By Cristián Samper
When the Kenya burn is over and the smoke clears, WCS is hopeful the world will be even more galvanized in its resolve to end the trafficking crisis that is wiping out Africa’s mighty elephants and rhinos.
Kenya’s massive ivory and rhino horn burn sends a clear message that Kenya has zero tolerance for the violence and corruption annihilating elephants and rhinos, iconic species that help symbolize Africa’s wonderful natural heritage.
In 1989, Kenya held the first public ivory destruction event. Since then, the world has witnessed 28 ivory crushes and burns conducted by 21 nations.
WCS believes this largest-ever burn is emblematic of the global groundswell of support to once and for all end the commercial trade in ivory and rhino horn.
This 100-tonne destruction of elephant ivory shows Kenya’s commitment to the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) which commits a nation to closing domestic ivory markets, agreeing to put all stockpiles of ivory beyond economic use, and to addressing the elephant crisis through full and timely implementation of the African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP) that was agreed by all range States in 2010.
One of the most important aspects of the EPI is its emphasis on creating a collective voice – that all the EPI countries speak as one. It is important to acknowledge that the Kenyan government is one of eleven African countries that are signatories to the EPI. The EPI brings together African elephant range states, non-range states, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, private sector and private citizens to work in partnership to protect elephants and to stop the illegal ivory trade. WCS is pleased to be a member of the EPI.
WCS is working to assist elephant range states across Africa to develop National Elephant Action Plans that provide the country-level detail needed to implement the AEAP. WCS is proud to be helping Kenya update its National Elephant Action Plan through an innovative partnership with the Disney Foundation. Through this partnership, we are bringing more essential resources to support plan implementation.
In addition to speaking with a collective voice, the EPI also helps promote learning and sharing of best practices in elephant conservation. For example, WCS recently brought forest elephant survey methods used in Central Africa to help Kenya learn how to survey their savannah elephants that live in Kenya’s forests. Before this survey, elephant population numbers in Kenya only counted elephants that were seen from aerial surveys, and the elephants in the forest technically did not count. We look forward to continue working with the Kenya Wildlife Service to assist in fully implementing the plan to protect its elephants and address the illegal wildlife trade.
Less than a year ago, WCS stood with partners in Times Square, New York – known as the ‘crossroads of the world’ – to crush illegally traded ivory that had been confiscated after making its way to U.S. shores. “Today, WCS is proud to say that the U.S. is poised to implement a federal ban on trading in ivory, while several U.S. states have already passed local ivory trade bans.
Kenya, Gabon, and other African governments have also submitted important documents to be discussed at this September’s global meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – including a call for all governments to close their domestic ivory markets. WCS looks forward to working with governments around the world to include this ivory destruction in Kenya as part of that global effort to, once and for all, put an end to the ivory trade.
Ivory burns and crushes are not merely symbolic gestures – they are tangible milestones that show a nation is serious about combating trafficking in ivory by unequivocally removing this ivory from any chance of being traded. This directly supports our efforts to end the killing of elephants for the ivory trade.
Reversing the decline of elephants in Kenya, as well as the rest of Africa, will not be easy. But collectively we have no choice but to continue our efforts. If we are going to be successful, we must all work together and build strong partnerships to have the greatest impact. Doing so will require ‘on-the-ground’ anti-poaching, anti-trafficking, and other enforcement work including deterrent penalties for wildlife crimes, combating corruption, reducing consumer demand for ivory by effecting behavioral change, working to protect elephant habitat and reduce human–elephant conflict, and ensuring that in local communities rights and aspirations are properly represented.
The world community must come together to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand Together, it is time to stand up and declare that ivory trade is over.
Cristián Samper is President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. He also serves on the US Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking. @CristianSamper