On October 4, 2013 and 2014, in over 40 cities around the world hundreds of thousands of people joined together to participate in the International March for Elephants. A global movement sponsored by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, helping to raise awareness about the illegal ivory trade and the effects it’s having on the African Forest Elephant. National Geographic’s Bryan Christy described this phenomenon as the “First ever global demonstration on behalf of another species in the history of mankind.” Jim Justus Nyamu, Founder and Director of the Elephant Neighbors Center (ENC) in Nairobi, led close to 1,000 supporters to the White House in Washington D.C. His mission is to walk and talk while educating the masses with one simple message, “Ivory Belongs to Elephants!”
On September 21, 2013, just days before the initial global march the terrorist group al-Shabaab led a pre-emptive strike on West Gate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 67, including four attackers and wounding close to 200. The money raised for this attack came from the butchered faces of thousands of elephants in Tsavo National Park, the largest protected wildlife reserve in Eastern Kenya. From Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, al-Shabaab traded high powered guns in exchange for blood ivory. Because of the sensationalism brought on by the attack, the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) who protect the Park and the wildlife in it, sent a direct order to their Rangers that they are to “shoot to kill” poachers and leave the bodies behind.
I sat down with Jim Justus Nyamu of ENC to get his view on the poaching crisis and what is being done to protect the elephants. “In order to stop the ivory trade people must stop buying ivory”, says Jim. “Poachers are not the bad guys. We need them to enforce change in our communities.” During a recent walk from Nairobi to Samburu, Jim met with community leaders, elders and warriors (young boys) living on the border of Tsavo National Park. After noticing a surge in poaching, Jim wanted to find out what was happening and who was responsible. During this meeting, several warriors came forward and not only admitted to killing the elephants but also expressed sincere remorse for their actions. “These people live in an environment where they are on the brink of famine and when there is an opportunity to earn money, they choose life over death”, says Jim. The warriors further explained that the money for the ivory comes from outside sources who solicit them to kill the elephants. When President Uhuru Kenyatta took office in 2013, he initially approached the West (United States) to come to Kenya to help build infrastructure in the country. The West declined the request so President Kenyatta went to the East; China. China is now the largest investor in Kenya, funding 90% of the $3.6 billion rail link from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi. China is also the largest consumer of illegal wildlife from blood ivory, rhino horn, shark fin, and tiger bone.
The Chinese that are in Kenya are criminals and they work alongside fellow Kenyans offering money for ivory. These men solicit warriors to kill the elephants and in return the warriors are paid roughly $20 per ivory piece. The ivory is then smuggled out of Kenya through the port of Mombasa, recently coined the largest exporter of illegal ivory. The price of ivory increases the further in distance it travels. That same piece of ivory that sold for $20 to a poacher will merit hundreds of thousands of dollars to terrorist groups and Chinese distributors. China and the United States are the largest importers and consumers of blood ivory. The warriors went on to convey that there are millions of elephants roaming wild and that their tusks allow them to provide for their families. Jim abruptly disagreed with the warriors and with bated breath explained that there are less than 400,000 elephants alive in Kenya and that in less than 10 years they will be completely wiped out. The supply of ivory cannot keep up with the demand.
Through dedication and commitment, Jim has been successful in several community based conservation programs. Through education and rehabilitation, Jim has helped communities establish their own wildlife reserves attracting eco-tourism from around the world bringing money into once famine areas. Some of those warriors who once killed the elephants are now employed as KWS Rangers, paid to protect the elephants they once hunted.
Bryan, C. 2013. National Geographic Magazine. October, 2013.
Nyamu, J. 2013. Elephant Neighbors Center. Retrieved from http://www.elephantneighborscenter.org
Degroot, D. 2014. The Building of Infrastructure in Africa. Executive Intelligence Review. Retrieved from http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2014/4120china_v_brit_af.html