Great gray beasts win in Kenya

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2000:

NAIROBI, Kenya––Elephants and whales are safer, if still far from saved, as outcome of the April 10-20 eleventh triennial meeting of the 151 member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The CITES triennial was still underway as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press. On April 15, however, the delegates rejected a Japanese proposal to reopen legal traffic in gray whale products, 63-44 with 16 abstentions.

On April 17, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa cut a five-way deal which restored the 1989-1997 moratorium on international ivory sales, at least until 2002, when it is again to be reviewed.

Pending but not expected to pass after the Japanese defeat were three joint Japanese/Norwegian proposals to allow trade involving specific populations of minke whales. Minke whales are abundant in most of their range, but trade in minke meat is banned because minkes are smaller lookalikes for several rare species. Genetic testing can discern the difference, but only after a particular whale is killed.

The defeated gray whale proposal might have allowed the Makah tribe of Neah Bay, Washington, to sell whale meat to Japan––the initial stated reason why the Makah in 1995 declared their intent to resume whaling, using a treaty right granted in 1851. The Makah invoked a cultural pretext for whaling later, to evade the International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling in effect since 1986.

The Japanese proposal was meant to undercut IWC authority to continue to protect gray whales, who were removed in 1995 from the U.S. endangered species list.

The Makah killed their first gray whale since 1928 in May 1999. They were trying to kill another at press time.

Julie Woodyer of the Vancouver Humane Society and Zoocheck Canada reportedly escaped serious injury but was taken by stretcher from the World Whale Police boat Tigger on April 17 after two U.S. Coast Guard cutters tried to bump the T i g g er away from the Makah whaling canoe. The canoe is towed by a power boat. Tigger skipper Bill Moss was arrested.

The CITES elephant deal fell short of restoring a total ban on elephant-related trade, as India and Kenya had proposed. South Africa may still sell live elephants and elephant hides. Poachers rarely take hides because of the time required to skin an elephant.

“This buys time,” said Wildlife Works president Mike Korchinsky, who offered daily updates on the CITES action. “The climate was not right for full protection,” Korchinsky continued. “The pro-trade lobby was very strong, and the bias of the CITES Secretariat and many delegations is that if an animal commodity can be traded, it should be, unless compelling evidence of a threat of extinction can be produced. Time gives us a chance,” Korchinsky added, “to demonstrate a truly sustainable solution balancing the needs of rural communities with the right to life of the elephant.” Meanwhile, Korchinsky said, “We need to ensure accurate monitoring and enforcement of the ivory ban, so that at the next conference we are not debating the tragedy of not sending a stronger message, to prevent poachers from stockpiling ivory pending the next decision of CITES.”

Wildlife Works

Wildlife Works is an unusual for-profit community development project formed by Korchinsky, who is a Canadian clothing entrepreneur now living in San Francisco, and Benjamin Woodley, who is son of longtime Tsavo National Park warden Bill Woodley; brother of two other senior KWS wardens; and half-brother to Gillian Woodley, manager of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust animal orphanage at Nairobi National Park.

Incorporated in September 1997, Wildlife Works runs a 15,000-acre private sanctuary and souvenir t-shirt manufacturing plant near Tsavo, on the road to Mombasa.

The investor-based nonlethal Wild-life Works approach to sharing the wealth from wildlife tourism stands in stark contrast to the hunting-focused CAMPFIRE program in Zimbabwe, which has survived a decade only with $29 million in subsidies from USAid.

As in 1997, Zimbabwe came to CITES touting the claimed success of CAMPFIRE in preventing poaching. Zimbabwe acknowledges losing 84 elephants to poachers in 1999, but claims the poachers were mostly based in Zambia. Other sources put the 1999 toll at 350-400, and suggest that the poachers have strong Zimbabwean ties even if they are hiding out––and also poaching––in Zambia.

Whatever the case, economic and political unrest in Zimbabwe indicates that CAMPFIRE is not solving the nation’s rural economic problems. At least 425 farms owned by Zimbabweans of European descent have been invaded in recent months by landless ex-soldiers in the militia which in 1980 captured the former Rhodesia, ending apartheid and bringing President Robert Mugabe to power.

As the trouble spread, Mugabe on March 8 imposed censorship of e-mail––just in time to suppress distribution of an opinion poll ordered by the Helen Suzman Foundation of South Africa, which found that 63% of Zimbabwean voters would like a change of government, and that 65% believe Mugabe should resign, with two years left in his term.

Later in March, Mugabe accepted the resignation of Department of National Parks and Management head Willas Makombe. Accused of extensive corruption, Makombe made a handy scapegoat. He was succeeded by deputy finance director Walter Kanhanga.

Similar trouble compromised South African claims of successful elephant conservation via lethal management.

“Hot on the heels of the Maluleke tribe being allowed to hunt Kruger National Park’s elephants on tribal land abutting the park,” one well-placed person complained in a memo shared with ANIMAL PEOPLE, “which has been happening for years in some private reserves adjoining Kruger, there is public talk of allowing hunting inside Kruger.”

That memo, plus leaked National Parks Board documents, seemed to confirm despite official denials that senior personnel were hoping to reap a bonanza by culling 963 elephants from the Kruger herd immediately, and killing between 400 and 1,000 more elephants in each of the next five years––all exactly as alleged by Fiona Macleod of the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian in a March 10 expose. Disclosed a week after former Mpumalanga Parks Board finance director Nico Krugel drew 10 years in jail for looting Mpumalanga by various means, the alleged Kruger scheme would have been legal––if all the money went where it was supposed to––and apparently needed only CITES permission to sell ivory in order to proceed.

South African minister of environmental affairs and tourism Valli Moosa fought Indian and Kenyan opposition to ivory-selling by accusing them of mismanagement.

The pro-hunting and ”sustainable use” World Wildlife Fund supported Moosa by pointing out that while poachers have killed 414 elephants in Kenya since 1992, 428 Kenyan elephants have been killed for rampaging outside protected habitat.

An investigation commissioned by CITES itself found meanwhile that corruption is so endemic in India that funding Indian tiger protection work tends to be futile––not helping tigers, and perhaps speeding their loss.

But neither the Indian nor the Kenyan CITES delegations ever denied that corruption plagues their wildlife protection efforts. Both the Indian delegation and the Kenya Wildlife Service under former East African Wildlife Society president Nehemiah Rotich represent reform movements recently enfranchised by public disgust with the corruption that preceded them.

The Indian and Kenyan delegations merely pointed out that increasing the opportunity and incentive for corrupt people to deal in contraband would not help solve the problem.

Rotich himself on March 20 released a report by Save The Elephants which hinted that even the CITES triennial could become a venue for ivory smuggling.

Begun in 1993 by elephant researcher Ian Douglas-Hamilton, who did his major work in Tanzania, Save The Elephants is based in Britain with a Kenyan field office.

“One of the main findings of this study,” wrote Save The Elephants investigators Daniel Stiles and Esmond Bradley Martin, “is that diplomats and personnel from international organizations such as the United Nations,” the umbrella for CITES, “are today some of the major buyers of ivory.”

Some disguise ivory as other materials, Stiles and Bradley Martin said. Others move ivory inside sealed diplomatic pouches.

Upset victory

Against both overt and covert foes, few observers dared suggest that the newly revitalized Kenya Wildlife Service could win more than token concessions, as meeting host, from the CITES triennial.

“The Kenyan delegation, composed mostly of KWS officials, is hardly as strong as the South African team, made up of wellendowed lobby groups and representatives of communities neighboring game sanctuaries,” fretted Ken Opala of The Nation, the leading Kenyan newspaper, as the triennial began. “There are reports that unlike Kenya, the southern African states have spread their lobbying beyond the conference hall. They are visiting delegates in hotels and social places.

The Kenyan team does not even have topcream government officials to give it weight,” Opala continued. “The minister concerned and his assistants have been away, probably campaigning” in a regional by-election.

Rotich had never before led a CITES delegation; KWS science advisor Paula Kahumbu, 37, was unjustly dismissed as young and female; and KWS elephant biologist Samuel Kazeki, a decade younger, had never even attended a CITES meeting.

The Kenyan delegation also included none of the European-descended stars of elephant conservation who waged CITES battles in the past––much to the alarm of reporters who did not understand the confidence invested in the Rotich team by Richard Leakey, Daphne Sheldrick, Cynthia Moss, et al.

What Sheldrick and her daughter Gillian Woodley could do most usefully, they predicted to ANIMAL PEOPLE in October 1999, was show baby elephants orphaned by poachers to news media. That they did, while Rotich et al represented Kenya.

A March 18 rally in Nairobi put Kenyan public opinion clearly on the record.

“Several thousand Kenyans marched,” recounted Saba Douglas-Hamilton of Ele-Action Initiative. “They came from every part of Kenyan society––concerned professionals, nomadic Samburu and Masaai pastoralists, shamba-farmers, coastal Swahili communities, representatives from community-owned elephant sanctuaries, school children, university students, expatriates, African Asians, white Kenyans, Japanese exchange students…The parade was organized by KWS, Ele-Action, and Youth for Conservation, but the people who came were free agents.”

The CITES triennial began as expected. Talk centered on compromise. But a turning point came at the end of the second day, Korchinsky indicated, when Indian minister of state for social justice and empowerment Maneka Gandhi addressed a Species Survival Network reception for the delegates.

“In the opinion of your correspondent,” Korchinsky wrote, “she delivered the first clear, concise and compelling plea on behalf of the world’s animals that the raucous gathering heard. Every word made a considered, intelligent and compassionate argument,” with apparent inspirational effect.

The U.S. and European Union kept their response to the elephant and whale downlisting proposals discreet almost to the last moment. As late as the fourth day of the triennial, Korchinsky and others feared that the lack of firm U.S. and E.U. commitment against the ivory trading proposals hinted at a repetition of the 1997 triennial in Harare, Zimbabwe, when as Opala put it, “The rich western states indirectly supported the ivory trade by abstaining from the vote” until after it was clear that Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia would be allowed to auction 54 tons of stockpiled ivory.

When push came to shove in Nairobi, however, both the U.S. and E.U. joined the resolute Kenyan and Indian delegations in taking a stand.

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