Sunday, December 16, 2012

We need to work together to save Africa’s threatened wildlife from greedy poachers

By ROBERT F. GODEC

Africa’s wildlife is under threat as never before.

Trafficking in ivory, rhino horn, and other wildlife products is more organised, widespread, and dangerous than they have been in the past.

Under the onslaught of violence, animal populations are dropping. In 1980, Kenya had 175,000 elephants, while today there are just 40,000. Other species, including rhinos, may soon be extinct in the wild.

We are all harmed by this senseless slaughter. Africans who depend on wildlife tourism lose their jobs. Communities and villages are undermined and threatened by the violence. Park rangers are killed.

From 2006 to 2012 the Kenya Wildlife Service lost 12 rangers in the fight against poachers. And as elephants, rhinos, and other animals are indiscriminately killed, the magnificent beauty and diversity of our natural world are destroyed.

It is time for all of us to respond to this threat. At the US embassy in Nairobi, we work to help Kenya protect its wildlife.

We collaborate closely with the government of Kenya and civil society as part of a broad effort to address the growing threat of poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Over the past 50 years, we have provided training and equipment to the Kenya Wildlife Service and have carried out many programmes to protect the country’s parks and animals.

One of our joint projects with KWS is the Kenya Wildlife Conservation Project, which seeks to strengthen the management of Kenya’s national parks and reserves.

The project strengthens the “corporate capacity” of KWS to promote community-centred wildlife management and biodiversity conservation.

A successful example is the introduction of the Safaricard — an online smartcard system for collecting park fees.

Together, our efforts have also resulted in the expansion of community-based conservation and led to the creation of Kenya’s first voluntary conservation easement, which provides protected land to allow the free flow of animals into and out of Nairobi National Park.

The US embassy has also partnered with civil society, local government, and communities to develop and obtain approval for Kenya’s first Land Use Master Plan for the greater Nairobi area to facilitate healthy co-existence of humans and wildlife within the rapidly expanding cityscape.

Beyond efforts here in Kenya to protect animals from poachers, we must also work together to drive down the demand for ivory, rhino horn, and other wildlife products.

The US government is working to spread the message that buying goods and products from trafficked wildlife and endangered species is unacceptable.

We want “friends telling friends” they do not want to be associated with people who consume, display, or otherwise use products that come from endangered species anywhere in the world.

We need to put an end to the idea that people can enhance their social status through wildlife products and ensure that everyone understands the damage poaching is doing. For example, a 2011 survey by the International Fund for Animal Welfare showed that 70 per cent of Chinese consumers think elephants are not slaughtered for their ivory. This misperception must be corrected.

While putting a stop to poaching will not be easy, we can succeed if we work together. We need governments, civil society, businesses, scientists, and activists to come together to educate people about the harm of wildlife trafficking.

We need law enforcement personnel and park rangers to stop poachers from preying on wildlife.

We need trade experts to track the movement of goods and help enforce existing trade laws. We need finance experts to study and help close the black markets that deal in wildlife products.

And most importantly, we need to persuade individuals to stop buying ivory, rhino horn, and other products that require the slaughter of wildlife.

In short, we need to galvanise bold, comprehensive, worldwide action against poaching. We need to stop the organised and criminal slaughter of wildlife.

Doing so will protect not just the animals, but also the livelihood of many Kenyans, the diversity of the natural world, and the heritage of future generations. We can all do more. Let us work together to end this scourge.

The writer is the US ambassador to Kenya