Kenya has strong anti-poaching regulations – yet still
Three elephant corpses lay piled on top of one another
under the scorching Kenyan sun.
In their terror, the elephants must have sought safety in
numbers – in vain: a thick trail of blackened blood traced their
In December, nine elephants were killed outside the Tsavo
National Park, in south-eastern Kenya. This month, a family of
12 was gunned down in the same area.
In both cases, the elephants’ faces had been hacked off to
remove the tusks. The rest was left to the maggots and the
“That is a big number for one single incident,” said Samuel
Takore of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). “We have not
had such an incident in recent years, I think dating back to
before I joined the service.”
Mr Takore joined in the 1980s, and his observations
corroborate a wider pattern: across Africa, elephant poaching
is now at its highest for 20 years.
During the 1980s, more than half of Africa’s elephants are
estimated to have been wiped out, mostly by poachers hunting
But in January 1990, countries around the world signed up to
an international ban on the trade in ivory. Global demand
dwindled in the face of a worldwide public awareness
Elephant populations began to swell again.
But in recent years, those advances have been reversed.
China to blame?
An estimated 25,000 elephants were killed in 2011. The
figures for 2012 are still being collated, but they will almost
certainly be higher still.
Campaigners are pointing the finger of blame at China.
The Northern Rangelands Trust acts like an anti-
poaching paramilitary force
“China is the main buyer of ivory in the world,” said Dr Esmond
Martin, a conservationist and researcher who has spent
decades tracking the movement of illegal ivory around the
He has recently returned from Nigeria, where he conducted a
visual survey of ivory on sale in the city of Lagos. His findings
Dr Martin and his colleagues counted more than 14,000 items
of worked and raw ivory in one location, the Lekki Market in
The last survey, conducted at the same market in 2002,
counted about 4,000 items, representing a three-fold
increase in a decade.
According to the findings of the investigation, which has been
shared exclusively with the BBC, Nigeria is at the centre of a
booming trade in illegal African ivory.
In 2011, the Nigerian government
introduced strict legislation to
clamp down on the ivory trade,
making it illegal to display,
advertise, buy or sell ivory.
And yet, says Dr Martin, Lagos has
now become the largest retail
market for illegal ivory in Africa.
“There’s ivory moving all the way
from East Africa, from Kenya into
Nigera,” he said. “Nigerians are exporting tusks to China.
Neighbouring countries are exporting a lot of worked ivory
items (to Nigeria).
“So it’s a major entrepot for everything from tusks coming in,
tusks going out, worked ivory going in, worked ivory going out,
worked ivory being made.”
Paramilitary poacher hunters
The BBC visited the Lekki Market in Lagos. Wearing a hidden
camera, a reporter from the BBC’s Chinese Service was
Speaking Mandarin Chinese, a Nigerian trader offered “xiang
ya” – “ivory”. There were piles of carved items for sale, ivory
bangles, combs, chopsticks, and strings of beads.
Mr Loldikir says arresting poachers is a waste of
time – his men shoot to kill
Another trader proffered two whole tusks, on sale at just
over $400 per kilo. When asked how much raw ivory he could
provide, he offered to supply 100kg or more.
Increasing prosperity in China, coupled with a large influx of
Chinese workers and investors across Africa, has sent demand
for ivory soaring.
Kenya runs one of the most effective anti-poaching efforts in
As well as the KWS (the government-run wildlife protection
service) local communities and private conservancies are
providing their own armed rangers.
The Northern Rangelands Trust is such an organisation. It
runs a “Rapid Response Unit” of about a dozen armed men, who
camp out in the thorny scrubland of northern Kenya following
herds of elephants and tracking poachers.
The unit is essentially a state-sanctioned paramilitary force.
The commander, Jackson Loldikir, and his men wear
camouflage fatigues and are armed with Kalashnikov rifles.
Campaigners say Lagos is now the largest ivory retail
market in Africa
Theirs is a dangerous job. While out on patrol with the BBC,
the group was charged by a herd of nervous elephants.
A ranger had to fire a warning shot in the air to avoid being
Mr Loldikir says arresting poachers is a waste of time.
Prosecutions are rare and the perpetrator is likely to get off
with a small fine.
And so Mr Loldikir and his men say they are forced to take
more drastic measures.
“When we meet a poacher, we just kill,” he said. “It’s the only
way to protect the animals, just to kill the poacher.”
Injuries, even deaths, are not uncommon, on both sides.
“In May, we heard a shot. We met five poachers. They had
killed an elephant. So we shot them. We killed one and we
recovered two guns. And one of our scouts was also injured.”
But the poachers seem undeterred. Conservationists in Kenya
are warning that at the current rate, elephants could soon
disappear from the wild altogether.
“If the price continues to rise as it is and the killing of
elephants continues, within 15 years there will be no free-
ranging elephant in northern Kenya, I’m quite sure,” said Ian
Craig, who runs the Northern Rangeland Trust.
“Wherever there are unprotected elephant and there are
firearms, people are going to kill them. They’re just worth too
And what applies to Kenya applies also to the rest of Africa.
In a continent where guns are plentiful and poverty is
widespread, the rewards of poaching simply outweigh the
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