Strategic conservation: a thought

As the rapidly declining levels of biodiversity attest, conservation needs lots of new ideas – and fast – so any new approach such as ‘kaizen conservation’ is to be welcome.

Cambridge university conservationist, Professor William Sutherland recent suggested that conservation should adopt the Japanese practice of ‘kaizen’ which is a collective commitment to identifying and delivering improvement, apparently a key to the success of Toyota car manufacturing.

My suggestion involves what might be termed ‘strategic conservation’, the word ‘strategic’ referencing a carefully considered plan as well as the use of force, about which a little more shortly.

The strategic plan is to protect key areas of biodiversity that carry global importance: given the lack of conservation resources these have to be limited in number and conform to a set of agreed criteria such as impact on human well-being and biodiversity importance.

The recent furore surrounding the wildfires in the Amazon has highlighted how protecting regional biodiversity has global implications; furthermore it has highlighted how decisions about protecting globally important biodiversity cannot be left to local politicians – too much is at stake.

We can all think of many examples that conform to the above criteria.

Invoking the word ‘force’ in relation to conservation inevitably provokes questions about ‘militarisation’; to be clear, ‘force’ is simply the application of power and can be applied in a number of ways, from ‘hard power’ which suggests a military option across to ‘soft power’ that suggests persuasion and diplomacy based on power relationships.

Under ‘strategic conservation’ protection would be carried out by contingents under strict United Nations supervision; there are precedents here that include the ‘Greenhelmets’ initiative  suggested by Gorbachev that faded when the Soviet Union collapsed, in 2015 UN’s MINUSCA peace-keeping troops worked in partnership with the administrators of the Dzanga Sangha national park in Central African Republic (CAR) along with UN Security Council Resolution 2127 that allowed small arms and related equipment to be used ‘in international patrols providing security in the Sangha River Tri-National Protected Area to defend against poaching, [and the] smuggling of ivory and arms’.

So, in summary, ‘strategic conservation’ looks something like this:

  • A limited list of critical biodiversity areas drawn up under an international panel.
  • An international protection force deployed under UN mandate; only armed under exceptional circumstances and under strict supervision.
  • The ‘mandate’ to have a time-limit that can be cancelled/renewed after discussion.

Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

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Birds make diplomatic moves

Ornithology is very rarely linked to international geo-politics, but conservation of the Red Crowned Cranes and Black-faced Spoonbills in the Korean peninsula, as well as the water-birds of the East Asian-Australian Flyway and the glorious avifauna of Colombia, have highlighted how birds are establishing a niche in international and security relations.

While ‘environmental peace-building’ as a concept that uses the environment and biodiversity as a ‘bridge’ for peace-making and post-conflict rebuilding invites good intentions, actual examples are much less frequent as the grim reality of logistics and diplomacy crash in.

However, efforts to protect the rare cranes and spoonbills in the Korean peninsula, along with the water-birds of the East Asian-Australian Flyway, all provide a refreshing alternative perspective to the posturing and tub-thumping of North Korean leader, Jong-un Kim, and Donald Trump: the process also highlights the culturally interesting academic and political activity of Dr Chong Jong-ryol in Tokyo.

Living in both Korean states where they are strictly protected, the iconic and majestic Red Crowned Crane is an auspicious symbol of good luck, happiness, and long life for all Koreans.

Last March, The Convention on Wetlands, better known as the RAMSAR Convention, conducted a seminar at Kumgangsan (Mt. Kumgang) in North Korea with 25 experts drawn from environmental institutions in North Korea and other countries to prepare an inventory of wetlands in North Korea, with significant support from the German-based Hanns Seidel Foundation (please see link 1 below).

While the environmental effects of the North Korean famine in the mid-1990s – described by journalist Richard Lloyd-Parry as ‘a catastrophe comparable to those in Rwanda or Cambodia’ *- stimulated rampant deforestation and soil erosion, flooding and landslides, one side- effect less remarked upon was the disappearance of animal and bird life, partly due to hunting but also because of rapid environmental degradation.

Conversely, during that period, Colombia’s brutal civil war allowed its bird-life to flourish via the ‘refuge effect’, with human activity, especially farming and rampant logging, reduced. However, following the recent peace treaty signed between FARC and the government, tourism is gradually developing, with bird tourism leading the way: Colombia has over 1,900 species of birds, more than any other country, with a northern birding trail recently established as a joint project between Colombian NGO’s and the Audubon Society, the biggest bird-conservation charity in the United States.

‘Not all that long ago the FARC roamed the Sierra Nevada. Could some of its former fighters, now gathered in temporary camps, find new, peaceful livelihoods as birding guides or in conservation’, asks The Economist (please see link 2 below).

Meanwhile, the initiative to protect the cranes and establish links with North Korea has been driven by the energetic Dr Chong Jong-ryol, a professor in the Korea University in Tokyo: this institution is part of a curious anomaly in Japan that allows locally-based ethnic Koreans to maintain close cultural and educational links with North Korea through several institutions in Japan including Chongryon, with its network of banks, schools and the university employing Dr Chong Jong-ryol, allowing him to combine his two passions – North Korea and bird-life.



* ‘Advantage Pyongyan’; Richard Lloyd-Parry, London Review of Books, 9 May 2013, review of The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha, Bodley Head.

Posted in Birds, Colombia, Korean peninsula, Peacebuilding | Leave a comment

Fishing in dangerous waters

The tendency to treat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) as a minor regulatory violation often obscures the true nature of the dynamics at play. Most notably, a broad failure to note is that the systematic nature of IUU fishing means that its security dimensions are under- appreciated, highlighted in a recent paper produced by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), London titled ‘Below the Surface: How Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Threatens our security’.*

Successive FAO State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture reports tell an alarming tale of declining fish-stocks and collapsing marine and coastal ecosystems. The FAO reports that in 2013 90% of global fish-stocks were over-fished or fully fished – to say nothing of the knock-on ecological consequences of these declines.

IUU fishing is now recognised as one of the primary drivers of this over-exploitation, lying at the heart of today’s fisheries management crisis. By its nature, IUU activity contravenes laws and regulations, many designed expressly to reduce the environmental impact of global fishing.

Greenpeace, among others, paints a vivid picture of the collapse of China’s domestic fishing-grounds due to over-fishing, the use of destructive fishing methods, and a fisheries management system unequipped to respond. Over decades, fishing many times over maximum sustainable yields and the use of bottom-trawlers have caused extensive damage to deep-sea habitats. This has led to the disappearance of some of the most valuable commercially exploited species in the East China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea – the last of these now commonly known as the ‘empty sea’.

The human security impact of the depletion of fish stocks on which communities rely are multiple. One of the greatest concerns relates to food security: in 2013, fish accounted for as much as 17% of the global population’s intake of animal protein.

Fish constitutes a particularly crucial food source in developing countries, most notably densely populated and small-island developing states. Fish contribute at least 50% of total animal protein intake in states such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

The FAO  estimates that fisheries account for 2.7% of GDP in Madagascar, 3.7% in Mozambique and as  much as 6.6% in Zanzibar, when factoring in gross value-added from fishing, aquaculture, post-harvest and licensing for local fleets. In these countries, the economic losses from IUU fishing contribute substantially to already vast unrecorded money flows escaping them in growing volumes.

In its organised criminal form, the threat from IUU fishing is comparable to that posed by other transnational organised crime types, about which a great deal more has been written in general. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of all forms of organised crime, large-scale IUU fishing included, is the danger they pose to effective state functioning as national economies are undercut and as associated corruption eats away at state institutions.

* ‘Below the Surface: How Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Threatens our security’: written by Cathy Haenlein, RUSI Research Fellow and Marjan Centre Research Associate.

Please click here to download the full paper:

Posted in Environmental Impact, Fishing, Resources, Transnational Crime, War and ecosytems | Leave a comment

Projecting ‘green force’


Peter Denton, Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the Royal Military College of Canada, has recently been exploring the idea of ‘Green Force’, an argument that calls for the military to fully engage with creating a global sustainable future.

 Denton argues that the same environmental principles and regulations should be applied to military affairs, domestic and foreign, as they are to individuals and institutions in society; just as crucially, there should not be any exemption for how the military undertakes military operations.

It is vital to focus on climate change, argues Denton, because understanding the mechanisms of climate change will increasingly have security implications and should therefore be considered a fundamental consideration for militaries worldwide.

In the aftermath of the human and environmental devastation of war outside intervention involving military forces is often essential, argues Denton: ‘if those interventions are undertaken in ways to minimize possibilities for future conflicts, restore and rebuild ecosystems and infrastructure, and provide the means for local populations to support themselves, they can create a foundation for a sustainable future in that place. There is, moreover, a growing body of excellent work that demonstrates the importance and the necessity of interweaving environment and peace building, with examples drawn from a wide range of global experiences’.

To read the full article:

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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:

Posted in Africa, Conservation, Kenya, Wildlife crime | Leave a comment