For about a month or so leading up to the April 30th ivory burn at the Nairobi National Park, wildlife conservation discussions have been trending. Local media houses have been assigning some much needed and deserved, airtime and attention to this important conversation. With increased coverage, came increased interest about human wildlife conflict, poaching, Eco-tourism and development. Kenyans started asking questions, giving opinions and suggesting solutions to identified challenges. I have always held the opinion that only a select few care about the Kenya’s wildlife heritage, so it was quite refreshing to watch as people actively partook of the conversation online. As the historic date drew near, the conversations began revolving around the ivory burn. Was it the best option? How was burning the ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products going to help stop poaching? Was it an exercise in futility?
When President Ian Khama of Botswana unveiled an elephant sculpture made of ivory in July 2015, it stirred up the conservation circles somewhat. Some thought it a brilliant idea that Botswana had decided to put up this monument, while other were of the exact opposite opinion. Botswana’s Minister for Environment is quoted as saying, “It serves as a reminder to people who pass through this building each day that conservation of this iconic species is our collective responsibility. Complemented with a conservation awareness message, we are saying that one live elephant is worth so much more than all the art made of ivory. The statue is a lasting memorial to raise local, national and global awareness of the devastating impact of illegal ivory and the determination of Botswana and the global community to put an end to it.” After about a fortnight of ensuing debate, the noise settled. The towering monument still greets guests at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.
This week, almost a year later, the photo of the monument started popping up on my Facebook timeline with captions like, “This is very creative, maybe Kenya should do this instead of burning the ivory.” One particular post had over five hundred shares. The reactions were as varied as they come. Majority felt enlightened and immediately endorsed the idea; maybe a museum of sorts would work? Others said no. Then there was a group that said, “Why bother? Everything in Kenya is stolen. Soon, the only thing that will remain is the glass surrounding it.” Ha! There is always that breed of people, you know, ones who seem to have resigned to some sort of self imposed fate. Before putting my thoughts down on several posts, I just took a moment to be grateful the WE are actually talking about this! In mass! Now, we just need to arm ourselves with the right information.
It is now hours after smoke filled the skies at the Nairobi National Park as President Uhuru Kenyatta led his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo and other dignitaries in lighting up the 105 ton heaps of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products. The debate is still as hot as the fire that still burns what is estimated to include the remains of 8000 elephants and 345 rhinos. Why burn? Why not a museum?
I must admit, up until three and a half years ago, I was completely oblivious of the plight of elephants and rhinos in Kenya, and indeed Africa. As I took up an internship position at an elephant conservation NGO, I told myself that it was only temporary; that I would soon get bored an take up something better. I did not anticipate falling in love with elephants as I watched BBC’s ‘Secret Life of Elephants,’ sobbing as Maasai girl’s two calves nudged their dead mum to wake up. The roller coaster of emotions being extended to the field, looking in awe as they walked majestically into the sunsets or, in more tragic situations, staring at one lying in a pool of blood, half its face chopped off. I was never quite the same. I started caring. I caught feelings 😀
My interest grew with every passing day, discovering and learning about why we bother about saving elephants. Today, I speak from a point of information, and most importantly, I reckon, real experience. There are people who will speak about the economics of poaching, a really important aspect no doubt, but I like to appeal to the heart. Pick up a documentary that will show you uncensored footage and photos of mutilated bodies of elephants/rhinos lying in a bloody pool. Watch elephants mourn their dead. Then take a trip and see them, alive, in their splendor. If you still feel nothing…if you are still giving that ivory monument a moment of thought…Doing what Botswana did, I think, just makes ivory look attractive. It breaks my heart, but to other twisted people it displays class. I see no difference between that and a carved piece of ivory in a living room in China. I prefer a live elephant thriving in a national park, living to its old age. Now that’s a worthy monument.
We, Kenyans, have come of age, having such discourses. I hope the media does not stop with the coverage after the burn. Pray, we need to keep talking about this within our circles, engaging each other on how to make things better. Read about all the organizations working on the ground and read about what they are doing. I feel that if we, Kenyans, start caring enough we will hold our leaders accountable for things as corruption and consequently, poverty and other factors fueling poaching. We need to stop thinking about ivory conservation and re-ignite efforts aimed towards wildlife management and conservation. To purpose never to have a day like this one, because there will be nothing to burn. In a nutshell find a spot, in your own capacity and #Stopthekilling, #StopTheTrafficking and #StopTheDemand for ivory and other wildlife products. The burn alone might not achieve the desired results, but with collaborated efforts between governments (this means you and I, as it does elected leaders) and conservation groups, as well as embarking on conservation education, I am confident of success. The economist will chip in. You will get involved. It will be a concerted effort, everyone doing what they can. This way, we will proactively work towards ensuring future generations SEE these species in their full glory, ALIVE, not lifeless, as a heap of ivory. That, in my opinion, makes more sense than an ivory museum. Otherwise, people will keep killing and we will keep confiscating and building ivory towers. It is pointless. As someone rightly said in one of the Facebook posts,
“Ivory for any other purpose than being on a live elephant is repugnant.”
Elephants and rhinoceroses may be large, heavy and thick-skinned, but they are being threatened with extinction in the wild by poaching for their ivory or horn, and by human impact on their habitats. You need to join the fight and help secure their future.
Pssst! I’ll start you off with sites you need to visit 🙂