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Two men arrested in Nyeri Town with 52 kilograms of ivory

Two would-be ivory salespeople were arrested in Nyeri Town on Tuesday, that’s the 30th of May 2023, with 52 kilograms of ivory in their possession. The men were trying to sell the ivory, worth an estimated ksh 5.3 million or £30,500, to individuals that they thought were international business people. The prospective buyers were, in fact, undercover KWS officials conducting a sting operation. The perpetrators are now under arrest for attempting to sell an illicit material.

Investigators are trying to uncover the source of the ivory and, chillingly, some of the tusks seem only a few days old. As of yet, there is no evidence to suggest that the elephant that produced this ivory were poached. Of course, that has little baring on the illegality of this attempted sale, it being illegal according to national law and prohibited under a variety of treatises Kenya is a signatory to.

Worryingly, the apprehension of these two would-be ivory salespeople comes hot on the heels of another, similar arrest. On the 24th of May, a 47 year-old man was arrested in the possession of 23 elephant tusks with an estimated street value of ksh 12 million. This man, a suspected ivory-smuggler, was caught in Laikipia County after a prolonged investigation that eventually closed in on the man as he was ferrying the illicit materials in the back of his truck.

Kenya’s tough anti-poaching laws and how they have brought about a drastic reduction in elephant poaching

These two very recent stories pose some cause for concern. Kenya is widely celebrated for some of the recent successes it has had in elephant conservation. Elephant populations here are steadily growing and, what’s more, the records suggest a trend of decreasing instances of elephant poaching.

In 2013, 386 elephant were poached according to KWS. By 2018, only 80 lost their lives to poachers. In 2019, the number was 34 and in the year following, that number had been brought down to 11.

Much of this success has been framed as a result of Kenya’s commitment, most notably in the 2010s, to creating a real, holistic deterrent to elephant poachers. We documented the various tools implemented in the creation of an aggressive anti-poaching stance in the article linked here.

If you’re interested in the different policies put in place in the comprisal of this tough anti-poaching stance, read that article. However, for the purpose of this one, we will simply state that it was largely built off the back of giving extra power to the Kenyan courts and equipping the KWS better.

That success has, as we’ve said, been celebrated and deservedly so. However, the recent accounts of attempted ivory sales will make for worrying reading. There is no suggestion as of yet that elephant were killed in the sourcing of the ivory in question. But the short time span between these two attempted sales, if they are to be taken as indicative of an uptick in the market, will be considered worth worrying over.

During the global pandemic, we wrote an article about the concerns certain conservationists had about a potential resurgence of illicit ivory trade once the world opened back up. There has never been any question that there is still a market for ivory, especially in the far east.

During the pandemic, however, that market was suppressed by reduced transport everywhere. Ivory smugglers faced the same difficulties we all did; they could not travel so easily and as a result could not get ivory out of Africa.

The fear was that, when these difficulties in transport were eased, we would see a bounce back in the amount of ivory trafficked out of the country. This fear is perhaps compounded now by the fact that Kenya is in the midst of a cost of living crisis, influenced, in part, by the grain shortages caused by the war in Ukraine.

Poverty, we know well, has an indelible link to animal poaching. In times of economic hardship, the bush meat and ivory trade rises.

We only hope that these recent instances of arrests are not signs of this predicted uptick in elephant poaching. It may well be that the arrests, as stated in some of the articles that documented them, are merely the result of certain intelligence-led operations finally, and coincidentally, coming to fruition. Let us hope it is the latter.


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