On the Ground for Elephants in Kenya

Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF Founder and General Counsel on January 7, 2014

In December, I traveled to Kenya to attend the first National Judicial Dialogue on Wildlife and Environmental Crimes.

For the first time in Kenya’s 50 year history as an independent country, judges, magistrates, prosecutors, police officers, customs agents, representatives of the Kenya Wildlife Service and conservation/animal welfare agencies came together to engage in an open and honest conversation about the need for more effective investigations, prosecutions, convictions and sentencing of those who are responsible for the slaughter of elephants.

Why Are Elephants Being Slaughtered?

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The Elephant Research Center at Amboseli National Park has the skull of each elephant who had died there over the past forty years.

The poaching (slaughter) of African elephants has once again reached dangerously high levels. The major reason for the killing is the demand for ivory (elephant tusks) from China and other parts of the Far East. As the Chinese middle class is growing, people are looking for status symbols and ivory fits the bill. Other countries are also importing ivory, but China is where the demand is greatest. Another cause of the slaughter is said to be terrorists trying to raise substantial funds to support their activities. Finally, the increased human population in Africa has taken over the traditional lands where elephants once roamed and human-elephant conflicts account for additional slaughter. Experts predict that if the poaching of elephants is not halted, African elephants will be extinct in one decade. If that is not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.

What Came Out of this Event?

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Elephants at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. (Copyright CALS/Natasha Dolezai)

The workshop was held at Amboseli National Park, home to approximately 1,500 elephants. Soon after we arrived, we went on a game drive, where we were able to see five families of elephants. Family units usually consist of 10-12 females and their calves, led by a matriarch. The adult males (bulls) associate with the family only to mate. As we drove, Katito Sayialel, a research assistant who has spent twenty years working for the Amboseli Trust for Elephants identified the elephant families we were viewing, and gave background that was helpful to the law enforcement representatives. For me personally, this was the realization of a dream I have had for many years: viewing African elephants in the wild, with none of the cages, chains, and beatings that occur in the U.S. We then visited the Elephant Research Center where Katito works and saw the skulls of every elephant who has lived and died in Amboseli. This set a powerful context for the next day’s workshop.

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At the workshop, we learned that:

  • Poaching is generally carried out by people in the communities near where the elephants live. Elephants are shot and killed, and their tusks are removed by cutting most of their faces off, often with a chainsaw. The poachers make relatively little money from the animals they kill, as was mentioned by a former poacher who attended the workshop and now works to end poaching. The poachers sell to middlemen who sell the animal products for substantially more money overseas.
  • Prosecuting these poachers is like putting a Band-Aid on a surgical wound. The middlemen need to be targeted.
  • By some estimates, 40,000 elephants are being slaughtered annually. Poachers target the elephants with the longest tusks, which means the matriarch and the bull elephants. The result to the elephant families is disastrous, and the killings of the elephants are now outpacing their birth rate.
  • The penalties for conviction of poaching are too low to be effective and there was consensus that penalties must be substantially increased.
  • Several key problems were identified with regard to how the various agencies currently handle these cases—from the police reports sheets, to prosecutorial control of the evidence and exhibits, to sentencing. There was discussion about how to remedy these problems through better internal systems, greater independence of the judiciary, and interagency cooperation.
  • The poaching of elephants is a complex problem. It requires a focus not only on Kenyan poachers, but also on poaching as an international wildlife crime.

The agenda included break-out sessions in which the participants had informal discussions about the challenges and opportunities, which were then reported back to the whole group. I was heartened to see that the Kenyan law enforcement officials seemed engaged and willing to work to protect their native wildlife.

This event was planned and sponsored by Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) and Kenyans United Against Poaching (KUAPO), in partnership with the Kenyan Judiciary Training Institute (JTI). If you want to support this groundbreaking work, please visit the website of Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) and donate generously.

The sponsors of the workshop announced that the same parties will be invited to meet in six months, to continue the momentum that started at this important first event.

In future blogs, I’ll write about my impressions of Kenya and Kenyan wildlife.


17 thoughts on “On the Ground for Elephants in Kenya

  1. Bridget Vest says:

    We cannot let these wonderful creatures made by God die off because of greed and ignorance. People have to wake up now, before it’s too late!

  2. Justine Smith says:

    This needs to end now!!

  3. RAMONA PAOLINI says:

    WE ARE ALL CONNECTED. WHAT WE DO TO ANIMALS WE DO TO OURSELVES..IF YOU ARE WILLING TO TAKE THE LIFE OF AN INNOCENT ANIMAL YOU WONT THINK TWICE ABOUT THE HARM OR ABUSE YOU DO TO OTHERS. HUMANS ARE ANIMALS ALSO ONLY WE ARE THE WORST KIND THERE IS.

  4. elie khoury says:

    The ivory trade must be officially banned world wide and a very harsh and strict new international law must be enacted in order to save not only Elephants but all wild animals.

  5. Julie Badel says:

    How helpful to know all this. Many thanks for the great report, Joyce.

  6. lorraine yee says:

    Please help save these marvelous thinking, caring and family loving animals. They, like we are god’s creation and not subject to man’s law. One day if we continue as we are, we and all the animals will be extinct. As each animal disappears the closer we come to our own extinction. Save animals and you save man.

  7. Anthony Esposito says:

    I applaud your efforts in working together to protect these kind, gentle,giants…. They deserve this and so much more…..
    Bravo, Anthony Esposito

  8. C. Davie says:

    I’ve been to Kenya, a dream come true, and I have seen these wonderful elephant families. They are so magnificent that it actually brought tears to my eyes to simply see them roaming with their mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers while the males go off on their own. What a beautiful sight. It breaks my heart to think about them being destroyed so some that someone can use a part of them as a status symbol!!! Those so called status symbols will be totally useless and worthless when our planet becomes devoid of animal life because of the greed and stupidity of humans!

  9. Muriel Servaege says:

    Thank you for your efforts to protect elephants. Poachers should be shot down on sight.

  10. Lizz says:

    Im not trying to be a hyprocite but if these elephants are saved, what is the future for future elephants? More mistreatment? People are still going to continue to mistreat them and exploit them & i really hate when that happens but if elephants are saved, future elephants will be going through the same torture dont you think? Just my thought, i may be wrong…

  11. PAUL HERBST says:

    LIKE SHARK FIN SOUP AS AN EMBLEM OF SUCCESS, IVORY MUST BE SHOWN TO BE RESOURCE THAT IS TOO PRECIOUS TO ELEPHANTS TO BE ABUSED FOR THE SAKE OF TRINKETS. LIKE PLUCKING ANGORRA FROM RABBITS AND THEREBY TORTURING THEM, SHOWING THE WORLD THE SLAUGHTER WILL CHANGE ITS MIND, EVEN IN CHINA. THIS HORRIBLE TRADE MUST END, AND THE FASTEST WAY TO ATTACK IT IS TO TARGET THE MIDDLEMEN, AND THE END-USERS. PEOPLE WILL BACK AWAY FROM IVORY WHEN THEY SEE THE INHUMANITY THAT PRODUCES IT.

  12. Dr. Bob Ross says:

    I’d like to see some sort of boycott of some Chinese product(s put in place to “encourage” them to halt their inhumane and barbaric ivory trade. And why can’t we, at least as a short term solution, manage a herd of elephants and periodically harvest the ivory without destroying the animal? We could out-compete the poachers and drive them out of business.

  13. judy thorpe says:

    Its going to take a lot of people to come together to end poaching. Let the military troops join from all around the countries to hunt down the poachers.

  14. Roberta D'Orazio says:

    For years we have known that China is the main buyer of elephant ivory. They refuse to stop importing tusks, and show no love of the animal that their greed is helping drive them to extinction. Perhaps the old ‘life for a life’ example would wake them up – as in- for every elephant murdered they would see a panda killed for it’s hide. How gruesome would that be? All the world’s great mammals are under siege. In America it’s our mustang, which helped to open up the frontier. Let’s have respect for other countries animals for when they vanish, so do we.

  15. DeeDee says:

    Very interesting and thanks for your initiatives. But it seems like ALDF is a Johnny-come-lately to this scene. I am sure you know of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and the decades of work that organization has done to combat poaching, save orphaned elephants, and educate local communities. I’ve been following DSWT for years and contributing monthly. I just started a teeny monthly contribution to ALDF. What previous ALDF efforts have been done to save elephants? Thanks.

  16. LINDA BADHAM says:

    I AM SICKENED BY THE WAY THE WORLD IS WHEN IT COMES TO ANIMALS AND THE CRUELTY THEY ENDURE. NOT ENOUGH IS BEING DONE TO STOP THIS BY THE GOVERNMENTS !! THERE IS CORRUPTION ! THE EVIL DONE TO ANIMALS IS THE EASTERN COUNTRIES THEY ARE THE WORST AND HAVE NO RESPECT FOR ANIMALS AT ALL. THEY NEED TO EVOLVE AND PUT MATERIAL THINGS WAY DOWN THE LIST OF PRIORITIES AND PUT LIFE FIRST.

  17. Jenny Grinstead says:

    In China, they revere the Panda and the Red Crested Crane; the Chinese Government / Conservation People, spend an enormous amount of money, on breeding programs and have individual carers to raise the Panda Cubs and the Crane Chicks, both are endangered species in China. It seems that China will do anything to save them. With this in mind, can it not be brought to the attention of China’s massive population (especially the more affluent ones)that Elephants, Tigers,and Rhinos are also endangered; and that the Ivory, Bones and Horn from these animals means their Death! The tusks are taken from a JUST KILLED Elephant….not a live one.. and the tusks won’t regrow, they are not a renewable resource; Likewise the the Rhino horn and the Tiger bones. I am sure the demand continues, partly because of people being kept in ignorance of the facts…and not making the product / source connection.

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