Tag Archives: Africa ivory

Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa: Somerville’s knowledge of the ivory trade past and present is close to unparalleled




Something slightly different today – a book review. But I’ve not reviewed a book since…well, I can’t remember… So let’s start with a quote to get us going:

“The elephant is the most harassed of all African mammals…Its reduction in numbers is still progressing, and special measures may become necessary in order to save it from extinction”

Perhaps surprisingly, this is not a recent observation from an NGO, government body, or conservationist. It comes from Major Hingston of the Fauna Preservation Society (a British NGO), writing in the 1930s. Evidently, the poaching threat facing Africa’s elephants, and recognition of their uncertain future, is far from new.

Keith Somerville’s Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa tracks the ebb and flow of ivory trading across Africa over the centuries, reflecting on ivory’s relationship with foreign traders, colonial administrations and modern-day insurgencies. We read of elephant herds being wiped out in various regions, of the “exploits” of big-game hunters, of the early movements towards regulation of hunting, and of the tensions between local communities and the elephants themselves.  It’s sobering to see many hundreds of years and tens of thousands of poached elephants reduced to numbers on a page – often accompanied by the price (not value, I should emphasise) of their ivory. From the Congo Basin’s forest elephants to the last of the Saharan herds; from Kenya to South Africa; from Gabon to Mozambique, Somerville masters complexity with a clear, well-researched and fluid narrative.

Ivory burning
A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Nairobi National Park.  A number of African governments have taken to burning tusks as a show of defiance against poaching. Critics say this is little more than a publicity stunt and that efforts to stop poaching still fall short.  Photo Credit: The Daily Telegraph

He argues strongly in favour of bringing local communities on-board in conservation efforts throughout this book (something we’re seeing work well in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, among others). He is critical of colonial regimes and modern western NGOs for imposing their visions of appropriate wildlife management on African states, and for distancing local people both physically and emotionally from their immediate natural environment.  As long as they lack the support of local communities, conservation efforts will be fundamentally hamstrung.  Farmers and pastoralists are far more likely to kill elephants which trample crops or break fences if they see no value in the elephant.  At the same time, they are less likely to inform the authorities of poaching, and more likely to facilitate or participate in that poaching for financial gain. Yet to place the blame for the shocking declines in elephant numbers in recent decades on the farmer who shoots or poisons an elephant which destroys or threatens his/her livelihood, is very misleading.

“Corruption, political power and wealth accumulation and utilisation are at the heart of the ivory trade, but it also feeds off impoverishment of communities, resentment over alienation from control of wildlife sources, and conflict leading to availability of weapons and opportunities to poach with impunity, whether by local people, criminal gangs, militias, rebel groups, and national armies – or a combination of them all”

Keith Somerville, “Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa”, p.317

By a similar token, Somerville argues that the narrative of “ivory-insurgency-terrorism”, which has sprung up and gained much momentum in recent years, is overly simplistic, perhaps close to baseless.  To stress how Boko Haram, Al Shabaab or other insurgencies have used illicit ivory trading to fund their operations overlooks far more significant revenue streams available to these groups. They may dabble in ivory trading opportunistically, but, writes Somerville, it is not central to their financing.

Al Shabaab.jpg
Members of Somalia’s Al Shabaab militia. Somerville sets out to debunk what he considers a convenient “ivory-insurgency-terrorism” narrative, which does not fit with reality on the ground. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

So who – or what – is to blame? Well, corruption and conflict certainly play key roles in facilitating and increasing poaching.  Somerville stresses that whenever there has been little threat of punitive action due to poor law enforcement, corruption or civil war, then officials, poachers, traders and smugglers have been able to act with impunity, and hundreds of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered as a result.  It comes as no surprise that the most politically stable African states with the lowest levels of corruption – Botswana, for instance – have the fewest problems with poaching and have been most successful in sustaining elephant populations.

Somerville’s account is replete with instances of well-connected individuals within the political, military and even “conservation” elites being actively involved in poaching and ivory smuggling in their respective countries. There has even been evidence of military helicopters and heavy weaponry being used to kill elephants in large numbers. Whistle-blowers have often been ‘silenced’, so to speak, or otherwise removed from the spotlight.

There is some indication that African states have begun to tackle the corruption which has been so endemic in the post-colonial period. Ceremonial burnings of seized ivory or national stockpiles are now used by a number of African governments as a show of resolve against poaching. However, unless these public displays are backed up by significant anti-poaching and, just as important, anti-corruption measures, their real impact is understandably limited.

“Levels of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trading in a country are more likely to be related to wildlife management practices, law enforcement and corruption than to choice of CITES appendix listings and consequent extent of trade restriction.”

Zoological Society of London, ‘International Wildlife Trafficking: Solutions to a Global Crisis’, Symposium, February 2014

The everyday reality of corruption, crime and politics enables illegal poaching to survive in spite of international pressure for a more extensive ban on the trade – in addition, that is, to the CITES ban of 1989.  But following Somerville’s logic in his conclusion takes us to a slightly disconcerting conclusion: if “a free-for-all for illegal raw ivory [as a result of a complete trade ban under CITES]” is not the answer, then some degree of regulated trade must be. What Somerville terms “locally acceptable forms of sustainable use” necessarily entail management of elephant populations. Some reviewers have suggested that this leaves the door open to a legal, regulated trade in ivory as a logical extension of Somerville’s argument.  Sustainable management of elephant populations doesn’t necessarily mean legal (or illegal) ivory trading, but that’s based on zero demand for new ivory. Realistically, that’s not going to happen for some time, if indeed ever.

For some, this conclusion might be uncomfortable, but Somerville’s knowledge of the ivory trade past and present is close to unparalleled (this book is certainly one of the most comprehensive studies of pan-African ivory trading to date), and we would do well to heed to his words. His research for this book began in the early 1980s, and over the past 35 years he has travelled extensively throughout sub-Saharan Africa, interviewing men and women on the front line of elephant conservation efforts. Their views evidently inform his analysis as much as his own.  According to Somerville, it’s wrong to assume that all conservationists – many of the people who devote their lives to protecting elephants – are in favour of a blanket ivory ban.

Elephants Fence Breaking.jpg
Fence-breaking and crop-destruction are two of the most common instances of conflict between local farmers/pastoralists and elephants. As you can see, even the most sturdy of fences cannot stop a herd of elephants if they are determined to move through the obstacle.  Photo Credit: Justconservation.org / Hitchcock et al. (2015), Elephant Engagements and Indigenous Peoples: Borders, Boundaries and Barriers in Southern Africa

The inescapable truth is this: Africa’s human population is growing faster than that of any other continent, and is forecast to eclipse 2.4 billion by 2050.  This will, beyond any shadow of doubt, intensify the scope and scale of Africa’s human-wildlife conflict in years to come. If sustainable solutions on a local level can be developed as a means of conserving elephant populations – even if, and it pains me to write this, a legal trade in ivory results – surely that is preferable to local, regional, or continental extinction of the species?  Not ideal by any means; but preferable.  What we cannot lose sight of is Somerville’s focus on getting local communities onside in conservation efforts. It is so crucial in giving us the best possible chance of preserving Africa’s majestic giants for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.


The Chinese government has recently announced that 67 of its licensed ivory facilities are being shut down, including 12 of its 35 ivory carving factories and several dozen of its more than 130 ivory retailers. According to the Chinese State Forestry Administration, which oversees wildlife trade issues, the other facilities will be closed before the end of the year. This is being hailed as a massive step forward in tackling ivory supply & demand in the Far East. Although Somerville’s book doesn’t go into Far Eastern demand in great detail, he does acknowledge that the twin pressures of rising demand and the sort of corruption/conflict on the ground in African range states are two sides of the same coin. It’s pretty simple, really – break the demand for ivory, and you go a long way to reducing the poaching of elephants.  But it’s still a long road ahead to bring the illegal ivory trade under control. And there’s likely to be further ups and downs on the way.

Ivory carvin
China’s 3,000 year old ivory carving industry is finally being reined in by Beijing, with the announcement in March 2017 that 67 licensed ivory facilities are being shut down. China remains one of the largest sources of demand for African ivory. Photo Credit: National Geographic/How Hwee Young (EPA)


If you want to buy Somerville’s Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa for yourself, a quick google will take you to a number of online bookstores, or, if you’d prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, just head into your local bookshop!

China says it will stop domestic ivory trade by 2017

Simon Denyer, Washington Postp1020059
December 30, 2016

BEIJING  China promised Friday to close down its domestic ivory trade
completely by the end of 2017, a decision greeted by environmentalists as
offering real hope to curb a poaching crisis that is wiping out tens of
thousands of elephants across Africa.

“China’s announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation,” said
Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund in
a statement. “The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years,
and the future is brighter for wild elephants.”

The National Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental
advocacy group, said the news ?may be the biggest sign of hope for
elephants since the current poaching crisis began.

In a statement released by its governing State Council, China announced it
would cease part of ivory processing and sales by the end of March, and
cease both completely by Dec. 31, 2017.

It was a massive step for a country that had previously argued that ivory
carving was part of its national cultural heritage, and where intricately
carved ivory items had become both a status symbol and a popular gift to
grease the wheels of government and business.

But the government was moved to act not just by international pressure but
also by changing attitudes among ordinary Chinese people toward the ivory
trade. Celebrities such as former NBA basketball star Yao Ming have led
campaigns to “stop the buying” of ivory  and simply to educate people that
elephants had to die for the ivory to be taken.

There was also a sense that China’s key role in the illicit ivory trade
estimated to be worth around $10 billion a year and run by international
criminal networks and African rebel groups  was damaging its image in

After the market is closed down, the Chinese Ministry of Culture will help
ivory sector employees transition to other jobs, for example encouraging
“master carvers” to work in museums to help repair and maintain significant
ivory works of art, the statement said.

Peter Knights, chief executive of WildAid, a San Francisco-based group at
the forefront of efforts to change attitudes in China toward the ivory
trade, called it the “best possible news for Africa?s elephants” and
congratulated President Xi Jinping for his leadership on the issue.

Although poaching may have peaked a few years ago, around 20,000 African
elephants continue to be killed for their tusks every year, experts say,
largely to fuel demand for ivory from Asia, and particularly China.

Africa?s elephant population has dwindled from about 1.2 million 35 years
ago to between 400,000 and 500,000 now. Central African forest elephants
could be extinct within the next decade if current trends continue, while
Tanzania’s elephant population fell by 60 percent between 2009 and 2014,
census data showed.

But even if a ban is enforced in China, some experts warn that the trade
could shift across the border into neighboring Laos, Vietnam and Burma,
where large markets flourish selling endangered wildlife products to
Chinese consumers. There is also a danger of traders passing off elephant
ivory as legal mammoth ivory.

Nevertheless, a clear signal from the Chinese government is seen as going a
long way toward making ivory as unfashionable here as it is in the West.

China retains a small stock of legal ivory purchased in 2008, when
international trade in it was allowed. The state has been gradually
supplying that ivory to carving workshops and selling it domestically.

But this legal business, experts say, has provided cover for a vast
underground illegal trade that has fueled a poaching crisis around Africa.

The announcement follows a pledge by Xi and President Obama in September
2014 to end the domestic trade in ivory in their respective countries. Hong
Kong, another major hub for ivory smuggling, announced last week that it
would raise maximum penalties for wildlife crime to 10 years and phase out
its own trade in ivory by the end of 2021  although pressure may now mount
for it to move more quickly.

In January 2014, China signaled how official attitudes were changing by
staging a ceremony to crush six tons of tusks and carved ivory ornaments
that had been seized in anti-trafficking operations.

The United States has largely closed its own ivory market by banning trade
at the federal level and in several states, but experts said it still needs
to do more in terms of enforcement.

The last bastion of the trade is now Japan, said Knights of WildAid. He
urged global opponents of the trade to shift their attention there.


China to ban all sales and processing of ivory by end of 2017
Tom Grundy, Hong Kong Free Press
December 30, 2017

China has said it will ban the processing and sale of ivory and ivory
products by December 31, 2017. The country is the largest market for the
sale of legal and illegal ivory.

The US-based Natural Resources Defense Council said the move may be ?the
biggest sign of hope for elephants since the current poaching crisis began.?

A notice published by the General Office of the State Council on Friday
called for the strict management of the legal collection of ivory and ivory
products, so that they can be legally tagged and displayed in museums, as
well as transferred and inherited. Historical ivory relics, after being
professionally verified by institutions, may be auctioned under strict
monitoring after administrative approval.

As the ban comes into effect, the Chinese Ministry of Culture will help
move those in the ivory industry to other sectors. Famous ?master carvers?
will be encouraged to preserve their skills by working in museums to
maintain or repair antique pieces.

The notice added that law enforcement against the illegal sale, transport
and smuggling of ivory should be increased, and promotion of ?civilised?
environmental ideas should be carried out to lead the public to boycott
ivory, its products and illegal transactions.

Alex Hofford, Wildlife Campaigner at NGO WildAid told HKFP that the Chinese
authorities should be commended and applauded in their efforts ?which will
likely save many elephants in years to come.?

?China?s bold move will likely put significant pressure on the Hong Kong
government to speed up its own five year plan to kill off the ivory trade
here. We now call on China to make similar strenuous efforts to crack down
on its rhino horn trade,? he said.

US agreement

China agreed to phase out the sale and domestic manufacture of ivory last
year as part of the 2016 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic (S&ED) Dialogue,
though no timetable was set. The chief of China?s State Forestry
Administration Zhao Shucong said at the time: ?We will strictly control
ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of
ivory and its products are eventually halted.?

Meanwhile, Hong Kong said earlier this month that the sale of ivory that
the local trade would be slowly phased out by 2021. Several ivory traders
complained on Friday that they would need more time to sell off existing
stocks, with some adding that they may seek legal action against the

Cheryl Lo, Senior Wildlife Crime Officer, at the Worldwide Fund for Nature
said on Friday: ?With China?s market closed, Hong Kong can become a
preferred market for traffickers to launder illegal ivory under cover of
the legal ivory trade. Hence WWF urges Hong Kong government and legislators
to immediately speed up the process to ban the ivory trade as soon as


China to ban domestic ivory trade by end of 2017
December 30, 2016

A worker crafts an ivory product from government registered ivory tusk inside a factory in Hong Kong, China June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

China will slap a total ban on the domestic ivory trade within a year, the
government announced on Friday, shutting the door to the world’s biggest
end-market for poached ivory.

The State Council said in a notice a complete ban would be enforced by Dec.
31, 2017. A first batch of factories and shops will need to close and hand
in their licenses by March 31, 2017.

Conservation groups applauded the ban, with WildAid’s wildlife campaigner
Alex Hofford calling it “the biggest and best conservation news of 2016”.

Environmentalists say poached ivory can be disguised as legal as long as
trade is allowed in licensed outlets on the high street and online.

Poaching is a major factor contributing to the rapid decline in the numbers
of African elephants, with about 20,000 slaughtered every year, according
to the WWF.

It says about 415,000 African elephants remain today, compared with the 3
to 5 million in the early 20th century. The animal is officially listed as
a vulnerable species.

People with ivory products previously obtained through legal means can
apply for certification and continue to display them in exhibitions and
museums, the government announcement said.

The auction of legally obtained ivory antiques, under “strict supervision”,
will also be allowed after obtaining authorization. The government will
also crack down on law enforcement and boost education, it added.

WWF Hong Kong’s Senior Wildlife Crime Officer Cheryl Lo said the bold
timeline “shows determination to help save Africa’s elephants from

“A ban clearly requires strong enforcement and support from the government
to be most effective. But together with China’s announcement, now that
three of the world?s largest domestic ivory markets, that is China, Hong
Kong and the U.S., are being phased out,” Lo said in a statement.

The United States enacted a near-total ban on commercial trade in ivory
from African elephants in June.

Campaigners are urging the Hong Kong government to speed up its plan of
phasing out the local ivory trade by the end of 2021.

The former British colony, now Chinese-ruled but governed by different laws
under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, allows trade of
“pre-convention ivory”, or ivory products acquired before 1975.

The financial center also remains an important transit and consumption hub
for illegal ivory to China and the rest of Asia.

Chinese ivory traders have also tried to pre-empt the move, WildAid’s
Hofford said, with some carvers setting up shops in Laos and Myanmar and
other traders moving their products “offshore” to places such as Hong Kong.


Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa and Marjan Marsh Award evening

The Marjan-Marsh Awards are being presented at King’s College London (Pyramid Room) on 23rd November at 6.30pm.  The recipients are Stephane Crayne (for his courageous and vauluable work on conservation and anti-poaching projects in the Central African Republic|) and Keith Somerville for his book, Ivory.Power and Poaching in Africa.  Please come along. No booking necessary.


Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa by Keith Somerville
Can’t read this email? 
View Online
Power and Poaching in Africa
Keith Somerville

Hardback / November 2016 / 400pp / £20.00£15.99 with this email + free shipping

‘Combating elephant poaching in Africa has become an international priority, attracting Hilary Clinton, Jackie Chan and Prince Harry to
its cause. Drawing on decades of experience as a seasoned journalist,
Keith Somerville writes eloquently about the politics of ivory
poaching in Africa and why we should care.’ — Alex Vines OBE,
Head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House
Despite the 1989 global ivory trade ban, poaching and ivory smuggling have not abated. More than half of Tanzania’s elephants have been killed for their ivory since 2007. A similarly alarming story can be told of the herds in northern Mozambique and across swathes of central Africa. But why the new upsurge? The popular narrative blames a meeting of two evils — criminal poaching and terrorism. But the answer is not that simple.

Ivory follows this complex history of the tusk trade in Africa, and explains
why it is corruption, crime and politics, rather than insurgency, that we
should worry about. In this ground-breaking work, Somerville argues that
regulation — not prohibition — of the ivory trade is the best way to stop
uncontrolled poaching.

Africa and Ivory – EU opposes total ivory ban and is criticised by pro-ban states

I have added comments in square brackets to indicate gaps or one-sided information presented in this report.


European commissions’ opposition to a proposed global ban will spell the beginning of a mass extinction of African elephants, warn officials from 29 African states

Elephants are being killed by poachers at a rate of one every 15 minutes in Africa
Elephants are being killed by poachers at a rate of one every 15 minutes in Africa. Photograph: Morgan Trimble/AP
Arthur Neslen

Wildlife officials in nearly 30 African states say they are appalled by an EU decision to oppose a comprehensive global ban on the ivory trade.

In a position paper released on 1 July, the European commission said that rather than an all-encompassing ban it would be better to encourage countries with growing elephant numbers to “sustainably manage” their populations.

An existing global embargo on ivory sales is due to end in 2017 and Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana are pushing for it to be replaced with a decision-making mechanism for future tusk trading, at the Convention on International Trade in International Species (Cites) conference in Johannesburg this September.

However, the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) – a coalition of 29 African states – is warning of a mass extinction on the continent within 25 years, unless elephants are given an ‘Annex I’ Cites listing, which would ban any future domestic ivory trade.

Andrew Seguya, the director of Uganda’s Wildlife Authority, told the Guardian: “If the EU prevents an Annex I listing, it will be the beginning of the extinction of the African elephant for sure. We have lost 100,000 elephants in just three years. If nothing is done, we will see a tipping of the balance in conservation efforts before the next Cites COP (conference of parties).”[KS: These elephants have been lost almost entirely in countries whose elephants are already listed in Annex one – where despite the ban, corruption and the penetration of Chinese economic interests and Asian illegal trading syndicates have ensured the continued slaughter of elephants for ivory. The ban has been and is still ineffective as it fails to deal with the issues of corruption, human-elephant conflict and thje need for forms of sustainable development to get the support of local people for conservation.]      

In 2014, 20,000 African elephants were killed by poachers. Between 2009 and 2015, Tanzania and Mozambique lost over half their elephant populations, with similar figures reported across east and central Africa.[KS: these are both states listed on Annex 1 – this listing and the ban has done nothing to save the elephants there. The ban is a crude and very blunt instrument that has failed to end the illegal trade or conserve elephants.]

The death rate is such that every 15 minutes, an elephant somewhere is killed by poachers.

Experts say that traumatised elephant populations in Africa are increasingly becoming nocturnal and migrating in mega-herds of up to 550 in a bid to avoid contact with poachers.

Azizou El Hadj Issa, a former minister in Benin and president of the AEC’s council of elders said: “The situation is alarming in most of our countries. Elephants are slaughtered every day, rangers are being killed and the trade is fuelling terrorism which destabilises the continent and has huge repercussions for EU security. We need the EU to support us and become part of the solution to this crisis.”

With 28 members, the EU makes up the biggest voting bloc at Cites. Its funding and trade levers give it a powerful influence in the developing world.

Europe says that it wants an extension of the current ivory ban but also backs a system of exemptions included in the ban, which allows exports of some elephant products from the four African states.

Under a ‘Annex I’ listing, all international ivory trade would be outlawed.

An EU official said: “We need a balanced position. We admit that the domestic trade in ivory should be banned in those situations where it can facilitate illegal trade but don’t fully agree with the inclusion of the African elephant in ‘Annex I’ in those four countries. We would encourage the African countries to have a dialogue about this.”

However, experts believe that there is currently no way to prevent poached ivory from entering legal chains and then finding a way on to the world market.

A one-off legal sale of ivory in 2007, when the current ban came into force, was followed by “an abrupt, significant, permanent, robust and geographically widespread increase” in elephant poaching, according to researchers.[KS: these researchers are one passionately committed to a ban and they use false and unconvincing arguments and no causal evidence to make the link]

Patricia Awori a member of the AEC’s secretariat, said that she was left “flabbergasted” by the EU’s positioning. “When you consider that there were 600,000 elephants at the start of the crisis which led to this Appendix I proposal and there are now less than 400,000, I am at a loss to understand why this is not more troubling for the EU.” [KS: These figures are highly contentious – there are between 450,000 and 600,000 elephants remaining according to the African Elephant Database. Elephant numbers are increasing steadily in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa but under threat in Tanzania, Mozam,bique and much of Central and West Africa because of corruption, the operation of Asian smuggling syndicates and totally inadequate conservation funding and policies.]

Patrick Omondi, the deputy director of the Kenya wildlife service, added he was “taken aback and disappointed” by the stance from Brussels.

The most recent figures show a 61% decline in African elephants between 1980 and 2013, although an updated census is due before the Cites meeting. [KS: A decline in East, Central and West Africa but steady increases in southern Africa, where elephants are on ANNEX ii].

To ratchet down rampant poaching, the AEC wants all elephants on the continent to be considered a single species – without exceptions for the four countries – arguing that they are a threatened migratory species.[KS:  The AEC represents states that favour a ban, all of which are experiencing reductions in elephant numbers, massive corrupotion and the penetration of Asian smuggling syndicates. The successful southern African states are not part of AEC, something this article omits to mention.]

“An elephant that wakes up in the morning in Angola as ‘Appendix I’ could be in Namibia under ‘Appendix II’ by the same afternoon,” Seguya said.[KS: And in Namibia it would he far safer than in Angola or, for that matter, in Uganda or Central Africa. Uganda remains a major transit point for Central African ivory being smuggled to China. AEC hypocrisy is staggering.]

Europe is agnostic on the proposal for a decision-making mechanism to allow future ivory sales. More internal discussions are planned before the bloc takes a final position on the Cites debates, in early September.

Kenya – billionaires and “caring” celebrities to swamp Nairobi elephant summit in April

The rich and self-important plus photo-op hungry celebs will flock to Nairobi in April to take part in the Elephant Protection Summit in April, bringing with them their emotive and anthropomorphic ideas to foist on the people of African range states. Time African governments took a long  and more realistic look at how to protect elephants AND people and not give in to the NGOs, stars and lobbyists who ignore local people and so help sustain poaching, instead of counter-productive ivory bonfires and policies designed in NGO offices abroad. KS


Daily Nation

Billionaires, Hollywood stars to help fight poaching

Top Hollywood actors and media moguls to attend elephant conservation summit in Nairobi.


US Secretary for Interior Sally Jewell (left), the Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu and Mombasa governor Ali Hassan Joho when they toured the port of Mombasa on January 26, 2016. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

US Secretary for Interior Sally Jewell (left), the Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu and Mombasa governor Ali Hassan Joho when they toured the port of Mombasa on January 26, 2016. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

In Summary

  • Kenya will host Hollywood A-listers, top conservationists, music superstars and media moguls on April 29 and 30 during the Elephant Protection Initiative summit.
  • Prof Wakhungu also announced that over 120 tonnes of recovered ivory will be destroyed during the summit.
  • In June last year, Oscar award winner Lupita Nyong’o was in Kenya to save elephants, becoming an elephant conservation ambassador with an NGO, WildAid.
  • The latest statistics show that over 100,000 elephants have been killed in Africa in the past three years.

Several Hollywood stars are among world celebrities expected in Kenya later this year to boost elephant conservation efforts.

The Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu, in a brief Tuesday, said Kenya will host Hollywood A-listers, top conservationists, music superstars and media moguls on April 29 and 30 during the Elephant Protection Initiative summit.

Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Yao Ming, Elton John and American businessmen George Soros, Paul Allen and Howard Buffet are expected to attend.

Naturalist and environmental enthusiast Sir David Attenborough and media moguls Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of United Kingdom newspapers The Independent, The I and The Evening Standard as well as Michael Bloomberg, the proprietor of the Bloomberg Media Group are also on the guest list.

They will join several heads of state and governments as well as African film and music stars.

Prof Wakhungu also announced that over 120 tonnes of recovered ivory will be destroyed during the summit.

“This is the largest amount of ivory to be destroyed by any country in the world and it is a sign of our commitment to zero tolerance for poaching and illegal ivory trade,” she said.


And this will not be the first time Kenya is enlisting the help of Hollywood stars in the fight against poaching.

In June last year, Oscar award winner Lupita Nyong’o was in Kenya to save elephants, becoming an elephant conservation ambassador with an NGO, WildAid.

Former Sex and the City star Kristin Davis is also passionate about saving elephants and has worked extensively with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi.

Movie star Angelina Jolie is directing a film on wildlife conservation, starring her husband Brad Pitt.

The movie is loosely based on the life of Kenya Wildlife Service chairman Richard Leakey and his efforts to save elephants from poachers.

Other celebrities that have been involved in elephant conservation are David Beckham, Jon Stewart, Ian Somerhalder and Edward Norton.

Kenya has stepped up the fight against poaching in recent years, even as reports by scientists indicate the elephant population in Kenya and the rest of the world is declining at an unprecedented rate.


The latest statistics show that over 100,000 elephants have been killed in Africa in the past three years.

Conservation efforts have, however, brought poaching down by 80 per cent, with 2015 figures showing that Kenya lost only 96 elephants and 11 rhinos to poachers.

This is attributed to tougher laws that impose high penalties on poachers.

The number of rangers has also been increased by over 1,000 between 2013 and 2015.

There has also been more ivory seized at the Mombasa port and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Improved surveillance that have brought Interpol on board have also discouraged poaching.

This came as a delegation of the US government toured Mombasa, just a day after signing an MoU with Kenya that will help fight trafficking of products of poached animals.

US Secretary for Interior Sally Jewell, who led the team, said her government is committed to ending the illegal trophy business in Kenya.

“The US has brought on board China, which is a main consumer of the animal products.

I have met several senior Chinese officials to discuss ways of ending this illegal business. The US  is determined to end this illegal trade,” she said.

Kenya seeks total ivory trade ban

Daily Nation

Kenya among 25 states seeking a global ban on ivory trade

The countries have called for immediate and decisive action to save the African elephant.

Kenya is among 25 African countries that have adopted a declaration demanding a total ban on ivory trade worldwide.

The countries, through the African Elephant Coalition meeting in Cotonou, Benin, have called for immediate and decisive action to save the African elephant.

Representatives from the countries stressed that African elephants are facing the worst crisis since 1989 when all populations were listed on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), banning international ivory trade.

“As a result, elephants are being decimated at an alarming rate throughout Africa, while human lives are being lost in attempts to protect this global flagship species,” the delegates indicated.

They said the protection was weakened in 1997 and 2000 when populations in four Southern Africa countries; Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were down-listed to less endangered status to allow two sales of ivory stockpiles in 1999 and 2008.

“Between 2011 and 2013 alone, more than 100,000 elephants were killed for the ivory trade,” they revealed.

The Cotonou Declaration aims to end this crisis by committing to strengthen collaboration between member States to secure the highest possible protection for all African elephant populations under international law.

Participants proposed a strict ban on all international and domestic ivory trade, including re-listing all African elephant populations as most endangered. They also called on other countries and organisations to support the proposal.

The coalition also discussed other threats to elephants, particularly human-elephant conflict, as well as the difficulties member States face against determined and well-armed poachers, and in enforcing laws to combat poaching and ivory trade.

Obama and ivory trade – why Western paternalism does not help Africa’s elephants

Cosmetic trade bans and Western paternalism will not end poaching in Africa – community-based conservation will

Keith Somerville

One of the major announcements by President Obama during his brief but highly symbolic visit to Kenya this weekend was that he would implement “urgently needed steps” to restrict the sale of ivory from African elephants.  He used his high-profile trip to jump once more on the ivory ban bandwagon with a measure that will get headlines, the keen approbation of Western animal welfare and conservation NGOs but have little real effect and, like many of the well-intention but ill-conceived and patronising policies pushed on African elephant range state by the West and its NGOs, have practically no effect on the conservstion of elephants and combating of the scourge of poaching.

seized ivory

Confiscated ivory carvings – WikiMedia..

Obama’s lofty aim of eliminating the illegal market for ivory in America is based on restricting the domestic commercial trade, still legal in many states and legal for antique or pre-ban ivory or trophy ivory brought back by American hunters, and stopping inter-state trade in most forms of ivory.  But this is a very small proportion of the global trade and where it involves illegal, smuggled ivory it just targets what is already illegal and so is nothing startlingly new. It is also worth noting that the extra restrictions on the legal trade may well be struck down by a Republican congress viscerally opposed to almost anything Obama proposes – but it is the effect of the headline announcement rather than the final effect that often really matters in the  ivory PR struggle.

But whatever the chances of becoming law or the localised effects on the ivory trade, this represents another example of Western paternalism towards the issues of ivory trading, poaching and conservation in Africa.  This paternalism developed under colonialism when British game department officials declared all Africans to be potential poachers, hunting by Kenyan communities was banned, but trophy and commercial hunting by whites was encouraged.  The conservation movement developed a new form of environmental colonialism with communities moved from land to make way for national parks and reserves.  The very game wardens who launched militarised anti-poaching campaigns against African communities banned from traditional hunting for subsistenc themnselves benefitted materially from the system as they could buy elephant hunting licences and then sell the ivory at a profit.  Some, like the venerable George Adamson, David Sheldrick and Bill Woodley, were avid elephant hunters when it suited their pockets – yet they fiercely pursued hunters among traditional hunting communities like the Waliangulu and Dorobo.

Conservation paternalism and Western hegemony over the global conservation debate continued through the dominance of NGOs like the African Wildlife Foundation, WWF, Born Free, Environmental Investigation Agency and others in the debates and, crucially, the decisions over the ivory trade and elephant conservation in Africa, pushing for bans and damaging the prospects of self-funding, community-based, sustainable-use projects that aided conservation, cut poaching and provided income for local people.

Governments like those in Kenya and Tanzania, dependent on NGO and other Western funding for their ill-equipped, poorly-paid and frequently corrupt wildlife departments, have danced keenly to the NGO tune on a total ban on the ivory trade and hunting bans, despite strong evidence that this has achieved little in the long-term  and may have prevented more efficacious, community-based conservation schemes from developing.  That 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa between 2011-14 despite the total ivory trade ban and an emphasis on militarised anti-poaching shows just how successful the Western NGO-inspired approach has been.  Southern African governments – notably those in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and, despite continuing corruption and evidence of some poaching, Zimbabwe – have been more successful in conserving elephants and, through schemes like the Zimbabwean Campfire community-based conservation programme, have found ways of developing community benefit from wildlife and so a community role in preventing poaching as opposed to sustainable use. Only in southern African has there been consistent growth in elephant numbers and evidence of successful management. Even though poaching, linked to corruption, persists in parts of Zimbabwe, its elephant numbers have continued to grow.

But a new discourse has developed and is of huge relevance to Obama’s announcement – the much-vaunted and rightly vilified link between insurgency and ivory.  This is a very real link in some areas of Central Africa, where the Lord’s Resistance Army (expelled from Uganda and living a brutal, nomadic existence in territory where the DR Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan meet), South Sudanese rebels and the Sudanese Janjaweed militia/raiding group killed elephants across the DRC, CAR, Chad, Cameroon and South Sudan.  The LRA uses the income to buy food and weapons while the Janjaweed role is more complicated, as the militias have their origins in centuries old ivory, cattle and slave raiding and trading by Sudanese Arabic communities across the Central African region.  They poach and trade in ivory to accumulate wealth for the communities from which they are drawn and so Sudanese traders in Khartoum.


Elephant poached by Sudanese Janjaweed militia in Boub-Njida National Park, Cameroon. WikiMedia

But aspects of the ivory-insurgency narrative are questionable in the extreme.  Much has been made of the link between the Somali Al Shabab Islamist movement and the ivory trade – with accusations, made by Western NGOs and taken up by president Kenyatta himself, that Al Shabab funded the notorious Westgate attack through poaching and selling ivory.  Western governments as well as Kenyatta have seized on the alleged Al Shabab role and the even more questionable accusations that Nigeria’s Boko Haram have poached elephants to develop a new theme in the whole War on Terror policy of combating Islamist, that of wildlife crime funding terrorism. It is based on fact in many cases but is far from proven when it comes to ivory and Al Shabab, yet it is a useful accusation to gain public support for military campaigns, drone strikes etc and can be used by governments like those in Kenya to garner support and funding for its intervention in Somalia and brutal crackdown on suspected Somali or Islamist opponents at home. It also serves the interests of NGOs trying to influence the elephant conservation debate; they can use it to hammer home the message that donations are needed to fund the fight against poaching on the basis that it is also used to fund terror.  A very effective fundraising tool, with plenty of emotive content.

But how accurate is this picture? To what extent is the illegal ivory trade a threat to global security and the security of states like Kenya? Does it fund terrorism to any substantial extent?  The answer would seem to be no.  Ivory trade researchers like Dan Stiles have pointed to the paucity of proof that Al Shabab has a major role in poaching or smuggling, rather than a small opportunist involvement through small-scale poaching and the taxing of illegal ivory moving through its areas along centuries-old trade routes from Kenya to the Somali coast or through northern Kenya to Ethiopia.  The hugely experienced and influential elephant researcher and opponent of the ivory trade Iain Douglas-Hamilton is also sceptical of reports that Al Shabab is a major player in the illegal ivory trade, something with which the leading ivory trade specialist, Esmond Bradley Martin concurs.  Yet the Al Shabab/ivory/insurgency narrative serves the interests of so many groups that it is being used to intensify the militarisation and securitisation of conservation and the elephant/ ivory debate.

The evidence of the Al Shabab link comes from Nir Kalron (Founder & CEO of Maisha Consulting group which sells security services and training to wildlife departments and conservancies in Africa) and Andrea Crosta (Executive of the Elephant Action League).  They said their investigations show that between one to three tons of ivory, fetching a price of roughly US$200 per kilo for Al Shabab, pass through southern Somalia every month and estimated that Al Shabab may earn between$200,000 and $600,000 a month from ivory (groups the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol put the market price for raw ivory in countries like China and Vietnam at $3,000 per kg – poachers as individuals or criminal/rebels groups may get $50-100 per kg, with middlemen taking perhaps four times that amount).

But specialists on the international ivory trade and the poaching monitoring organizations Traffic and MIKE (which work with the Iinternational Union for the Conservation of Nature and the and Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) have questioned both the funding of the Westgate attack and the extent of Al Shabab involving in poaching and the ivory trade, warning that the evidence is far from solid and care needs to be taking in assessing the movement’s earnings from ivory. This demonstrates the problems of identifying the involvement of insurgent movements in poaching and trading and the tendency for the media and campaigning groups to seize on rumour, partial information or small-scale ivory finds to create a narrative that utilizes a link with the “War on Terror” framing of conflicts like Somalia to highlight the threat posed by poachers and to use a movement’s notoriety to publicise the threat to elephants. In fact, the major threat to elephants comes from corruption and the operation of politically-protected poaching syndicates and smuggling networks that persist in the elephant range states or trading entrepots in Africa, particularly Tanzania, Mozambique, DRC,  Sudan and even Kenya (Mombasa still being a major point of exit for smuggled African ivory). But it is not politic nor in the interests of the West’s War on Terror narrative to raise the issue of massive government corruption or risk destabilising regional allies by revealing that it is really the corruption of governments, armies, public officials and even wildlife services that enable poaching and provide protection or immunity from prosecution  for rich traders and those who smuggle the tusks out of Africa. Much better to have a stress on insurgents and sexy anti-poaching patrols than tackle endemic corruption and patronage, which are the real problems but are harder to tackle.

What is needed is not Western paternalism, preaching, cosmetic restrictions and the self-serving actions of politicians, fundraising NGOs and African governments keen to divert attention from corruption and mismanagement, but action on the ground in Africa to dovetail conservation, community development and the return of ownership, control of sustainable use and decision-making to the very communities who live side by side with elephants.  They are not perfect and have suffered from the effects of the overall ivory trade ban in 1989, but community-based programme like Campfire in Zimbabwe, the Luangwa Integrated Resource Development Programme and other schemes that give local people a stake in conserving AND sustainably utilising wildlife have shown that by getting local people onside, giving them ownership and benefiting them materially that poaching can be cut, wildlife numbers protected and habitats conserved.  People are part of the picture and if you try to cut them out and so alienate them you create the incentive to poach through the simple need to subsist or through grievance over exclusion and impoverishment. That is where Obama should be focusing his attention if he really wants to help.

Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, teaches at the Centre of Journalism at the University of Kent and is writing a book on the political economic of ivory and elephants in Africa.