Bongos and bushmeat in South Sudan’s crisis

Deep in the bush on South Sudan’s western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a tropical forest marking the source of the tributaries to the White Nile and the River Congo, effectively the East-West Africa transition zone.  In this belt is a wealth of wildlife, its protection based largely on its remoteness, on the periphery of these troubled nations.

Camera-trapping over the past few years has uncovered the uniqueness of this area, a wild habitat of considerable scientific importance: wildlife includes the forest Elephant, the very eastern extent of the western Bongo, Chimpanzee, Golden Cat, forest Buffalo and many more, including a new genus of bat so striking that it was nick-named the Panda Bat.

The camera-trapping has been done with the South Sudan Wildlife Service and Community Wildlife Ambassadors: this is a joint venture between the government and community in a country where ‘government’ controls the urban centres and ‘rebels’ control ‘the bush’. Having begun this work before the current war, the local authorities joke that ‘going to the bush’ is normally a reference to joining the opposition.

I have just returned from a stint in ‘the bush’ training a new group of Wildlife Service Rangers and Community Wildlife Ambassadors (community-based wildlife rangers), setting camera- traps in new areas a few hundred metres from the unmarked, international border with the DRC. We are slowly increasing our knowledge about the boundary of the old reserve gazetted over 75 years ago, from various local anecdotes and even the memories of early demarcation attempts amongst a few elders.

The threat to the wildlife is high. Contrary to a commonly-held view, during war poaching usually decreases due to insecurity and the risk of drawing unwanted attention from ‘the sound of the gun’.  However, in the current war and the proliferation of AK47’s from two previous civil wars, poaching is reported at its highest levels: this is not sophisticated trophy hunting, it is for bush-meat as the economy has crashed and bush-meat is a means of economic survival for some.  It is also an army’s or militia’s rations: in a country officially declared to be suffering a famine, bush-meat does pose an ethical question beyond the normal conservation one.

Famine and a crashed economy are both symptoms of the current civil war.  Humans are a central part of the conservation landscape, but during war their position in that landscape is much more politicised. The game reserves provide an opportunity for the future: with all that’s happening in South Sudan, it is important to remember that the insurgent, the politician and the poacher all have to be part of the solution in the end.  Adrian Garside; he has spent the past five years working in wildlife conservation and community development South Sudan’s ongoing civil war. A former British army officer, with over twenty five years experience of policy and execution addressing conflicts in the Middle East, Balkans and Africa, Adrian was the United Kingdom’s first Stabilisation Adviser in Sudan as well as adviser to the African Union mission in Darfur.

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Peace Parks resurgens (2)

Today, the idea of ‘peace parks’ in post-conflict rebuilding has largely fallen out-of-favour after past disappointments; but given the increasing awareness of healthy eco-systems being vital to human well-being as well as the devastating escalation in wildlife trading and poaching, it is worth re-evaluating the concept in the light of fresh research and attitudes which combine practical environmental protection and peace-building that draw organic inspiration from Lucretius’s idea of the supreme pleasure gained from peace and the protection of Nature.

In 1932, the world’s first international ‘peace park’, the Waterton-Glacier Peace Park, was created on the US-Canada border: the establishment of a ‘peace park’ between two allies seems curious, given the general assumption today that ‘peace parks’ are about building trust and security between hostile neighbours.

However, the main purpose of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was about sending a general message of ‘peace on earth’, coming against an historic backdrop of fresh scars from World War One, the Depression and hints of another world war.

Since the creation of the Waterton-Glacier ‘peace park’, located roughly in the middle of the longest border in the world, it became the template for the steady expansion of the ‘peace park’ concept which in its most idealistic conception also involves trans-frontier, free movement.

Shortly after the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001, former South African president, Nelson Mandela, spoke at an elephant reintroduction ceremony held at the new Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park, which includes portions of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe: ‘in the wake of the terrible shock with which the entire world learnt of the acts of terrorism in the United States, we faced and continue to face the prospects of conflict on a world-wide scale . . . in a world beset by conflict and division, peace is one of the corner-stones of the future. Peace parks are a building block in this process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world’, Mandela said.

With Arthur Westing’s crucial book, ‘Transfrontier Reserves for Peace and Nature: A contribution to global security’, providing the intellectual impetus, the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park was idealistically seen as the launch-pad for a grand ‘peace park’ movement across southern Africa and even the world, attempting to reinvent the Waterton-Glacier park’s ideals of global peace by asking neighbours to put aside their differences and give whole-hearted support to biodiversity conservation as a political construction, creating a win-win situation.

By ‘messaging’ opposition to hostility, insecurity, and of course war and conflict, in effect the park was building an ideological superstructure on the twin pillars of biodiversity and peace.

The omens were not good, however, given that the foundations of the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park were built on the detritus of a century-long history among the tri-partite signatories of patchy co-operation, sometimes conflict and coercion, between various political regimes. And so it proved.

The Krakow Protocol, signed in 1924 by Poland and Czechoslovakia, was actually the first instrument of international co-operation using border parks, resulting in three joint park areas. However, the idea of fostering peace through nature was not indicated as a goal in the manner of the Waterton-Glacier Park; rather, the protected areas were seen as an opportunity to preserve a natural landscape that crossed an international border and was one of the first attempts to mitigate a border dispute, in this case left over from World War One, through joint management for the benefit of all.

More recently, the rise of the visionary ‘peace park’ concept came against a background of the Cold War ending and the replacement of previous colonialism and divisive regimes of southern Africa with the idealism of the victorious ‘liberation’ movements. Thus, African wildlife conservation allied to ‘peace parks’ were to symbolise the dawning of the bright ‘new’ southern Africa.

Another factor was the consolidation of environmentalism in the public’s post-Cold War consciousness – partly fuelled by anti-nuclear warfare protests – following environmentalism’s rapid rise in the Seventies with groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

However, hopes for peace in the post-Cold War order were shattered by the atrocities and political mayhem of the civil wars in the Balkans and Africa, prompting a more nuanced understanding of the impact of war on the environment along with campaigns like ‘blood diamonds’ and ‘conflict timber’ as well as a ground-breaking study: ‘War in Biodiversity Hotspots’ highlighted data that showed an uncanny overlap between a high incidence of wars since World War Two with areas holding high levels of biodiversity, without identifying the linking mechanisms.

The fortunes of the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park are instructive of the difficulties facing the peace and conservation nexus, driven as they are by the twin forces of idealism and on-the-ground reality which can pull in different directions.

After the initial surge of enthusiasm and political grand-standing, the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park became bogged down in all manner of practical and diplomatic issues but not before South Africa had pulled up a large amount of fencing along the Mozambique border. This gesture of fraternalism was repaid instead by large numbers of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe and Mozambique using the park to enter South Africa which coincided with a sky-rocketing rise in rhinos being poached in South Africa; overall, the political result was a gradual waning of general collaboration between the three park signatories. Today, the park has been relaunched, though significantly, with the political narrative heavily scaled back with conservation coming to the fore.

From within the nomenclature of peace, parks and borders emerge territorial definitions such as Trans-boundary Protected Areas (TBPA), Trans-frontier Conservation Areas (TFCA), Protected Areas (PA), Protected Areas Adjoining International Boundaries (PAAIB), and of course ‘peace parks’; while globally there are a number of national parks across the world exhibiting varying levels of cross-border co-operation, it is only the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park between Botswana and South Africa that pursues integrated joint management of a park.

While many parks are located in borderlands, on the national geographical periphery – a key founding element of borders has been to create rural buffer-lands to protect urban habitation and infra-structure from coercive neighbours – nevertheless the parks are seen as icons of nationhood and nation rebuilding: the Kruger Park in South Africa, for instance, began as a joint project to unite the Afrikaner and Anglo factions of ‘white’ South Africa after the Boer War and then morphed into a symbol of the ‘rainbow nation’ South Africa.

The Krakow Protocol highlights the dichotomy about whether aligning active promotion of non-violence and peace with the conservation of Nature is designed to the highest Lucretian ideals or whether actually, Nature is being ‘securitised’ in the less idealistic interests of politics, diplomacy and ultimately, national security.

Here the topic of ‘militarization’ has emerged via a critique of poaching counter-measures into a broader examination of the roles of state and non-state actors in both conservation per se as well as its relationship with the local people. While ‘militarisation’ generally implies the use of force, it crosses a wide terrain across from the use of violence, including ‘shoot-to-kill’, to other conceptual critiques of counter-poaching, such as ‘green militarization’ and ‘green violence’, which generally carry a negative connotation.

The co-mingling of conservation with ‘remote’ law enforcement will certainly increase; for example, The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have established a Conservation Technology Unit (CTU), which in alliance theWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Frankfurt Zoological Society, North Carolina Zoo and CITES, has developed SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) to detect species status changes and facilitate a rapid response to any threat.

Critics of ‘militarisation’ instead point to empowerment schemes via job creation, education and health programmes to get local people to ‘invest’ in biodiversity protection.

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‘Peace Parks’ resurgens (1)

In his search for gnoseological definition, Lucretius, the ancient Roman poet and philosopher, sounded a dire warning about the connection between war and Nature in his epic poem, ‘Re Rerum Natura’ (‘On The Nature of Things’).

The poem is not an easy read: it totals 7,400 lines, being written in hexameters with unrhymed six-beat lines in imitation of Homer, and is divided into six books which range across many subjects, from reflections on lyrical beauty, religion, pleasure and death, to sex as well as theories about science  and disease. However, it is the human-Nature relationship that is the poem’s main focus.

At the heart of ‘On The Nature of Things’ is Lucretius’s message, heavily influenced by the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, that life is for living: humans should not only be unafraid of death but also pursue a life of pleasure, in the best and highest sense which involves embracing a life in harmony with the natural word – a key point. That sense of harmony would be upended should animals be killed or attacked, being in effect a declaration of war against Nature by humans, who in the process become brutalised and lose all sense of human dignity – meaning in effect humans would be at war with themselves.

If Lucretius’s message might seem rooted in a philosophically misty, difficult-to-imagine past as well as being hard in practical terms, religion is just as opaque by sending mixed messages about the relationship between humans and the natural world, hinged on the idea of ‘stewardship’: in the classic religious conundrum, when religious adherents are asked to protect Nature, is it to benefit Mankind first and foremost, or Nature for Nature’s sake?

The sensitivity and confusion over the issue of ‘stewardship’ came to the fore when renowned medieval historian, Lynn White jnr. provoked a fire-storm of debate in the mid-Sixties with his article ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’, which included the phrase: ‘the victory of Christianity over paganism was the greatest psychic revolution in the history of our culture’.

While all the other main religions exhibit variations on the stewardship conundrum, Jainism, the lesser practised religion of Indian origin adhered to by Gandhi, unequivocally reflects Lucretian principles with its central idea of Ahimsa, non-violence, with an important part being its application to the natural world.

War and conflict are high impact events that pose unique challenges to conservationists: usually a rapid response is needed to mitigate both their environmental and human impacts, and in their aftermath war and conflict often leave not only devastation but also a management and institutional void that hinders rehabilitation.

The idea of linking the restoration of the environment with peace-building – ‘environmental peace-building’ – has been around for some time, with cross-border water management being a prime example and more latterly the idea of ‘peace parks’, especially in southern Africa with the emphasis on wildlife preservation.

‘On The Nature of Things’ sees the universe as an infinite number of randomly moving atoms that continually bring unexpected and unpredictable changes of matter; Lucretius called this process clinamen, roughly translating as a ‘swerve’ , which could include ‘peace parks’.

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Ukraine’s environmental conflict

The recent upsurge in violence in eastern Ukraine has focused attention on the serious risk that the fighting between Ukrainian government forces and separatists could trigger serious environmental and humanitarian consequences.

Abstract from ‘The Toxic Remnants of War Project report:

‘Three factors have mediated the ongoing environmental risks from the region’s industrial sites; the first relates to where armed confrontations take place; where the use of explosive weapons risks damage to facilities and where operations may be interrupted by fighting.

The second factor is an unfolding “trade blockade” on the transport of goods and supplies across the line of contact, which is being organised by veterans of volunteer battalions from the Ukraine-controlled side. The third factor is access to electricity. It should also be noted that many of the region’s industrial facilities are in close proximity to urban areas.

Since 2015, when the environmental consequences of a conflict in such a heavily industrialised region as Ukraine were first becoming apparent, the Ukrainian government has repeatedly raised the issue at the UN level. Firstly, in September 2015 at the UN General Assembly; then at the Paris climate-change conference; and in December 2015 through the tabling of a resolution on the Protection of the environment in areas affected by armed conflict, ahead of May 2016’s meeting of the UN Environment Assembly. The resolution eventually passed by consensus after months of difficult negotiations, although as tradition dictates, it did not specifically address the conflict in eastern Ukraine’.

To read the full report:

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Soviet space dogs

Space exploration became a key aspect of Soviet propaganda, especially as space dogs were some of the first animals to survive space flight.

The most famous examples are Laika, Belka and Strelka who have been immortalised in popular culture in cartoons, comic books and writing, although altogether over 40 dogs went to space.

Following the revolution of 1917 that established the Soviet Union, pet dogs were considered to be a relic of a bourgeoisie past and citizens were encouraged to dispose of them. However, eventually dogs returned to their role in society as “man’s best friend” as communist dogs. These new dogs were expected to fulfil a role in society through working as guard dogs, hunters or by pulling sleighs.

Belka and Strelka were sent into space in 1960 and safely returned to earth the next day.  In the USSR these canine cosmonauts occupied multiple roles in society as heroes and professionals.

Laika was also represented as a hero, as well as a martyr for scientific progress in the Soviet Union. Laika’s death was incorporated into the idea of dying for the advancement of the Motherland, which was well established in the Soviet psyche, allowing her to continue fulfilling her role as an ideological hero.

Read more about Soviet space dogs:


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Kenya’s ‘killing fields’

Denying sanctuary’ or ‘draining the swamp’ is classic counter-insurgency strategy, which in Kenya also involves wildlife conservation as part of the ‘hearts and minds’ strategy.

The Kenyan security ‘sweeps’ involve not only an escalating back-drop of brutality against indigenous Kenyans as well as Al Shabaab but also murky land-grabs and American and British ‘special forces’ assistance set against the drum-beat of Kenya’s vital tourist economy.

How Kenyan wildlife conservation is being dragged into this deepening pool of security and human rights issues is little discussed but has wide-ranging implications for conservation, not least making wildlife rangers legitimate targets for Al Shabaab and undermining the credibility of conservation efforts.

Reporter, Margot Kiser, treads bravely to untangle the threads here:

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Protection plots in Stalin’s day

Abstract from: ‘Everyday Environmentalism: The Practice, Politics, and Nature of Subsidiary Farming in Stalin’s Lithuania’. By Diana Mycinte

Subsidiary farms in Soviet Lithuania during the years of intense collectivization and political repressions between 1948-1953 were a locus through which local peasants carved out a niche in the territorial, social, and political structures of the Soviet state.

In addition to the direct requisition requests from the Soviet government for three-quarters of everything they grew on the subsidiary plots, demands were also made on the peasants by the armed resistance troops located in the forests. Some sources suggest that until 1956 the Lithuanian forests hid up to 90,000 of the Lithuanian Freedom Army and their associates who were fed, clothed, and provided other necessities by collecting what they need from the impoverished peasants.

Small, semi-private land allotments are strange imbroglios in the history of collectivized agriculture in the Soviet Union. From an ideological stand-point, they are the remnants of the bourgeois regime that are not amenable to planning and, therefore, always to be condemned, attacked, and closely supervised.

While often overlooked in the analyses of Soviet environmental and agricultural histories, these land plots played a central role in the peasants’ daily lives by providing them with food and a source of social power in the villages, as well as by serving as sites through which peasants could claim a place in the Soviet state.

Because the peasants’ physical survival in this period in Lithuania depended on the harvests from the subsidiary farms and because local officials defined the peasants as ideologically malleable and suspicious “elements” to be monitored, they constructed themselves primarily as subjects of land and nature, rather than as subjects of the Soviet state.

Full article: ‘Everyday Environmentalism: The Practice, Politics, and Nature of Subsidiary Farming in Stalin’s Lithuania’

Author: Diana Mincyte

Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 68, No. 1 (Spring, 2009), pp. 31-49

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The toxic legacy of Tanzania’s ivory

The roots of Tanzania’s ivory poaching crisis are deep and historic

By Professor Keith Somerville

The recent staggering decline in Tanzania’s elephant numbers, down by 60% in less than ten years (please see previous blog), has horrified conservationists: it demonstrates the dangers facing the 400,000-600,000 elephants remaining in Africa.

Prior to the start of European colonial occupation in the closing decades of the 19th century, what was then colonial Tanganyika (becoming Tanzania in 1964) held over 20 million elephants. The progressive decline in numbers results from shrinking habitat, massive growth in human populations and use of land for agriculture, and the killing of elephants for their tusks.

The commercial trade in tusks was at its height in the 19th and early 20th century; ivory trade expert, Esmond Bradley Martin, has estimated that between 1850 and 1914, 44,000 elephants were killed annually for ivory (1).

For much of the 19th century, Tanzania the epicentre of the ivory rush to feed markets in Europe, North America and India; it had a well-established ivory trading network which was originally established along the East African coast, from Lamu in northern Kenya to Sofala in Mozambique, run by Omani Arab traders who settled on the coast to trade in ivory, spices and slaves. They traded with African peoples such as the Nyamwezi of central Tanzania and the Yao of Mozambique, who supplied ivory and slaves in return for imported goods.

The demand for ivory led to the depletion of herds near the coast and the mounting of costly expeditions into the interior, staffed by hundreds of porters and armed retainers. The Arab merchants, and the community of what became known as coastal Swahilis (descendants of inter-marriage between the Arabs and local peoples) organised the caravans, hired porters and bought ivory from inland – or took it by force of arms.

Indian, British, German and American merchants all operated in Zanzibar buying ivory to meet growing demand from the newly prosperous capitalist class in industrialising Europe and the United States, as well as existing demand in Asia. The export of ivory from Zanzibar went up from around 24,000 tusks in 1860 to more than of 100,000 pa in 1894, by which time mainland Tanzania was under German colonial rule and Zanzibar was part of the British empire.

The colonial occupation of East Africa meant that the British in Zanzibar and the Germans in Tanzania (until it was mandated to Britain by the League of Nations after WWI) became the new overlords of the ivory trade. While Arab, Swahili and Indian traders bought and exported ivory, the colonial authorities ensured they also got their share of the proceeds.  Gradually, the role of indigenous hunters declined as European sports and commercial hunters used colonialism to get priority access to big game in Africa.

Game departments were established by the British to control hunting, particularly by Africans, and provide ivory income for the colonial administrations. The establishment of protected reserves and national parks under colonialism served to further alienate local people from control over wildlife: Europeans could hunt legally, most Africans could not and were criminalized if they did, creating the divide between the white hunters and black poachers.

With Tanzanian independence in 1964, there was no major change in wildlife or hunting regulations. National parks and reserves became sources of tourist income, while in Tanzania legal hunting by commercial safari operators continued and trading ivory was still largely in the hands of the old, coastal trading communities. In 1970, the Tanzanian government declared a state monopoly over ivory, at a stroke cutting out legal commerce by the established traders, who simply took advantage of poor wages paid to government wildlife officials, the police customs and ports staff to set up networks of corruption that enabled them to continue in the trade as smugglers.

The officials retained a strong role in the ivory trade – but what was now an illegal one, teaming up with corrupt politicians to establish new, criminal syndicates to control the trade and profit from the growth in ivory prices in the 1970s and 1980s. They commissioned poachers to supply tusks to supply lucrative foreign markets.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s poaching continued with impunity which brought about by corruption at the highest levels of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, and local and national government institutions. This system of graft continues today, with the added problem of the growing Chinese involvement in the Tanzanian economy and the presence there of Chinese businessmen, technicians, workers and even diplomats, who play a role in the smuggling networks that now take ivory from Tanzania to buyers in East Asia.

Although there are periodic seizures of ivory and prosecution of syndicate ‘king-pins’, like the Chinese “Ivory Queen”, Yang Feng Lan, the system of corruption that enables poaching to continue is alive and well – which is more than can be said for tens of thousands of Tanzanian elephants killed for ivory.

  1. E.B. Martin, ‘The Great White Gold Rush’, BBC History, August 2001.

Professor Keith Somerville is a Research Associate at the Marjan Centre for the Study of War and the Non-Human Sphere at King’s College, London, and a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. Professor Somerville is author of ‘Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa’ (London, Hurst, 2016) and ‘Africa’s Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent’ (London, Penguin, 2017).

Posted in Conservation, East Africa, Illegal Wildlife Trade, Ivory | Leave a comment

– 60%: a figure that stains Tanzania

Tanzania’s elephants suffer a staggering decline as corruption-driven poaching bites

By Professor Keith Somerville, author of Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa (Hurst, 2016)

Tanzania has one of the largest savannah elephant populations in Africa with an estimated 42,871 elephants, according to the Great Elephant Census report released in 2016, which is about 12% of the continent’s population.  This makes it all the more worrying for the future of elephants that since 2007, Tanzania’s elephant population has suffered a catastrophic decline of 60% in numbers – double the rate of decline of Africa as a whole.

Why such a staggering fall in numbers?  The answer is simple and is an indictment of  the country’s wildlife authorities, law enforcement system and government – corruption and poverty.

The killing of elephants, harvesting and smuggling of tusks is a complex but flexible network that operates with political protection and impunity from arrest for the king-pins of the criminal syndicates that work with international smuggling rings (that also trade in drugs, guns and people) to export poached ivory.  Added to this is the role of Chinese workers, diplomats and businessmen in exploiting the elephants and the opportunities for corruption to feed high demand for ivory in China and elsewhere in East Asia.

Underfunding of conservation, poor pay for wildlife department staff and ubiquitous corruption in the police, public bodies and among the political elite have created an environment in which the illegal ivory trade has thrived.  The criminal syndicates have bought political protection by bribing senior politicians and government officials, which has enabled them to commission poaching, supply guns and ammunition to poachers, make “safe” the smuggling of ivory within Tanzania and then work with corrupt port, customs and airport officials to smuggle the ivory out.

One recent Tanzanian Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Khamis Kagasheki, tried to combat this naming by MPs from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party as among those helping poachers and accusing a former party secretary-general and Defence Minister, Abdulrahman Kinana of involvement in poaching and smuggling. Far from being applauded by the then president, Jakaya Kikwete, he was sacked as minister.

Kagasheki’s disclosures and investigative work by the Environmental Investigation Agency revealed a massive spider-web of corruption linking poachers, criminals, smugglers and Chinese gangs, with the latter having gradually taken over the export end of the operation pushing out the existing networks of indigenous smugglers, especially those in the large Tanzanian Asian and Afro-Shirazi business community in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar (for more details of the networks please see below).

The catastrophic decline in elephant numbers in Tanzania has seen numbers fall from about 109,000 in 2009 to just under 43,000 when the census took place there in 2015. Taking into account an annual birth rate of 5%, this means over 85,000 elephants have died – the majority of these were poached.  Natural mortality will have made up a couple of per cent of deaths a year, legal trophy hunting a little more and shooting of ‘problem’ elephants a relatively small number.

This shows that in the last ten years, scores of thousands of elephants have been poached for their tusks.  The majority have been killed in the Ruaha-Rungwa, Malagarasi-Muyovosi and Selous-Mikumi eco-systems, where two-thirds of the elephants have been killed. A very high rate of killing is also evident in northern Mozambique’s Niassa-Ruvuma area, bordering Tanzania and where Tanzanian gangs operate with little let or hindrance from the Mozambican security forces and Tanzanian border officials.

There were over 34,000 elephants in Ruaha–Rungwa region in 2009; however, this fell to 20,000 in 2013 due to poaching before plummeting further to just 8,000 in 2014. The famed Selous Game Reserve, billed as Africa’s largest game reserve, is actually a shadow of its former self; its once thriving population has fallen from 45,000 to15,00 in the same period and UNESCO had added the reserve to its ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list.

(For more details of the networks please see Keith Somerville, ‘Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa’, London: Hurst, 2016; and Environmental Investigation Agency, ‘Vanishing Point: Criminality, Corruption and the devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants’).

Professor Keith Somerville is a Research Associate at the Marjan and a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. He is also author ‘Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent’ (London, Penguin, 2017).

The second part of Professor Somerville’s examination of poaching in Tanzania will look at the historical background.

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‘White gold’: Kenya’s black tale of greed

The three ‘C’s – commerce, colonialism and criminalisation of indigenous hunting – created the illegal poaching and smuggling networks in Kenya

In the first blog on Kenya’s role in the international ivory trade, I concentrated on the current picture and examples of how corruption enables wildlife crime to flourish there. Now I will show how the trade developed, became criminalized and became a form of political patronage and criminal activity: Professor Keith Somerville, author of  ‘Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa’, (Hurst, 2016)

The killing of elephants by humans goes back millennia in Kenya. Communities that lived either by hunting (such as the Waliangulu) or by a mixture of hunting, trading and subsistence farming (like the Wakamba) had long hunted elephants to provide meat and hides. However, few communities in Kenya or the rest of East Africa placed much value on the tusks until demand for ivory from outside the region, especially from India, China, the Middle East and later Europe, created a market for ivory. Foreign merchants brought cloth, manufactured goods and other commodities in exchange for ivory.                                                   

This commerce drove the demand for ivory and the killing of elephants. By the 7th century BC, elephants living in North Africa, along the fringes of the Sahara and the Red Sea littoral had been wiped out. Trading fleets began to move down the Red Sea to present-day South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and then Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique to buy ivory. Those communities in eastern Kenya that hunted elephants for food now found a market for tusks; furthermore, the arrival of Omani Arab traders at ports like Lamu and Mombasa led to an expansion of the trade.

In the closing decade of the 19th century, colonialism changed everything as the British saw ivory as a source of wealth that could tide its colony over until cash-crops like coffee and tea brought in revenue. Indigenous Kenyan communities were banned from hunting elephants and the colonial government encouraged settlers and European hunters to harvest ivory for export which led to the criminalization of local hunting as well as the alienation of local communities from wildlife resources and the marginalization of the Omani Arab and Indian coastal Swahili traders who controlled the trade. However, the bans failed to stop hunting by the communities or trading outside the British-controlled system, leading to networks being established that were ‘illegal’ in the eyes of the British authorities but merely perpetuated long established trading patterns.

With Kenyan independence in 1963 there was a change of guard politically but local people were still banned from hunting; however, the government set out not only to monopolise the ivory trade but also to enrich themselves through the illegal networks, thus in a back-handed way actually institutionalising the illegal trade. A similar counter-factual process of institutionalisation occurred in South Africa after the Apartheid government ended, when a ‘blind eye’ was turned to the vast ivory and rhino horn smuggling networks that had been previously established by the former South African army.

The new government of Jomo Kenyatta used ivory as a form political patronage and wealth creation; Kenyatta issued permits which allowed Kenyans to trade in what was supposedly natural mortality ivory, but the permit system was abused on a massive scale to launder poached ivory with even Kenyatta’s daughter Margaret (Mayor of Nairobi 1970- 76) benefitting from the system by using export permits issued by her father to legalise ivory she had illegally obtained.

A massive network of corruption developed that went right to the heart of the political, civil service and business elite: when Richard Leakey was appointed head of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in 1989 he found it riddled with corruption, with poaching, incompetence and corruption having reduced Kenya’s elephants from 40,000 to 5,000 in 20 years.

A few months before Leakey’s appointment, four Kenyan police officers were arrested transporting poached ivory in a government vehicle; at the time of the arrests KWS said it was working hard to combat corrupt officials and policemen who were assisting poachers and smugglers. The problem, though, is that the KWS itself is not above suspicion; in an interview in 2013 before he returned as head the KWS, Leakey told the East African Wildlife Society journal Swara that while graft was widespread in 1989 ‘not much seems to have changed’.

The long and dark history of the trade in Kenya and the extent of corruption within the political system and government administration give little hope that for all the government’s protestations about fighting corruption and ending the ivory trade there is any prospect of that in the near future.

Professor Keith Somerville is a Research Associate at the Marjan Centre and is a member of the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent.

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