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Nairobi National Park: Thousands of elephants have been killed in recent years for their ivory

Kenya conducted the event to demonstrate that ivory has no value to anyone except elephants

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Kenya conducted the event to demonstrate that ivory has no value to anyone except elephants. President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged his country’s support for a complete ban on the ivory trade at the conference for the global conservation body known as CITES, which opens Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is expected to make a determination on whether countries in Africa should destroy seized ivory or be allowed to sell it to fund conservation efforts. The question has sparked heated debate on the continent, with some arguing that the future of elephants is at stake.

FILE - A worker carries spray bottles of gel fuel to help the burning, as he walks past pyres of ivory that were set on fire in Nairobi National Park, Kenya, April 30, 2016.
FILE – A worker carries spray bottles of gel fuel to help the burning, as he walks past pyres of ivory that were set on fire in Nairobi National Park, Kenya, April 30, 2016.

“Our philosophy has been to burn the entire stockpile,” said Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s Cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, “because this is one way of demonstrating to the world that if you offer trade in ivory, we give the misimpression that, actually, ivory is available. And yet it’s this very ivory that’s endangering our species.”

Tens of thousands of elephants have been killed in recent years for their ivory, as a result of strong demand from Asian markets. The recent “Great Elephant Census” showed a 30 percent decline in African savanna elephants between 2007 and 2014.

About 30 African countries, including Kenya, want a comprehensive ban on all international trade in ivory.

“Nobody should buy ivory in the world,” said Paul Udoto, corporate communications manager for the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Request to sell

Namibia and Zimbabwe have officially requested through CITES the right to sell their ivory stockpiles. Along with South Africa, these countries say they want to put the proceeds toward conservation efforts.

Zimbabwe’s finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, suggested to parliament in July that there could be other uses for the funds from ivory sales.

FILE - A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management official checks ivory inside a storeroom in Harare, Aug. 22, 2012.
FILE – A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management official checks ivory inside a storeroom in Harare, Aug. 22, 2012.

“We have $9.6 billion worth of ivory in the country, sufficient to write off our debt,” Chinamasa said. “So this is the paradox of Africa. Rich Africa, poor Africans. Because the policies are coming from outside, and imposed on us. They don’t have elephants, but they become members of CITES to ban and stop us from disposing of our own assets.”

South Africa says destroying ivory makes it scarcer, upping the black market price and driving more poaching.

‘For the good of the elephants’

Kenya argues that previous “one-time” sales have demonstrated the opposite is true, and that opening up trade for some countries puts elephants across the continent at risk.

“It is very, very hard to distinguish between legal and illegal ivory,” said Philip Muruthi, vice president of species conservation at the African Wildlife Foundation. “And that means that having a legal supply of ivory in the market perpetuates the killing. And so, the cycle continues. Where you have trade, you have benefits going to a few kingpins, and you deny livelihoods to communities, and the populations continue to suffer.”

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Muruthi also emphasized the importance of a united African voice during the upcoming CITES talks.

“I know there are challenges, but I do believe an agreement will be found and it will be found for the good of the continent. It will be for the good of the elephants, and for the many, many communities and national economies that depend on elephants,” he said.

Although elephants are the top issue for Africa at the CITES talks, trade restrictions and allowances for close to 500 other plant and animal species — including pangolins, tigers, snakes, sharks and rosewood — will also be on the table. (VOA)

Next Story

Team Lioness Aims to Fight Poachers in Amboseli National Park in Kenya

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Team Lioness
Members of Team Lioness are members are seen in traditional garb on a day off from work. (Courtesy - Patrick Papatiti, Commander of the Olgululului Community. VOA

By Lenny Ruvaga

Kenya’s Amboseli National Park is home to herds of elephants that have been the target of poachers trafficking in the illicit trade in ivory. Now a program that has brought women on board in the fight against poaching is gaining traction.

At the start of another day at the Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch, 23-year-old park ranger Purity Amleset, the leader of this all female ranger unit, sets out the day’s plan with her team, ensuring that each member has her orders correct.

Today’s task: locating an elephant and her newborn calf.

Team Lioness

Dubbed “Team Lioness,” the ranger unit is made up of eight women whose core duties involve protecting wildlife within the 1,230 square kilometer stretch of parkland that surrounds Amboseli National Park.

They are chosen for their academic achievements, physical stamina, integrity and discipline.

Amleset says joining an all-female ranger unit has been beneficial to the traditionally patriarchal Maasai community.

She says her community held the view that women and girls were the weaker sex and that girls could only do menial jobs and housework, which included only raising a family. However over the course of time, the female rangers have been showing and telling them the importance of being a ranger just like the menfolk.

Team Lioness
Female rangers of the TeamL Lioness at the Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch pose for a group photo with their male colleagues. VOA

Gateway for poachers

The Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch’s proximity to the Amboseli park makes it a likely gateway for poachers who may seek entry into the national park to hunt illegally.

Patrick Papatiti, the commander of the Olgululului Community Wildlife Rangers has about 76 rangers under his charge. He says integrating women has not been easy.

“We have the same mentality even within the male ranger unit, the same mentality that ladies cannot do it. But surprisingly we have the best young women who can run, who can move faster than these guys, who can go long(er) distances than these guys,” he sad. “So from that, working together helped us to clear the norm that these are the same ladies the same girls that you see in the village.”

Despite the challenges, in the end James Isiche — the regional director for East Africa from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) — says starting an all-female ranger unit was a risk worth taking.

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“Communities in Kenya are male-dominated, but this particular one is extremely male-dominated,” he said. “So getting young ladies to engage in what is seen as a man’s job is a huge success and what we (are) seeing is that it’s encouraging other girls to step up and say that ‘when I finish school I also want to join the female lionesses.’” (VOA)