The Gates of Horn and Ivory

Picture taken by this blogger in Tsavo East National Park, December 2013

Some notes on poaching in Kenya on World Wildlife Day

1. The trade in slaves, gold and ivory (and more recently drugs) has always been the monopoly of kings and rulers, not least since the nineteenth century, when coastal traders in Eastern and Western Africa exchanged arms for slaves to hold onto power. Now the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be ‘worth’ $19bn-a-year. Much of the wildlife and drug trade in and through Kenya has been and is carried out on an industrial scale.

2. The new wildlife crimes unit will catch a few ‘mules’ and small-scale poachers (cases for Secret Agent Jack Stalwart). There have been no major prosecutions in spite of containers being detained in Mombasa. Donors seem reluctant to fund forensic financial audits and multi-agency and cross-border investigations to identify those freight companies, agents, banks, accountants and lawyers who are laundering the proceeds of ivory and rhino horn sales. Many of the same well-connected (political-criminal) networks seem to be headed by those who are “too big to fail, too powerful to jail”.

Illicit finance flowing into Kenya has jumped five fold in a decade. Kenya is the easiest place in the world to open a shell company. Global financial regulators tag Kenya as a high risk place for money laundering and terrorist finance …  Yet the government is pushing ahead with plans to turn Nairobi into an international financial centre.  Is it building instead a major haven for laundering dirty money? (Tax Justice Network)

3. Putting microchips on rhinos is perhaps not too smart given the ease with which computer systems can be hacked.

KWS4. There has not been a national wildlife and biodiversity conservation debate in the past 10 years, rather an Escher staircase of grandstanding inaction. The population has risen six-fold since Independence and laudably about 10% of the country’s land area is covered by national parks, reserves and private sanctuaries. Yet little progress has been made on furthering the early success of  “community-based conservation”, which gained ground in the 1980s, with such ventures as Campfire in Zimbabwe (I squeezed some funding for this on an ADF rural development project in the mid-Zambezi Valley in 1986) and regulated hunting in Tanzania and Namibia, and in Kenya the “parks beyond parks approach”in the mid-90s. 

5. Black poachers, white hunters.  Fencing may be popular but little thought seems to be given to the wider impacts on ecosystems and habitats, as evidenced by Nakuru National Park; the linkages between pastoralism, livestock and wildlife ranching is rarely on the agenda (and can be avoided given the continuing and general lack of security in northern and eastern drylands). Compensation for death or injury or crop damage is inadequate, wildlife cropping remains banned and community benefit-sharing arrangements are otherwise unimaginative, while perhaps as many as half of the tourist lodges in the Mara are operating illegally. 

6. Destroying ivory (or drug) stocks will have no impact on price, since their wholesale prices already discount such losses. Reducing the demand for ivory needs perhaps a more innovative approach:

Policymakers and conservationists need to stop auctioning horns and burning stockpiles of ivory… By virtue of being a black market, there isn’t a good organized body that can consistently verify the quality of ivory in general … The government, or some general body that has access to tons of ivory, should douse (or credibly commit to dousing) the tusks with some sort of deadly poison, and sell the stuff across all markets. Granting some additional complexities, the black market could not differentiate between clean and lethal ivory, and buyers would refrain from buying all ivory in fear. The market would be paralyzed.

UPDATE: Paula Kahumbu: Target the ring leaders to defeat poaching.  So hand the list of names over…

UPDATE: The Nation’s Macharia Gaitho has also caught up with the political-criminal nexus angle.


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