Case of the disappearing elephants

Friday August 17 2018

Kenya Wines Agencies head of corporate affairs Gordon Mutugi (left) and WildlifeDirect CEO Paula Kahumbu at the World Elephant Day celebrations in Nairobi on August 12, 2018. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG


“Elephants could disappear in our lifetimes if we don’t change our ways,” WildlifeDirect CEO Paula Kahumbu said on World Elephant Day, celebrated on August 12. The theme of this year’s celebrations was “Don’t let them Disappear.”

Symbolically, elephant ice sculptures were put up in Toronto, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg and Kenya. Watching the ice melt sent a clear message of how urgent the problem is.

“Every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory. About 30,000 elephants are killed every year, which is a seven per cent decline per year,” Ms Kahumbu added.

In Kenya, there was a spike in poaching in 2012 and 2013. Five years later, elephant poaching in the country has fallen by 90 per cent.

One of the reasons for the reduction is increased scrutiny of court cases.

WildlifeDirect started a project called Eyes in the Courtroom in partnership with the Judiciary Training Institute, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Space for Giants and the Kenya Wildlife Service.


Jim Karani, the legal affairs manager at WildlifeDirect, says he keeps an eye on all the wildlife cases in the country’s courts.

“Keeping elephants alive is a challenge. Africa has lost a third of its elephants in the past decade. My job is to go into the courts and find out why it is that poachers are not being brought to justice,” he said.

Karani cites major issues in saving elephants as runaway wildlife trafficking and human wildlife conflict. “Kenya is a haven for trafficking, through Mombasa port, although much of the ivory is from other countries.

“We have had significant success in the past five years. Our presence in court keeps public pressure on wildlife trafficking cases. Now there is a 95 per cent chance of conviction if found guilty. However, especially in high profile cases, some people are released on appeal.”

Across the border in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, almost 90 per cent of the park’s elephants have been lost over the past 40 years. To curb the losses, the government launched an elephant collaring project in April.