In the supply/demand series, we explore countries where ivory is bought and where it is sold. Kenya is a supply country. Poachers kill hundreds of elephants each year, shipping literally tons of Kenyan ivory to foreign markets. While Kenyans can do little to stem the demand—mainly from China and Southeast Asia—they try their best to disrupt the supply.
Kenya’s wildlife officials face many barriers to protecting the country’s 32,000 elephants. Poachers with machine guns; bribed customs officials; local villagers quick to anger when elephantine feet stray into their fields—the list goes on. In 2012, 385 elephants were confirmed killed by humans in Kenya. Twenty-two percent of those kills were perpetrated inside the boundaries of wildlife preserves, showing that wildlife rangers struggle even on their own turf.
However, elephant guardians are taking advantage of new tools to combat the ivory trade. In the past year, the Kenyan Wildlife Service has begun or increased its partnerships with Google, local tourism companies, and NGOs. Of course, there’s more that they could do, and ways that you can help as well (see below), but we think that they’re making progress. Here are the highlights:
1) Google’s Drone Program: in a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, Google donated 5 million dollars to fund small, unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles. They’ve already helped the Kenyan Wildlife Service hunt down poaching gangs.
2) Tourism Advocates: beneficiaries of the tourism industry, from big vendors to bands of villagers are fighting the ivory trade. Tourism associations fund lobbying, and local citizens form militarized “neighborhood watches,” according to a recent article by the Denver Post, “To Save Elephants, Keynas Take up arms“.
3) International stakeholders: at the center of the action, non-profits and foreign governments in the U.S. and Europe continue to facilitate funding of counter-poaching efforts and research programs.
4) Shoot-on-sight: while not always a part of official policy, conservancy militias and government rangers are killing more poachers in increasingly violent confrontations. While killing poachers is controversial, increased access to military-grade weapons from conflict zones in central Africa is driving up the death toll, both human and elephant.
But you don’t have to be Rambo or a giant institution to fight the ivory in Kenya. Many of the constructive approaches deployed by elephant advocates require grass-roots support. Making your voice heard or helping fund anti-poaching efforts can help save elephants in Kenya. Here are a few things you can do right now:
1) Adopt an orphaned baby elephant through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
2) Write a letter or email to the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism and tell them you want them to protect elephants.
3) Give your letter some oomph by visiting Kenyan elephants and supporting the local economy. You can visit the baby elephant orphanage.
4) Create awareness via social media. You can tweet your support to the Kenyan tourism ministry ministry @utaliikenya, and post articles like this on Facebook so that the world knows!