Jaji Mkuu Willie Mutunga, Waheshimiwa, mabibi na mabwana. Marafiki wa tembo! Hamjambo! Habari za jioni?
Good evening. It is a pleasure to be here to join you in celebrating the one-year anniversary of the “Hands Off Our Elephants” Campaign. As I look around the room, I see so many brilliant scientists, dedicated advocates, and exceptional defenders of the elephants. I am honored to be here with you.
I remember well the extraordinary launch of the critically important “Hands Off Our Elephants” campaign a year ago. It was an excellent start to what is now a real force in raising awareness – and inspiring action – in the battle for the elephants. It is a truly Kenyan campaign – supported, powered, and promoted by dedicated Kenyans. If Kenya’s elephants are to be protected, the Kenyan people must be at the heart of doing so. And “Hands Off Our Elephants” has succeeded in engaging Kenyans, from First Lady Margaret Kenyatta to Richard Turere, a bright, young Kenyan who invented a very creative way to “make peace with lions.”
Of course, I can’t talk about “Hands Off Our Elephants” without recognizing John Heminway and the entire board and staff of Wildlife Direct, starting with the exceptional Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Paula described the “Hands Off Our Elephants” strategy as an initiative aimed at restoring Kenya’s prominent position as a country of excellence in elephant conservation. The dedication and tireless efforts of Paula and the Wildlife Direct team are remarkable. They are making great strides in this vital campaign.
Wildlife Direct’s broad strategy is “changing minds, behavior and laws to ensure Africa’s critical species endure forever.” Through activities like the Global March for Elephants, citizen science, and other outreach events, Wildlife Direct is helping to inspire people to join the effort to protect wildlife. Their public messaging in ports, airports, and border posts is having a profound impact on Kenyans and changing their perception of the wildlife trade. Their relentless efforts petitioning for signatures to arrest Feisal Ali Mohamed led to an international arrest warrant for one of the continent’s most notorious ivory kingpins. Through their work, Wildlife Direct is involving people in protecting wildlife and creating a movement to change Kenya, Africa, and the world. So, I think we all owe a very big Asante Sana to Paula, and the entire Wildlife Direct team.
The work Wildlife Direct is doing is, of course, one part of a large and critically important campaign in Kenya and across the world to save the elephants. Recent efforts such as the Elephant Protection Initiative offer new hope for genuine progress in this crisis. The goals of Stopping Poaching, Stopping Trafficking, and Stopping Demand help all of us focus on what needs to be done. If we are to end the poaching crisis, all of us must be in the fight. And the United States is. We are committed to helping Africa – and Kenya – preserve and protect its wildlife.
In recent years, the United States has banned the domestic commercial trade in ivory. We created a new US government task force to strengthen our ability to confront poaching, and not long ago we crushed six tons of elephant ivory to send a clear message that the United States will not tolerate ivory trafficking. President Obama has pledged an additional $10 million on top of what we are already doing to help.
Here in Kenya, the US Embassy provides training, technical assistance, and equipment to the Kenya Wildlife Service and its dedicated rangers. We work to build the capacity of Kenya’s prosecutors and judges to combat poaching, and we provided legal advice to help strengthen Kenya’s anti-poaching laws. Through the US Customs and Border Protection service, we helped the Government of Kenya to establish and train Regional Rural Border Patrol Units around the country. These units have increased cooperation between the wildlife services of Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya to better protect wildlife that crosses the borders. Through USAID, the Embassy works with communities around parks to protect wildlife and reduce human-wildlife conflict. We invest $6 million each year for biodiversity conservation in Kenya, with a strong emphasis on community conservation and combatting wildlife trafficking.
So, the United States is in this fight with you. The US Embassy is in this fight with you. I am in this fight with you. In the past two years, I have had the opportunity to learn so much from so many of you about the wonderful elephants of Kenya. And, the devastating effect poaching is having on elephant families. From meeting Babylon in Samburu with Iain Douglas-Hamilton, to adopting the orphan elephant Tundani at Sheldrick’s, to “speaking” with Enid and Elliot in Amboseli with Paula, Katito and Norah, I know that meeting elephants, seeing them, hearing them, being among them has extraordinary power. Spending time with elephants is magical. They are almost human, aren’t they?
From the trips and the discussions with so many of you, I’ve had the opportunity to see something of the challenges we face in the effort to protect the elephants. The good news is that so much work is underway. From the research by Save the Elephants and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, to nurturing community conservation by the Northern Rangelands Trust, to the eco-system management work of the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust, to the advocacy of Wildlife Direct; the work is extraordinary. Impressive and important, too, is the commitment of the Government of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service. The United States is a committed partner, and will continue to work with all of you to stop the poaching, stop the trafficking and stop the demand.
But, to succeed, we must all do more. I won’t recite the terrible statistics of the slaughter of the elephants. You know them and the crisis they prove. But I will say this: what is absolutely essential is that we all come together. Government officials, rangers, scientists, advocates, teachers, diplomats, judges, prosecutors, community organizers, all of us. We must strengthen our cooperation and work together. We must do research, coordinate strategies, test tactics, and share results. Only by joining hands, and redoubling our efforts, can we will halt the scourge of poaching and win the battle for the elephants.
In closing, I would just like to thank Paula and Wildlife Direct again for their superb efforts. And, I would like to thank all of you from the conservation and wildlife community for your commitment, your dedication, your courage, your hard work. You are an inspiration. And, I believe that out there across Kenya, across Africa, across the magnificent savannahs and forests of this great continent, the elephants are grateful. If they knew we were here, they would trumpet their thanks. And, they would trumpet a very big happy first birthday to “Hands Off Our Elephants!”
Pamoja tulinde tembo wetu!