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Halting Poaching in Northern Kenya – A Special Report to our Supporters

January 26, 2009

It is not news to you or any of our loyal supporters that ivory poaching remains a major threat to Kenya’s elephant population. Recently, there have been strong indications that it could be on the rise in northern Kenya. In 2008 alone, 47 poaching incidents were reported to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (LWC) radio room. The LWC’s KPR team recovered 9 weapons and 147 rounds of ammunition. There are also indications that, in one year, in the town of Isiolo, the price of ivory on the black market has increased by 100%.

Poaching in Kenya, particularly in northern Kenya, is not a new problem. There are important elephant migration routes running through the region – which holds over 7,000 elephants, the second largest population in Kenya, according to a recent aerial count in the Samburu / Laikipia area. But in the last few years, after the establishment of many new Community Conservancies and with the ivory trade ban, we had thought the worst was behind us. We were wrong.

There are many reasons why poaching could be increasing throughout Africa:

Many are linking the slow but steady increase in poaching to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which in July 2008, allowed Botswana, South Africa and Namibia to sell a total of 108 tones of ivory to China and Japan as a “one-off” sale in exchange for the world enforcing the ban for a further 9 years.

Others argue that a rise in poaching could be linked to the rapid increase in the middle class in Asia, which has subsequently increased the demand.

Others believe that the current financial crisis is also affecting poaching. People are seeking alternative means to make money. Ivory like other commodities often increases in value in times of financial stress.

Whatever the cause, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) are working in close collaboration, under the umbrella of the Kenya Wildlife Service, to put a halt to the poaching and to dismantle the poachers’ network. Recent successes have highlighted the role that local communities can play when they chose to work with the responsible Government agencies in apprehending those involved in this illegal killing. The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and its sister organization the NRT have been at the forefront in helping to strengthen these relationships.

For 10 days, in northern Kenya, a joint KWS-LWC-NRT team had been tracking poachers and dealers who were suspected to have killed elephants and trying to move the ivory out of the region. This information came from reliable sources within the Community.

On Friday evening, the 20th of November, our joint team seized 43 kg of ivory. The ivory had been cut up in pieces and hidden in charcoal bags. Three people were arrested and have been charged with the illegal possession of ivory. One individual in particular is a well-known dealer who had never been apprehended before.

This is the result of the confidence the communities are putting into their conservancies. Ivory was seen moving through villages, and many community members realized this could significantly impact their tourism revenues and overall development goals. They sounded the alarm and reported it to the local authorities. With local people acting as the watchdog for these illegal activities and with leadership from the Kenya Wildlife Service and support from the LWC and the NRT, we are confident that we will continue to dismantle these poachers’ networks and help put a stop to the killing of elephants.

These successes and the continual arrest of these poachers would not be possible without the help of people like you who put their trust and commitment behind our organizations. Without our joint support, elephants, and other wonderful animals would remain totally at the mercy of man and our ever-increasing greed for all things natural.

We thank you again for your help and will continue to update you on any new developments.

Dr. Jonathan Moss
Chief Executive Officer
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Ian Craig
Executive Director
Northern Rangelands Trust