I am delighted to host the inaugural Giants Club Summit in Kenya at the end of April. Alongside other African heads of state, we will use this opportunity to underline the global intent to put an end, once again, to the butchering of elephants and rhinos by selfish criminal gangs.
I say once again because we have done it before. In 1990, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the international ivory trade after a decade in which the population of African elephants halved from 1.3 million to 600,000 animals.
In parallel with Kenya’s own aggressive anti-poaching strategy, we successfully brought poaching of elephants under control and animal numbers recovered.
The sale of ivory was re-permitted in 1997 and later again in 2008 under the CITES framework, as an experiment and to allow for disposal of the ivory stocks of four countries in Southern Africa to Asia. But these sales served simply to reinvigorate the illegal trade and once again we face a decimation of our African elephant populations.
According to recent scientific reports, between 2010 and 2012 some 100,000 elephants were lost to poaching across Africa, and there is no evidence to suggest that number has diminished in the years since. It is also estimated that more than 1,000 rhinos were poached last year in South Africa alone.
The trade is simple. Markets for illegal products attract traffickers and traffickers create poachers. A combined approach of aggressive law enforcement, effective elephant ivory and rhino horn movement control and influential market disincentivisation is now required.
In Kenya, Dr Richard Leakey is back at the helm of Kenya Wildlife Service, where he was so effective in the 1990s, and working directly with our inspirational environment cabinet secretary, Prof Judi Wakhungu, to stop the poachers and the illegal trafficking of wildlife products. Our ports are actively seeking and intercepting movement of any ivory and rhino horn. Trafficking gangs are being tracked and arrested.
However, initiatives such as the Giants Club play a massive role in influencing opinion and ensuring these successes can be repeated and replicated across Africa and the globe. Only by standing together can we make the desire for ivory and rhino horn an embarrassment. The selfish few must be made to touch and feel the weight of international concern.
Kenya and Africa depend upon our natural resources for our tourism industry and a stable economy that prevents the lure of the criminal gangs. To think of Kenya is to think of the majestic animals on the Maasai Mara, the Great Tuskers of Tsavo, and the northern bush country of Samburu and Laikipia, to say nothing of the white sands of our Swahili coast.
Kenya’s role in the international endeavour to stabilise Somalia has resulted in some terrible headlines in recent times. We have been affected by the same threat of extremist terrorism that has hit Tunisia, Turkey, France, and many other countries. But with the enduring support of the international community, including the UK, US and European Union, we have quickly learnt some critical lessons and come back stronger and more unified.
Tourism to Kenya is beginning to recover after a difficult few years but business investment has grown year on year. You can help directly by visiting Kenya and other countries in Africa. Every pound you spend underpins the critical work of our Kenya Wildlife Service and every other national level wildlife conservation effort.
Kenya is safe and, for those of you yet to visit, Kenya will greet you with breathtaking beauty and an eternal smile. That is why we welcome the Giants Club Summit. Together we will all play our part in preserving the planet’s greatest animals.
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