Kenya’s criminal ivory tower

Behind the ivory burning and fine words lies corruption and smuggling. (Part 1 of 2).

By Professor Keith Somerville, author of recently published ‘Ivory: power and poaching in Africa’.

On 30th April 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to over 100 tons of ivory – which had cost the lives of over 6,000 elephants. Most of the ivory had been seized from poachers in Kenya or from smugglers using the country to illegally export ivory from elsewhere in Africa.

Staged as a huge media event during an international summit in Nairobi organised by the Giants Club (an organisation linking global businessmen, heads of state and animal welfare NGO’s), the burning of the tusks was supposed to send a message that that the campaign against poaching would be stepped up and that the illegal trade must be stopped.

President Kenyatta used the event to try to improve the image of a country beset by problems of smuggling, poaching, incompetent management of wildlife resources and massive political and civil service corruption that has aided and abetted criminal activity of all kinds, especially the illegal ivory trade

As he lit the ivory pyre Kenyatta said: ‘t his will send an absolutely clear message that the trade in ivory must come to an end and our elephants must be protected.’ He pledged to press for an absolute ban on ivory trading at the upcoming CITES conference and to encourage other countries to burn ivory stocks.

At the CITES conference held in Johannesburg that September, Kenya pushed hard but failed to get the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe listed on CITES Appendix 1, which would have  blocked those countries from applying to CITES for permission to trade legally in ivory.

However, it perhaps would have been better for Kenya to have put its own house in order before trying to tell states that have expanding elephant populations how to manage their ivory.

While Kenya has achieved some success in reducing ivory poaching, it still has a major problem: The Great Elephant Census, released in August 2016, said Kenya’s elephant population was 25,959, down on an estimate given by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in 2014 of 28,000 elephants.

With census figures showing a ratio of carcasses to live elephants of 13%, ‘carcass ratios of more than 8 percent are considered to indicate poaching at a high  enough level to cause a declining population’, added the census report.

Even more worrying is the level of corruption, underfunding and incompetence in the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) as well as the ports and customs services that all enable huge quantities of ivory to be smuggled out of Kenya.

Despite promises by the Kenyatta government to crack down on graft, it remains massive: Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring group, said in late 2015 that Mombasa port was an example of the tie-up between international smuggling syndicates and the Kenyan political elite, with the latter protecting and then benefitting financially from the activities of the former.

A recent example was reported by Kenya’s Star newspaper in November 2016, when the role of senior Kenya Ports Authority and Kenya Revenue Authority officers in ivory smuggling was revealed after customs officials in Vietnam seized an ivory consignment in two containers from Mombasa labelled ‘timber’.

A few weeks earlier, Interpol announced that it had issued an international arrest warrant for two smugglers behind the shipping of ivory in a consignment of tea from Mombasa worth Kenyan Sh570 million that was seized in Singapore in April 2015 – again with the collusion of port and customs officials.                                                                                                                                             (Part 2 will look at the history of the ivory trade in Kenya and the origins of the networks of corruption, political graft and crime).

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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Stalin’s ‘green’ gamble,204,203,200_.jpg

The Soviets are often viewed as insatiable industrialists who saw nature as a force to be tamed and exploited.

Song of the Forest counters this assumption, uncovering significant evidence of Soviet conservation efforts in forestry, particularly under Josef Stalin. In his compelling study, Stephen Brain profiles the leading Soviet-era conservationists, agencies, and administrators, and their efforts to formulate forest policy despite powerful ideological differences.

By the time of the revolution of 1905, modern Russian forestry science had developed an influential romantic strand, especially prevalent in the work of Georgii Morozov, whose theory of “stand types” asked forest managers to consider native species and local conditions when devising plans for regenerating forests. After their rise to power, the Bolsheviks turned their backs on this tradition and adopted German methods, then considered the most advanced in the world, for clear-cutting and replanting of marketable tree types in “artificial forests.”

Later, when Stalin’s Five Year Plan required vast amounts of timber for industrialization, forest radicals proposed “flying management,” an exaggerated version of German forestry where large tracts of virgin forest would be clear-cut. Opponents who still upheld Morozov’s vision favored a conservative regenerating approach, and ultimately triumphed by establishing the world’s largest forest preserve.

Another radical turn came with the Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature, implemented in 1948. Narrow “belts” of new forest planted on the vast Russian steppe would block drying winds, provide cool temperatures, trap moisture, and increase crop production. Unfortunately, planters were ordered to follow the misguided methods of the notorious Trofim Lysenko, and the resulting yields were abysmal. But despite Lysenko, agency infighting, and an indifferent peasant workforce, Stalin’s forestry bureaus eventually succeeded in winning many environmental concessions from industrial interests. In addition, the visionary teachings of Morozov found new life, ensuring that the forest’s song did not fall upon deaf ears

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Ivory Wars


Joanna Lewis, Assistant Professor, Department of International History at the London School of Economics (LSE) writes:

‘Anyone who believes that China’s recent pledge to ban the ivory trade by the end of 2017 will make a difference to the threat hanging over African elephants will have a rude awakening after reading Keith Somerville’s devastating and majestic history of the supply chain from Africa.

Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa is a gripping, bloody and scholarly narrative dedicated to two groups of brave people: those who risk their lives to save elephants; and those who argue that banning the ivory trade is not the answer.’

Read more here of the review:

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Where poppies blow

Melissa Harrison in The Financial Times reviews ‘Where Poppies Blow’:

What an interesting man John Lewis-Stempel is.

A farmer, nature writer and historian, he has written extensively on the British military and the First World War; he won the 2015 Thwaites Wainwright prize for Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field; and this year he published The Running Hare, a [ BBC] Radio 4 Book of the Week in May [2016]. Now he has combined his two great interests to produce a painstakingly researched and deeply moving account of the relationship between soldiers and Nature on the Western Front from 1914-18.

“One realised how close one was living to nature, closer perhaps than ever before, and the thought that possibly each dawn might be the last accentuated the delight,” wrote Private Norman Edwards of 6/Gloucestershire Regiment from Ploegsteert Wood, Flanders, in May 1915. “The dawns at this time were particularly beautiful. Before any definite light appeared, the larks would soar up and a faint twittering in the wood grew to a buzz of noise as the birds stood-to with us.”

Great numbers of those at the front were bird-lovers, and even those who were not had a much better working knowledge of birds (and of natural history in general) than most of us today. Combine that with boredom and a desperate need for respite and it’s no surprise that so many soldiers spent time bird-watching, egg-collecting, submitting ornithological articles and records and writing poems about birds – particularly the familiar and indomitable skylarks, which seemed so bravely to scorn the aerial hell of artillery.

Read more of Melissa Harrison’s review here:

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Jet-setting with the DoD

JP-8 or JP8 (‘Jet Propellant 8’) is a jet fuel specified and used widely by the US military, and is similar to commercial aviation’s Jet A-1 but with the addition of corrosion inhibitor and anti-icing additives. A kerosene-based fuel, JP-8 is projected to remain in use at least until 2025 and was first introduced at NATO bases in 1978.

More than 75% of the fuel used today by the Department of Defense (DoD) of the United States is used for the transporting and conveying of fuel prior to arrival at its final destination.

The DoD is the largest institutional consumer of energy worldwide, accounting for 80-90% of US government energy use; if  the DoD were compared to a country, it would rank 21st in GDP – between Switzerland and Sweden .

The DoD specifics are taken from ‘Ecologies of Power: Counter Mapping the Logistical Landscapes and Military Geographies of the U.S. Department of Defense, compiled and written by landscape architect and urbanist, Pierre Belanger, and doctoral student in Geography, Alexander Arroyo.

Publisher MIT Press writes: ‘through this perpetual cycle of build up and breakdown, the U.S. Department of Defense—the single largest developer, landowner, equipment contractor, and energy consumer in the world—has engineered a planetary assemblage of “operational environments” in which militarized, demilitarized, and non-militarized landscapes are increasingly inextricable’.

Blogger extraordinaire, Regine, comments at ‘We Make Money Nor Art’:

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Russia’s burning secrets


Image result for burning fields russia

In the summer of 2010 during a record heat-wave, central Russia burned. Muscovites and residents of surrounding areas were choked by toxic smoke from the peat-bog fires surrounding the capital. This state of affairs was the logical conclusion of a history of the management of “nature” dating back to early Soviet times, when the peat-bogs were drained by the Soviet state to supply fuel to electrical power stations, and never reflooded after natural gas was discovered in Siberia. It is also the result of more recent reforms, which deregulated and privatized the Russian forestry sector. In 2007, President Putin’s new Russian Forestry Code privatized all forests and related lands, collectively known as “The Forest Fund,” that were previously under governmental jurisdiction; it also cut 75 percent of the forest guards that prevented and combatted fires.

It is in this cultural climate of distrust and nostalgia that the Anastasia movement, also known as the Ringing Cedars movement, emerged. The movement is based on the “Ringing Cedars” books by Vladimir Megre, which, beneath all their esoteric and cosmological details, advocate a nationwide land reform and a society based on self-sufficient, multi-generational homesteads practicing small-scale agriculture.

Virtually no scholarship exists on this phenomenon. To the extent that it is mentioned by Russian academics, it is either in the context of work on mysticism and related practices (Markovin 2002), or briefly referenced in a critique of technocracy (Tarasovskaya et al. 2010:317); Western academics have not engaged with it at all.

Read more of Veronica Davidov’s article ‘Beyond Formal Environmentalism: Eco-Nationalism and ‘the ‘Ring Cedars’ of Russia

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Razor-wire borders halt wildlife

The Balkan region, already threatened by the construction of highways and dams, is now being carved into increasingly constricted and less hospitable chunks by a new threat: border fencing. Those effects are now being felt by the region’s migratory wild animals.

In the past year or so, hundreds of miles of razor wire-topped barriers have been erected across southeastern Europe in an effort to halt the movement of refugees escaping wars and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa.

Even as the migration crisis has eased this year, fences continue to go up. Not only do the fences kill wildlife and lead to genetic isolation, according to a June 2016 study published in the journal PLOS Biology, but these barriers also hamper the efforts of organizations such as the European Wilderness Society (EWS), which is working to protect and expand existing wilderness throughout Europe.

Read more at:

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Sorting fact from fiction

Former British Foreign Secretary, The Rt Hon William Hague, will chair the launch of a joint publication by the Marjan Centre with the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI) called ‘Poaching, Wildlife Trafficking and Security in Africa: Myths and Realities’ which scrutinises common narratives on poaching and wildlife trafficking as threats to security.

The in-depth investigation, one of RUSI’s long-established ‘Whitehall Paper’ series, gives the most detailed picture yet of the range of security threats posed by poaching and wildlife trafficking by critically analysing four core narratives: poaching and wildlife trafficking as threats to human security, as drivers of conflict, as funders of terrorism, and as a focus for organised crime.

In doing so, the report seeks to sort myth from reality, in an effort to clarify how poaching and wildlife trafficking, as much-cited threats to security, can most accurately be conceived.

Until now, a series of powerful narratives have dominated, often in the absence of detailed empirical research and analysis to back them up.

An in-depth study of these narratives is crucial to the efforts of those now rightly looking to respond not just to threat to endangered species, but also to the security and well-being of human beings.

At the launch the editors – Professor M L R Smith, Head of  the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and Cathy Haenlein, Research Fellow at RUSI – will discuss the evolution of the project and some of the main findings. A selection of chapter authors will then discuss their research, including vivid reports back from counter-poaching operations in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

To attend this event, please contact Lieke Bos on Copies of the ‘Whitehall Paper’ will be available to purchase at the event.

Date:      Thursday, 12 January, 2017

Time:     10:00 am

Venue:   RUSI,Whitehall

Posted in Africa, Conservation, Illegal Wildlife Trade, Militarisation of Nature, Rhinos, War and conservation | Leave a comment

The bleeding heart of Africa: blood ivory

‘Blood ivory’ – ivory sold to fund militia insurgency and terrorism – is widely debated but often misunderstood as elephant populations in central Africa face obliteration (as opposed to extinction by natural processes) within the next decade if not five years.

Leading expert with a broad overview of ‘blood ivory’, Keith Somerville, will be joined by a conservation practitioner, former French army officer, Stephane Crayne, who has recent direct experience of the central African elephant poaching crisis, in a double presentation and award ceremony titled ‘The bleeding heart of Africa: central Africa’s elephants.’ The award will be at King’s College, London to which the public is invited (entrance free).

Both will receive the 2016 Marjan Marsh Award that is given to people who have made a significant contribution to conservation in areas experiencing conflict. The award is a joint undertaking between the Marjan Centre for the Study of War and the Non Human Sphere located within the Department of War Studies, King’s College, and the Marsh Christian Trust.

Keith Somerville is an academic who has tracked the deeper background issues of politics, culture and history embedded within Africa’s ivory poaching; this has led to numerous articles and books on the topic including the recently published ‘Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa: this sweeping overview builds on Keith’s previous work looking at the links between ivory poaching and central Africa’s terror-militia groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Janjaweed.
When Stephane Crayne switched from the army to conservation he soon found himself ‘thrown in at the deep end’, dealing with the aftermath of a mass slaughter of elephants in the world-famous Sangha Sangha National Park in the Central African Republic.An alumni of the War Studies MA programme, Stephane’s scholar-soldier background makes him much in demand for conservation work, having recently moved to the extremely challenging and troubled Okapi park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Event: The bleeding heart of Africa: central Africa’s elephants

Date: November 23

Time: 6.00 pm

Location: The Pyramid Room, Floor 4, Strand Campus, King’s College, London (postcode). Please take the lift to Floor 4 and follow the signs

Entrance: free

Contact: Jasper Humphreys for queries/information/directions. (tel: 07811345390;

Posted in Africa, poaching, War and conservation | Leave a comment

Colombia’s post-conflict ‘green’ audit

As Colombia stumbles to a post-war reconciliation, the focus turns to rebuilding the shattered environment as well as using environmental rebuilding as an ecological development, post-conflict rebuilding tool.

Home to almost 10 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, Colombia is listed as a “megadiverse” country by the Convention on Biological Diversity, being home to 314 different types of ecosystems.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) the conflict not only has led to huge environmental destruction, especially deforestation and soil degradation caused by illicit crops, but additionally land-mines planted during the conflict have also made Colombia home to the second largest number of land-mine victims in world after Afghanistan.

“The environment is essential for achieving post-conflict reconciliation and stabilization at the global level,” wrote Arnaud Peral, UNDP’s Colombia Resident Representative. “In Colombia, a culturally and biologically diverse country, such resources are of paramount importance.”

One of the ironies of the conflict is the ‘refuge effect’, with conflict in Colombia slowing down environmental exploitation: while somewhere between 5.8 – 6.7 million people have been displaced 6.5 – 10 million hectares of land either abandoned or taken illegally.

According to the Colombian-based Humboldt Institute, the high levels of deforestation are also attributable to structural social and political weaknesses not directly attributable to the war; furthermore, the extractive and agricultural and livestock industry models are often illegally intertwined with political power.

For more please click on:

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