and the adjacent reserve in southwestern Central African Republic and East Africa, mainly the Selous in south eastern Tanzania.

The poaching in Selous, one of Africa’s greatest elephant strongholds, was so extreme that the population was reduced by 67 percent in only 4 years.

In Kenya, conservationists raised an alarm about the escalating poaching which led to the enactment of new legislation, focus on judicial training and law enforcement, including the creation of interagency efforts to combat wildlife crime. Over 500 more rangers were recruited.

The poaching has declined significantly and the country has heaved a sigh of relief. However we cannot be complacent. Not surprisingly, as elephant populations got decimated, the poachers shifted northwards.

In 2011 they started attacking the Ruaha National Park and Rungwa Game Reserve in central Tanzania. The killing fields are already nipping at southern Kenya in Masai Mara and Tsavo West, and we should expect a major onslaught in coming months.

Ivory trafficking has broken new records for several years now. The trafficking of ivory has increased exponentially since 2008 and the size of the seizures has also increased significantly. Shipments of over 500kg, once rare, are now the norm. This means that not only are there more ivory shipments, but they are much larger. This demonstrates the emergence of criminal cartels in this business.

Kenya and Tanzania have become a major conduits for the transiting of ivory from other parts of Africa. Though two major prosecutions are currently underway in Kenya, there seem to be little real deterrent at the port of Mombasa.

Numerous cases involving ivory dealers are awaiting trial in East Africa, but despite enormous focus on training and strengthening of the judicial processes, little progress seems to be being made as numerous suspects are on the run.

Demand for ivory remains very high in Asian countries. Although some ivory markets exist in Europe and the USA, there is no question that the killing fields of Africa are intimately linked to the demand in Asia, primarily China.