Pile of ash will be last remains of hundreds of elephants
Tsavo National Park., Kenya. 20 July 2011. Smoke from the bonfire reaches up into an elephant grey sky as a flaming torch wielded by His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, the President of Kenya, ignited a funeral pyre of nearly 5 tonnes of illegal ivory - the tusks of hundreds of elephants, originally seized in Singapore in 2002.
“It was intensely emotional.” said Shelley Waterland, Wildlife Trade expert with the Born Free Foundation. “To imagine the great herd that those tusks represent being wiped out for human vanity and greed was overwhelming.”
As poaching intensifies and illegal ivory smuggling continues apace, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, an intergovernmental law enforcement organisation comprised of Kenya, the Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Tanzania, Uganda, Liberia and Zambia, determined that there was only one way to draw the world’s attention to the plight faced by African elephants across much of their range – torch the ivory
“Poaching emperils elephants in many African countries, threatening their very survival.” stated Waterland. “In Chad, for example, the elephant population has been decimated. Barely 600 elephants remain from the nearly 4,000 that existed just six years ago.”
Speakers at the Ivory Burn were outspoken in their condemnation of poaching and their fears for the future of wild elephants.
President Kibaki’s presence and participation highlighted the gravity of the situation. Affirming Kenya’s commitment to the war against wildlife crime, the President also called on the world to unite behind the African Elephant Action Plan, a blueprint for elephant conservation supported by all 37 African elephant range States.
Dr Julius Kipng’etich, The Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, stated that poaching was being fuelled by “growing demand in the Far East” and that Kenya’s highly trained wildlife law enforcement team will “now be introducing extra luggage checks at airports.”
The Director of the LATF, Bonaventure Ebayi pointed out that “20 years after the 1989 international ivory ban, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force is taking a leading role in ‘”standing against the illegal trade in wildlife, and ivory in particular”. “Africa” he went on, “should play an integral role in the protection of wildlife for the sake of the whole world”.
Kenya’s Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, the Rt. Hon. Dr Noah Wekesa, spoke of sending a ‘powerful message to all those involved in the illegal trade,” by introducing tougher penalties and of “establishing a museum where contraband items from wildlife trade can be displayed.” He urged everybody possessing ivory to donate it to the new museum.
The Rt. Hon Najib Balala, Kenya’s Tourism Minister, pointed out the importance of wildlife and the 37,000 wild elephants to Kenya’s tourism industry while Sammy Lui, Master of Ceremonies, claimed that ‘elephants could be wiped out in a generation’.
The Rt. Hon. Professor Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s Tourism Minister speaking on behalf of President Museveni, confirmed “Uganda’s commitment to wildlife conservation” adding that ‘”the days of poachers are numbered.”
Over 11,500 kg of illegal ivory has been intercepted by law enforcement agencies since the start of the year and new incidents are taking place almost every day. Last week nine elephants were reported poisoned in Zimbabwe and their tusks spirited away. On the 16th July, Namibian and Bostwanan anti-poaching teams arrested four men and impounded eight tusks. Just days ago, smugglers were apprehended with over 110 million Uganda shillings worth of ivory while, in the north Kenya, poachers were caught in possession of 41 tusks – another 21 dead elephants.
To coincide with the Ivory Burn, the LATF is launching a new initiative designed to bring extra attention and resources to the poaching issue. The African Elephant Law Enforcement Day not only recognises Law Enforcement heroes (such as Paco Bockandza Head of Wildlife Law Enforcement with LATF for the Republic of Congo) but establishes a new law-enforcement fund in an effort to secure extra resources to fight increasingly well-armed poachers and the criminal syndicates that operate them.
The Born Free Foundation has pledged US$5,000 towards this fund and urges donors and people who care about elephants to boost the fund and save lives