Magazine article UN Chronicle

Fighting Wildlife Trade in Kenya

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Fighting Wildlife Trade in Kenya

Article excerpt

Poaching is a persistent global problem with a profound effect on the East African region. The international demand for ivory and rhino horn is fuelling catastrophic declines in the elephant and rhino populations in Kenya, Tanzania and throughout Africa. As is the case for many countries in Africa, in Kenya wildlife crime has evolved over time and presents new challenges to wildlife conservation. Kenya's estimated 33,000 elephants and 1,010 rhinos, in addition to a mosaic of other wildlife, are concentrated not only in national parks, but scattered throughout the country across officially protected areas, private ranches, county council territories, and both communal and private lands.

In the past, Kenya experienced high levels of elephant and rhino poaching which threatened the survival of both species. Poaching was mainly conducted by armed bandits from Somalia and was prevalent in pastoral areas outside officially protected wildlife areas. The period before the establishment of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in 1989 was characterized by massive poaching, insecurity in the parks, inefficiency and low morale within the game department, partly a result of inadequate support in conserving and managing Kenya's wildlife. In response to those challenges, a uniformed and disciplined KWS brought about a considerable improvement in wildlife security and helped to stabilize the wildlife and tourism sectors. In addition, Kenya's public destruction of its ivory stockpile in 1989, which raised international awareness around the poaching issue, along with the 1989 ban on the international trade in ivory imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), contributed to a measurable decline in elephant poaching and the recovery of their populations.

Today, however, the continent is witnessing the reemergence of widespread wildlife poaching and trafficking and faces new challenges to wildlife security (CITES, IUCN, and TRAFFIC, 2013; Adetunji, 2008). The demand for wildlife products--in particular ivory and rhino horn--has led to a resurgence of elephant and rhino poaching. In addition, there has also been a shift in the areas targeted by poachers and the weapons used, with snaring and poisoning of animals used in place of firearms, especially in areas that hitherto never experienced poaching. The methods, trade routes and concealment techniques used by poachers to traffic wildlife products and engage in the illegal wildlife trade have also evolved. Evidence suggests that if poaching persists at this level, specific local African elephant populations could disappear in the next decade (AWF, 2014).

DRIVERS AND CONSEQUENCES OF THE ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE

Growing affluence and economic growth in Asia have increased the demand for Africa's natural resources, including wildlife and wildlife products (Adetunji, 2008). The rising price of ivory and rhino horn on the black market, combined with centuries-old traditions of valuing these products as either status symbols (in the case of ivory) or traditional medicine (in the case of rhino horn), perpetuate the lucrative illegal trade. Moreover, the decision by CITES to allow two one-off sales of elephant ivory after the 1989 ivory ban resuscitated the ivory trade. It's a decision that haunts the continent's elephants to this day. Other factors contributing to the evolution of wildlife crime in Kenya include the proliferation of small arms and light weapons from neighbouring countries such as Somalia, which are used in wildlife poaching and banditry. The porous Kenya-Somalia border in particular has provided opportunities for well-organized, highly-skilled Somali gangs with superior firepower to cross over into Kenya and take refuge in protected areas along the border, which serve as safe havens. Many of the Somali militants pushed out from their territories of influence and control engage in wildlife poaching as they readjust and return to the field of battle. …

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