Stored Ivory And Rhino Horn Safe


Paul Udoto, The Star (Opinion)

Date Published

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Some conservationists’ persistent claims that public officials are colluding with traffickers to sell government-held elephant ivory and rhino horn stockpiles have been discounted.

Kenya’s first-ever comprehensive inventory of national stockpiles found that the vaults and strong rooms have 137 tonnes of elephant ivory intact by the end of last month.

The finding provides a baseline for future audits and accountability.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu announced that the inventory teams counted 25,052 pieces of elephant ivory weighing 137.679 tonnes and 1,248 pieces of rhino horns whose weight was 1.519 tonnes.

She said the 45-day cataloging exercise in 20 sites across the country had confirmed that systems put in place by Kenya Wildlife Service for the management and storage of trophies are robust, and with minimal adjustments, will meet the highest required international standards for management of such high-value products.

“Kenya will put in place strong systems to enhance security and management of Kenya’s trophy stockpile,” she told journalists at a press conference in Nairobi.

The digital inventory had laid the foundation for subsequent actions, including government plans to destroy all ivory stockpiles before the end of the year as announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta in March when he reaffirmed Kenya’s commitment to put ivory beyond economic use.

In the last three years, poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking have become growing challenges for Kenya and 38 other elephant range states in Africa. Concerted local and international efforts are, therefore, required to disrupt and destroy the illegal systems and illicit economy which are sustained by ivory and trophies from endangered wildlife species.

The government kicked off digital inventory and DNA sampling of ivory and rhino horn stocks on July 21 and ended on August 27 as part of efforts to comply with the 43-year-old United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species convention.

CITES requires that all state parties ascertain steps to properly manage ivory and rhino stockpiles in the country, including court exhibits and any other that may be under the custody of other agencies by virtue of their legal mandate.

The exercise involved collection of elephant ivory and rhino horn samples, which will be used to create a DNA reference library for profiling the national population of elephants and rhinoceros.

The DNA reference library is expected to help in analyzing forensic evidence for use in prosecution of wildlife crime in Kenya and the East African region.

Wakhungu noted that the new approach would ensure that the existing management systems of trophies are reviewed in the country to enhance security and efficiency.

The inventory – was done in accordance with the Wildlife Management and Conservation Act 2013 that requires KWS to undertake an audit every year of all stockpiles in the country and publish the results in the Kenya Gazette.

The exercise involved partners such as Stop Ivory, a UK-based not-for profit organisation alongside Save the Elephants and Ernest & Young audit firm who offered technical and financial contribution and was deemed transparent by participants and observers alike.

Relevant government agencies such as Office of Director of Public Prosecution, Judiciary, Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Ports Authority, Directorate of Criminal Investigation, Kenya National Audit Office, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, National Police Service, NGOs and inter-governmental organisations such as Lusaka Agreement Task Force and CITES Secretariat and the public were invited to take part in the exercise.

Majority of the ivory audited are in custody of KWS, with a sizable volume being those seized on transit and kept under police custody at the Port of Mombasa.

Dr Richard Leakey, the KWS Board of Trustees chairman, said the audit had confirmed that Kenya’s impounded ivory is in safe custody.

“There were speculations in various quarters that the amount in under safekeeping could be less, but the figures have confounded skeptics,” he said.

Traditionally, Kenya has played a leading role in wildlife conservation and the fight against poaching. In 1989, Kenya led the international community in stopping the international ivory trade by symbolically burning its ivory stockpile.

In response to this groundbreaking intervention, the international trade was banned. As a result, ivory trade, which serviced demand in Europe, the US and Japan collapsed.

Twenty five years after the historic banning of ivory trade, new demand from the emerging markets once again threatens Africa’s elephants and rhinos. African countries are concerned about the scale and rate of the new threat to our endangered wildlife species.

Consistent with international norms regarding disposal of seized contraband, President Kenyatta during this year’s World Wildlife Day burnt 15 tonnes of ivory, the largest consignment to be destroyed in Kenya, and expressed hope the rest of the world would follow his action in the same manner.

“Our message must remain clear. Many of these tusks belonged to elephants which were wantonly slaughtered by criminals. We want future generations of Kenyans, Africans and the entire world to experience the majesty and beauty of these magnificent beasts. Poachers and their enablers will not have the last word,” President Kenyatta said at the ivory burning site in Nairobi National Park.

Over the past three years, a number of countries have destroyed contraband elephant ivory and rhino horn. They include Belgium, Chad, China, Hong Kong, Czech Republic, Gabon, France, Philippines, and the USA.

The writer is corporate communications manager, Kenya Wildlife Service.