Tusk power: No end in sight

By David Njagi

Ivory burn NairobiIt could be a game changer, but Nairobi’s recent ivory burn will need more than stoking to save Kenya’s decade long struggle with the poaching fix.

The event, held at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) at the end of April, was cheered by world leaders. But even with such a show of solidarity, Africa’s own leaders are not convinced that burning trophy will stump out wildlife crime.

Barely had the smoke cleared from the Nairobi skyline, Kenya’s opposition leader, Raila Odinga, dismissed the burn as a pale spin.

The fiery politician figures President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government can do better by training security personnel on anti poaching skills. But his imagination blurs when fielding the question of permanently wiping out wildlife crime.

Some countries like South Africa and Namibia would rather hoard their ivory stocks for a future legal sale. Botswana insists on trading its ivory as artwork, educational tools, or museum displays.

Kenya is upset with Tanzania, for what it alleges is the neigbouring country’s refusal to tighten its laws on wildlife crime, making it a safe haven for poachers fleeing Kenya’s widening crackdown.

Uganda appears drained of ideas on how it can corner Joseph Kony, who is obsessed with kidnapping young boys and recruiting them into poaching to finance his militia, the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA).

Yet the world agrees that the elephant and the rhino – two of the most targeted marks for their ivory and horn respectively – are an endangered species.

The U.S State Department records estimate that out of five elephants, one was killed for its tusks during the last decade, leaving the world with around 400,000 of the attraction. Of the estimated 25,600 black and white rhinos, 1,338 were killed for their horn last year.

But the cloud should not obscure the silver lining. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is certain Kenya is making headways in taming the poaching menace.

A Wildlife Conservation and Management Act that the country enforced in 2013 sentences offenders to a life imprisonment for a six kilogrammes of ivory charge, or a fine of 63 million Kenya shillings (about US$ 630,000).

In May last year, a genetic and forensic laboratory that was launched at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi, now analyses DNA samples from recovered trophy, enabling investigators to identify the poached animal species.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Kenya and the U.S. in January this year, has added an international spark to the list of strategies the East African country is developing to fight wildlife crime.

“The MOU does not specifically deal with criminal prosecutions but deals more with technical expertise and the sharing of information,” said United State Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, who graced the event.

Going by IFAW’s analysis on Kenya’s advances to fight poaching, the outlook appears promising. But the International Police Organization (INTERPOL) is sure there is a missing layer – scrutiny on financial crime.

Crippling the ivory and rhino horns end markets in Asia and the U.S. would deal a heavy blow to poaching. But a thriving arms market and illicit financial flows will keep wildlife crime bouncing back, argues Henri FOURNEL, coordinator project WISDOM at INTERPOL. http://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Environmental-crime/Projects/Project-Wisdom.

Serving at the organization has enabled him spot a pattern – that 99.99 per cent of criminals are active for money. They can be fixed by disrupting illegal money flows, he figures.

“These are crimes linked to poaching,” he argues. “We can also provide assistance and training to Africa in the field of financial crime to disrupt the poaching networks.”

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About seventysixthstreet

Science and human rights journalist, Kenya
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