Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) on wednesday launched a national elephant conservation and management strategy.
Speaking at the launch, the Minister for Forestry and Wildlife Hon Dr Noah Wekesa noted that the world was witnessing increased illegal killing of elephants and that the sophistication and the level of organisation of illegal traders in ivory were also worrying.
“In the light of these worrying trends, we would be calling on the international community to support total ban in ivory trade in the coming Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and listing of African elephants on Appendix I of CITES,” Dr Noah Wekesa said.
The Minister noted that Kenya lost 278 elephants last year to poachers compared to 177 in 2010. At the same time, over 8 tonnes of illegally acquired ivory were seized in Kenya over the last three years.
He added: “As the Minister for Wildlife I have noted with great concern the magnitude of the escalating poaching and its effect on elephants. Therefore, I want to send a strong message to the poachers that they shall be dealt with severely according to the law. We will ensure the current penalties for wildlife offenders are quickly reviewed and made more punitive to discourage poaching,” Dr Wekesa said.
Wekesa led the meeting in observing one-minute of silence in honour of the Minister for Environment and Mineral Resources John Michuki who passed away on Tuesday.
The function at the Ivory Burning Site Campsite in Nairobi National Park was attended by conservationists, including representatives of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),Save the Elephants (STE), African Conservation Centre (ACC), universities and other research institutions, communities from different conservation areas and county councils.
The Permanent Secretary for Forestry and Wildlife Mr M M Wamwachai and KWS Chairman of Board of Trustees David Mwiraria also attended the function.KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich said the strategy had decentralised the conservation and management of elephants in line with the new Constitution.
“It has re-energised our efforts at research, protection, devolution of management, winning more wildlife space, human wildlife mitigation, capacity building of staff and other stakeholders, collaboration with partners as well as provided for benefit sharing with communities,” he said.
The elephant strategy seeks to maintain and expand elephant distribution and numbers, enhance security to elephants, reduce cases of human-elephant conflict and increase the value of elephants to people and habitats.
It outlines strategies KWS and other conservation partners will use to protect the species, particularly in key strategic locations, such as dispersal areas, migration corridors and in the human-elephant conflict hotspots.
The strategy seeks to address emerging problems and threats facing elephant conservation in the country. It aims to achieve this by engaging communities living adjacent to protected areas on the importance of protecting the species through education and awareness.
The strategy also stipulates the offering of incentives and provision of tangible benefits directly linked to the presence of elephants, which will increase tolerance and custodianship of elephants among people who own and use land outside protected areas.
This is designed to encourage landowners and local communities to protect and accommodate elephants.The strategy targets an annual elephant population increase growth of three per cent per year. Elephant population in Kenya is estimated at 37,000 up from 35,000 in 2010.
The increase has largely been attributed to renewed and sustained efforts by KWS and other conservation stakeholders to curb poaching and trade in illegal ivory.
Effective law enforcement and the CITES ban on international ivory trade has also led to a decline in poaching resulting in elephant population recovery in Kenya. Despite all these, the poaching menace still exists.
This has led KWS to embrace the use of modern technologies under its force modernisation programme to counter the problem and other poaching-related threats.
KWS has introduced the Canine Unit with sniffer dogs on a 24-hour basis at the Jomo Kenyatta in Nairobi and Moi International Airport in Mombasa to detect movements of illegal ivory.
The unit has since 2009 netted more than eight tonnes of raw and worked ivory. This has effectively led to reduced smuggling of illegal trophies.
Plans are at an advanced stage by KWS to also introduce sniffer dogs at the Eldoret International Airport as well as other exit and entry points. Stiffer penalties related to wildlife crime have been incorporated under the proposed wildlife law to deter poaching-related cases and incidents in Kenya.
The strategy also calls for improved cross-border collaboration through the establishment of formal operational structures as provided for in the African Elephant Action Plan.Coordination and cooperation on enforcement and monitoring of illegal hunting and trade in ivory with neighbouring countries, through instruments such as the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and INTERPOL, have been identified in the document as crucial for maintaining national protection of elephants in the face of globalised trade pressures.
A key highlight of the strategy is the need for accurate research and monitoring for the protection and management of elephants and their habitats for informed decision making and effective management.
Already KWS has put into place standardised monitoring systems across the country through collaring of elephants using GPS technology.
This has greatly helped in designing intervention measures for security operations and human-elephant conflict mitigation.KWS last month launched a ranger-based Management Information System (MIST).
The system synchronises information into a well developed database reporting system for standardised collection and reporting of wildlife conservation status data across the country.
The strategy also highlights the importance of capacity building of KWS staff and conservation stakeholders through training to maintain competence and update skill levels with emerging techniques of personnel dealing in elephant conservation.
Coordination and decision making of the strategy will be done through a strong network through various committees comprising elephant stakeholders.
Written by Antony Aisi, Africa Science News