Tag Archives: stoppoaching

How big is the illegal wildlife trade?

INTERPOL values it at $20 billion a year. It comes just after the global drug and gun trade. This is no small thing.

The movement is not about the ‘bleeding heart lefties’ who tie themselves to trees and want to save animals. This is a highly complex network, fuelled with the kind of criminal intelligence that you would expect from war lords, terrorist groups, and powerful underground cartels. The trade has massive negative implications on a country’s economic and social development, political development, security- the list goes on. I.e., everything about it is just bad. 

With rising populations and more disposable income, the demand for a tiger paw, a bag of pangolin powder or an elephant tusk continues. It’s not over until demand = 0 and animal poached = 0.

We need to share intelligence, improve the judicial systems on wildlife protection laws, strengthen training of law enforcement agencies, and increase the drive to crackdown on people along the chain, from poachers to traders through smarter undercover operations and forensic science. We need to talk about this issue as it relates to human development- about people, society, in order for it to gain more support at world roundtables.

None of this is new news- but for any of this to make a difference, it needs to backed by unified political will and support from all governments, worldwide. 

Why poachers are winning the fight

Of all the monitoring going on, by radio collars, drones, helicopters, satellites, and even mathematical algorithms to predict where a poacher might be headed, all the highly-trained manpower down on the ground to protect these precious animals, and after all these decades, you’d have to wonder how poachers are winning.

AK47s, night-vision goggles, helicopters. You’d think I’m describing the kit of maybe a well-funded terrorist, or at least an anti-poaching outfit. Nope. This is the stuff that some poachers have.

Poachers come from all segments of society and are funded in different ways. Some have a little, some have a lot. At the end of the day it’s an opportunistic role, and chances are, they are well connected. Not just with the black market, which is a given, but with linkages back to professional money launderers.

The whole poverty-and-desperation-leads-to-poaching nexus doesn’t seem to hold true anymore, because there are far more accessible alternative livelihoods that communities can and have pursued.

It’s a well-organised crime, as organised as some terrorist groups, and something that needs to be treated and fought with the same level of intelligence as you would fighting ISIS.

It has to go beyond more monitoring or more brave, armed rangers on the ground- although they work tirelessly and do incredible work. It has to go beyond the efforts of civil society, for that’s not enough to win the war. We need the right policies from the top, public-private collaboration in order to utilise the grit and efficiencies of companies, combined with political will and enforcement from the state.


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Meet the most poached animal in Africa

Ian Douglas-Hamilton, the great renowned Kenyan elephant conservationist, counted the number of African elephants in the late 70s. He found that there were about 1.3million. He recounted again in the 90s and found that elephants had halved in number to 600k.

Where are we at now? 470k. 

The Great Elephant Census, which is currently being assessed as we speak, so far reconfirms the same bleak trajectory.

While results so far show that elephants are slightly growing in number in South Africa and Zambia, and flatlining in Botswana- which could have something to do with the EU & other states thinking that these increases in numbers justify once-off sales in ivory- let’s look at the larger picture. 

Tanzania: half of their elephants gone in 6 years

Mozambique: half, in 3 years

Total population of forest elephants, more than half gone in about decade

So, returning to the original global numbers.

1970s: 1.3 mil 

1990s: 600k

Today: 470k

It’s no new news that this is a grim picture. Though sometimes I wonder if we’re just watching a big failure taking place, and making, largely, no impact.

I’m a firm believer in maintaining a healthy level of optimism but this has to be balanced with reality. And as many who have worked very intimately with elephants have noted, it can be hard to keep positive when you witness disappointment after disappointment. 

Hopefully the final results of the consensus can be presented at CoP17 in September to show that elephants cannot be gambled with this to-ing and fro-ing of their classification in CITES and these far too risky policies on the ivory trade.  

Who says yes to the ivory trade? The EU.

The ‘forward’ Global North takes a step backwards in the fight to save the elephant in the Global South. The EU is proposing to permit some countries to manage their populations by allowing the ivory trade to go on.

Let’s break it down.

The EU says that ivory sale proceeds should be enabled to help manage populations.
Is that right?

Yes.

Hold on, wait- what? Isn’t that a paradox- kill them to save them?

Yes. Strange logic.

So why is the EU important on this issue? After all, shouldn’t this be an African-owned decision?

They’re reportedly the largest exporter of ivory and they make up a massive chunk of the voting bloc and so they have a powerful say in what happens to the elephants, basically

Is it surprising?

No. EU member countries have done similar things before. E.g. they thwarted efforts to place a global ban on trade for polar bear products.
So why is it important to move the African Elephant to an Appendix I listing on CITES for all countries?

Species in this category are classified as critically endangered and are given the highest forms of protection, including bans on trade of products made from them. This means there will be a complete and comprehensive ban on the international ivory trade. I.e., outlawed.

What’s the upcoming COP17 conference have to do with this?

At these meetings, member parties vote for what species goes in or out of the classifications. It’s the last chance over the next 3 years to make a concrete change in international law to protect the African elephant.
There is just no time to lose- their anticipated extinction is in 25 years from now.

Note:

African Elephants are currently in Appendix I except those in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

When a matriarch dies, the whole herd is affected

When a matriarch is killed by poaching, the older daughters of the herd step up to fill her place. Although they have big shoes to fill, they do so swiftly, something beautifully and naturally wired within them.

Alloparenting within a herd is instinctive for elephants. Sometimes cousins will lend a hand- or trunk- to take care of a little one, accompanying them into the bushes to have an explore, or ensuring they don’t stray while the herd moves together. Perhaps more importantly, they will guide them to ancient migratory routes, or to sources of water during times of drought, or how to handle predators.

However when the mother is killed, and there are no older elephants to follow, and worse, no herd to follow, the orphan is left alone. The lucky ones may be found and picked up by organisations such as Save The Elephants or the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, but the unlucky ones, of which there are many, are left alone to die.

The price that is paid for ivory extends far beyond that of the matriarch that is killed- the orphan is at high risk of premature death and there are lasting effects on the entire herd and their ability to survive.

With only 470,000 elephants left in Africa and 100,000 killed in 3 years, their expected time of extinction is a couple of decades. We just cannot afford to lose any more.


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Elephants approaching humans to ask for help

In the last few weeks we’ve heard about an elephant in Zimbabwe being shot in the head, and more recently about Tim from Kenya being speared in the head. The former was the result of a botched attempt at murder by a poacher- the latter, frustrations due to human-wildlife conflict. Both elephants reportedly approach humans that they were familiar with to ask for help.

That these stories are making the news on mainstream media is a relief, as it’s a sure sign that it is deemed relevant for mass attention. What is not a relief, however, is that elephants are continuing to suffer badly from the cruelty of humans.

Education, awareness, and political commitment can help to change behaviours and attitudes. Policy reform, adequate enforcement, and community programs can ensure this work is carried out properly and sustainably.

There are 470,000 African elephants left. Zero deserve to suffer. And zero deserve to die by the hand of humans.


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One shipment of 500 elephants to go, please

This time, the shipment is not for a circus, some foreign zoo, or to assist with diplomatic relations and/or to boost a nation’s GDP.

This time, it is to help save them.

500 elephants in Malawi are to be transported to a sanctuary to protect them from poaching and human-wildlife conflict. How? Dart them, winch them into a truck, and drive them for about 300km/185mi to have them delivered to a new sanctuary. This will be the largest elephant relocation in Africa’s history and will take over 12 months.

Slowly, but surely, they will move. And hopefully slowly, but surely, they will survive in a world where humans think that they can treat animals as a commodity.

Malawi is a small country and has 1.5k out of 470k elephants in Africa. But do not underestimate the country for its size- because although it is a tiny land-locked country, they have sufficient funds allocated for protecting elephants, plus the commitment of the government, who have a cooperative relationship with African Parks, an INGO that manages these reserves. That’s two golden nuggets right there- and probably enough to see it all the way through from start to finish.

And so the move begins.

Travel safely, safari njema, beautiful elephants, and hopefully, you will all flourish on the other side.


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What happens when an elephant doesn’t die after you shoot it?

Six weeks ago, Pretty Boy, an elephant in Zimbabwe, was shot in the head. It is believed he turned to flee, and the poachers fired another shot into his shoulder.

The vets found him wandering inside Mana Pools when he apparently approached them, as if he knew they were there to help. He was treated and thankfully survived.

The intelligence of these beautiful creatures should never be underestimated. They think, feel, and experience the world in ways that we will never understand.

With their incredible levels of intelligence and extraordinary memories, these elephants will never understand why they or their family members were shot; will never forget what the poachers looked like; and most lastingly, will never forget how it made them feel. But perhaps all of that doesn’t matter, because their ability to forgive humans, and still peacefully share the same space with them, enables them to stay strong and survive. This will never cease to amaze me. And perhaps their ability to forgive is something that we humans ought to learn from the elephants.


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“Will the ivory burn?”

“Will the ivory burn? You must be sure of that,” President Moi asked, cautiously.

In 1989, the President of Kenya worried about the reaction of Kenyan citizens at the idea of burning at least 3 million dollars worth of ivory. He was aghast when Richard Leakey approached him with the idea, fearful that Kenyans would think it would be an absolute waste of a well-traded commodity, amongst other things. After a lengthy period of persuasion, which was apparently met with much hesitation, he agreed. Moi may not have had the best track record in other fields, but I think this was one of the best decisions he made. For in July in 1989, 12 tonnes of elephant tusks were torched for the first time, making a bold statement that strengthened the country’s credibility in their war against the trade. Subsequently, after the burn, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, banned the trade. Worldwide.

Turn the clock forward 27 years, and President Kenyatta repeats the same event in Nairobi, only this time, it was met with raving support from Kenyans and international audiences, celebrities, the private sector and civil society.

How things have changed. Through the doom, gloom and anger that we see permeating the social media space, perhaps we should also take a moment to look back, reflect, and take stock of how much progress has been made since then.

There’s a time to angry- but it’s another thing to be able to effectively turn that anger into a driver of positive change.

We need a unified stance from all African countries in order to halt the trade altogether. CITES will be meeting 26 September at another roundtable in Sandton in Joburg to discuss the way forward. Here’s hoping they will reach a consensus that the trade should be banned once and for all.


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