By Edmund Blair
The future of Africa’s elephants and rhinos depends on the ability of the continent’s nations to battle together against poaching, Kenya’s president and conservationists said on Friday as they met at an East African summit.
Signalling its commitment, Kenya will burn 105 tonnes of seized ivory on Saturday, seeking to send a message that the real value of tusks when they are on the live animals that draw tourists to Africa’s savannas and forests, where herds have been decimated.
From 1.2 million in the 1970s, the number of elephants roaming Africa has plunged to around 400,000. Poaching exceeded 30,000 a year between 2010 to 2012, threatening to wipe them out in some African regions. The future for Rhinos, now numbering less than 30,000, is even more bleak if poaching is not checked.
“The poachers do not care about national borders, nor do the criminal gangs who smuggle illegal wildlife parts out of the continent. There is no solution to this struggle that can be implemented by one country alone,” Kenyatta said in a statement before the Giants Club summit which he is due to address.
“This is a continental issue,” Ian Craig, director of Kenya’s Northern Rangelands Trust, told the gathering, saying Africans needed to build on successes made since a 2012 poaching peak. “As Africa, we need to coordinate our efforts.”
In Kenya, 93 elephants were killed in 2015, down from 384 in 2012. But conservations say the East African nation remains a transit point for poached wildlife parts from other countries.
Leaders from Uganda and Gabon also joined the summit to outline their efforts to curb illegal hunting by poachers, who in some regions have in the past used belt-fed machine guns to mow down dozens of animals at a time.
Botwana’s president had been due to attend. It was not immediately clear why he did not turn up. While supporting the battle against poaching, Botswana has opposed burning ivory.
Conservationists have called for action ranging from improved prosecution of poachers to slashing demand for ivory and rhino horn abroad, most of it coming from Asia.
“Political will, that is the key ingredient,” Max Graham, the founder and chief executive officer of charity Space for Giants, speaking before the summit.
His group seeks to share techniques to combat poaching and protect habitats for elephants and rhinos.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy has been at the forefront of those initiatives, protecting and slowly starting to rebuild Kenya’s rhino numbers. Airborne rapid reaction rangers, a helicopter with night vision and better intelligence in the local community helped.
But it seems too late for the northern white rhino. Just three individuals of the species remain, guarded 24 hours at the Ol Pejeta site. Scientists are racing against time to work out ways on reproductive techniques for the aging animals.
There have also been gains made in stemming international trade in ivory and rhino horn. China and the United States, two of the biggest ivory markets, announced plans last year to enact almost complete bans on imports and exports.
The ivory price in Hong Kong, a major trade route to China which also announced plans for a sales ban, has fallen to about $380 per kg from $1,500 per kg in 2014, Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid which campaigns to end the trade, told Reuters.
“It is never fast enough, but it is definitely heading in the right direction,” he said.