Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Water, and Natural Resources, Professor Judi Wakhungu; Kenya Wildlife Service Director General William Kiprono; Kenya Wildlife Service Deputy Director Patrick Omondi; Distinguished guests.
Waheshimiwa, mabibi na mabwana.
Hamjambo! Habari zenu?
I am honored to join you for the launch of Kenya’s National Elephant Conference. This conference is a critical step toward protecting our shared heritage. Today and tomorrow, you, some of the world’s best scientists, most dedicated advocates, and most exceptional defenders of wildlife, will share information vital to protecting elephants, and to implementing Kenya’s National Elephant Strategy.
As many of you know, this issue is a U.S. foreign policy priority, but it is also a priority for me personally. During my many years in Africa, the work of elephant champions – including all of you in this room today – has inspired me. More than two decades ago, I first had the opportunity to watch elephants in the wild with scientists working in Korup National Forest and at Waza Park in Cameroon. I was so deeply moved, and impressed. And now, I have had the privilege of seeing so many of you in this room in action, around Kenya. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from you… and from the elephants you have introduced me to. It has been an extraordinarily rich experience. So I want to start by thanking you for all that you do, all of your extraordinary work on behalf of elephants.
As the great Desmond Tutu once said, all the steps we each take as individuals – when taken together – have the power to “overwhelm the world.” Today’s groundbreaking conference is an opportunity to overwhelm the world. Whether you are studying elephant habits, stopping poachers, interdicting ivory trafficking, conducting advocacy campaigns, running conservancies, or making some other contribution, each of you plays a crucial role in defending elephants. Each of you makes an extraordinary difference. Now, it is wonderful to see everyone in one place, to work, to think, and to plan together.
For no man or woman – or elephant! – can stand alone. But together – government, Kenya Wildlife Service, NGOs, international partners – we can accomplish so much. Harnessing the knowledge in this room, collaborating and building consensus for our next steps, is what this conference is all about. While my schedule prevented me from traveling to Naivasha, I was impressed and encouraged by the decision to create the Kenya Conservation Alliance. Today’s conference presents an opportunity to take the next step and to collaborate and share important information. For it is crucial to our efforts going forward that we understand the facts, and have empirical data. And, we must do so with great urgency. For this is clear: much that we know points to a crisis for elephants. And, unless we act, here in Kenya and across Africa, eventually no elephants will be left in the wild. So, together, let’s get the facts, put together smart strategies, and then implement the programs and projects that will save the elephants.
As I mentioned before, ending poaching and protecting wildlife is a top priority for my government. So, the United States will stand with you. We are in this fight together. As we meet here, the United States continues to expand its work: in 2014, we launched a new U.S. government task force to strengthen our ability to confront poaching. Just last week we announced our Implementation Plan for the U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. It builds upon President Obama’s Wildlife Strategy launched in February 2014, and reaffirms our nation’s commitment to work in partnership with governments, local communities, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector.
Here in Kenya, our various partnerships have helped make strides in the protection of elephants. We are collaborating through activities such as the #Tweet4Elephants event, which reached over 36 million Twitter accounts, with more than 130 million impressions. We continue to provide extensive support for community conservancies; technical assistance to KWS rangers; training for Kenya’s judges and prosecutors, for advocacy, and much more. In sum, I hope – and believe – our support is helping all of you make a difference. But, to succeed, we must all do more. This conference is a step in the right direction – and is a success we should all celebrate. It is impressive. But this is just a step. Not the end. We have much more to do.
At the outset, I mentioned how much I learned from all of you about elephants, and how much I have learned from the elephants themselves. For all you have done, for all they have done, I am deeply grateful.
So, I hope you will excuse me if I conclude my speech by quoting from one of my favorite elephants, Horton. In one of the marvelous books by the incomparable Dr. Seuss, Horton, as he struggles to protect an innocent life, says: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful one hundred percent.”
As humans, we are not perfect and, I suppose, elephants, except in books, aren’t either. Nevertheless, we can, indeed, rise to a moment. We can be touched “by the better angels of our nature.” We can continue the work started in Naivasha. We can come together. All of us. Government leaders, scientists, advocates, game wardens, diplomats, citizens, men, women and children. We can save our great, gray companions on this beautiful planet, in this wonderful land. Now is the moment. Here is the place. We can be faithful to the elephants… and to ourselves. Pamoja tulinde tembo wetu. Asanteni Sana.