Photography: Mukuhi Wanjohi
Location : Mpala Research Center & Olpejeta conservancy
Two weeks ago, Kenya led by its president burned its entire ivory stockpile in a highly publicized event. Kenyans love a good story and the Kenyan media never disappointed as they made the ivory burn the talk of town for the two weeks preceding the burn. As the debate on whether Kenya should have burned the ivory or not continues, I would like to add my voice as an elephant loving Kenyan who grew up near a national park.
Several times elephants have come to our home and destroyed our fences and crops. During their last visit, they scared the daylights out of my mother. she peeped outside to check what the commotion was about and there was an elephant in all its majesty standing outside her bedroom window. Me being me, I don’t mind having a jumbo standing outside my bedroom but for my mother, she wasn’t very happy because besides scaring her in the middle of the night, she had to rebuild the fences and although she is not a large scale farmer count her losses on her few crops. The spectacular Ivory burn meant nothing to people like my mother who consider elephants a nuisance and a threat to their livelihood.
Ivory only has value when it is attached to a living elephant. Many have argued about the economics of biodiversity and felt that the ivory should have been sold and the funds channeled to conserving the remaining elephants. The implications of this would be devastating to the existing elephant herds because the moment we open up the ivory trade we will open Pandora’s box. we will open up the market and there will be no way to tell which ivory is legally in the market and which one is not. On the day of the burn, I overheard someone say that they could not sit and watch all that money burn… IVORY IS NOT MONEY. Kenya can get that money and much more through promoting tourism. Tourist do not travel from their side of the world to see dead elephants or buy meaningless ivory tusks. I remember watching an episode of the Amazing race and there was a moment in the race where the teams forgot they were in a competition to marvel at the majesty of the elephants in Botswana. On that note I want to go to the Okavango Delta… it is absolute perfection.
Back to the ivory burn again, the ban on ivory trade has been in place since 1990 but elephants are still dying. Communities living next to elephants still do not see the value in conservation because to them elephants are a bother that benefits the tourism sector but destroy their farms and homes. To these people the ivory burn means nothing. In my opinion it was turned into a celebrity affair . The person in the village does not care which Hollywood star was at the giants summit or the ivory burn site. Therefore, the government must give them a reason to peacefully coexist with the gentle giants. My colleague once told me if i went to his village to tell people about the importance of elephant conservation they would beat me up because for years they have raided their farms and no one has given them a solution. Those are the issues the government need to address because poachers come from these very communities. The government must empower the community economically by channeling some of the tourism funds to benefit the local communities that way, they will understand the value of a live elephant as opposed to just its tusks.
David Attenborough once said, people are not going to care about wildlife conservation unless they think it is important to them. The authorities need to address all aspects of the poaching menace. It is a cartel that goes beyond the lowly paid poacher in the African bushes.
Tristan McConnell (photographer/ foreign correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP ) wrote that real killers of African elephants are criminal enterprises with ability to establish and maintain supply chains stretching from the African jungle to the markets of Asia. there are corrupt officials every step of the way therefore if we are to stop poaching we need to aim at the right target (corruption, criminals and buyers of illegal ivory). I agree with these sentiment and hope that as the dust settles on this event, we will channel our efforts towards mitigating human wildlife conflict and uplifting the communities that live with the wildlife because at the end of the day all wildlife is