Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki on Wednesday 20 July 2011 set ablaze five tonnes of ivory seized from smugglers in Singapore more than a decade ago.
Kibaki said that Kenya would like to stand counted as a country in the forefront in wildlife conservation. “Through the disposal of contraband ivory, we seek to formally demonstrate to the world our determination to eliminate all forms of illegal trade in ivory,’’ Kibaki told several hundred conservationists at the Kenya Wildlife Service paramilitary training school in Tsavo West National Park.“We must all appreciate the negative effects of illegal trade to our national economies. We cannot afford to sit back and allow criminal networks to destroy our common future.’’
The symbolic burning of 335 elephant tusks and 41, 553 ivory carvings recreated a similar exercise in Nairobi National Park in 1989 which led to the international ban in ivory trade. However, unlike the previous one, the dramatic action was on behalf of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, a Nairobi-based regional inter-governmental agency for coordinating the fight against wildlife crime. The action, which was part of the first ever African Elephant Law Enforcement Day celebrations, was witnessed by hundreds of conservationists from Kenya and beyond. It was meant to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the African elephant across Africa. Speaking on behalf of the Lusaka Agreement Governing Council, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, said the collective message to poachers and traders in illegal wildlife was that “their days were numbered”. Dr Noah Wekesa, Kenya’s Minister for Forestry and Wildlife said the message had been sent to all in the illegal trade chain “to abandon this business and be part of conservation efforts”.He proposed that in future, confiscated ivory should be disposed off in its country of origin to “send a powerful message to poachers that this business is not acceptable in their country”. Dr Wekesa said Kenya was in the final stages of passing a new wildlife policy and bill which has heavy penalties that would serve as a deterrent to poaching and ensure that “illegal wildlife trade has no sage haven within our region”.
The burning as the chosen mode of disposal and the site of Kenya Wildlife Service Field Training School was made by the Lusaka Agreement Governing Council.Kenya hosted the historic event as a party to the regional agreement on wildlife conservation. The setting ablaze of contraband ivory was the first regional exercise of this kind and the third in Africa after Kenya’s in 1989 and Zambia in 1992. The burning of ivory was the climax of the three-day celebrations on the theme: ‘Fostering cooperation to combat elephant poaching and ivory trafficking in Africa’.
The day had been set aside to recognise the plight of the endangered African elephant and to celebrate its importance and appreciate challenges faced in its conservation. The celebrations focus on demonstrating solidarity with wildlife law enforcers as they strive to curtail elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade as well as other wildlife products. The bulk of the contraband ivory comprising 335 tusks and 41,553 hankos being burned tomorrow was seized in Singapore in June 2002 was found to have originated mainly from Malawi and Zambia. It was exported from Lilongwe in Malawi. Other activities held earlier in the week as part of the celebrations included the launch of the African Elephant Law Enforcement Special Account (AELESA), African Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) and African Wildlife Law Enforcement Award.
This was in line with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The United Nations treaty regulations don’t allow commercial trade in illegally acquired ivory or any other seized wildlife contraband specimens but provide for its use for scientific, educational and law enforcement purposes. It also allows the destruction of such ivory since it has no commercial value.The Lusaka Agreement is an inter-governmental Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora which has established a permanent body known as the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), a Nairobi-based collaborative agency for fighting wildlife crime.
Out of Africa’s 54 nations, only seven including Congo (Brazzaville), Kenya, Liberia, Lesotho, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia have fully enlisted while Ethiopia, South Africa and Swaziland have signed the treaty but are yet to ratify it. The Lusaka Agreement which is deposited with the General Secretariat of the United Nations is open for accession by all African states. Environmental crimes have been found to be linked other serious and organised crime, especially document fraud, corruption, possession and use of illegal weapons and money laundering.
A regional platform for fighting wildlife crime is important since criminals collaborate across national borders.
Areas for cross border collaboration under the Lusaka Agreement framework included law enforcement, research and monitoring, harmonisation of policies and staff exchange programmes.