U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec Remarks Kenya Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking Stakeholder Workshop

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this workshop, which provides an excellent opportunity for everyone involved in protecting Kenya’s wildlife heritage to express their views.

As you know, the United States has been actively engaged in supporting Kenya’s conservation efforts through our collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service, civil society, the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Natural Resources, and communities throughout Kenya.

This commitment to protecting not just Kenya’s, or Africa’s, but the world’s wildlife heritage is coming directly from President Obama himself.  The U.S. government renewed its focus on combatting wildlife trafficking in November 2012, when then Secretary Clinton “Called for Action” against the wildlife trade.  And now, it is a Presidential priority.  President Obama elevated U.S. involvement in global conservation and anti-poaching efforts through the announcement of an Executive Order against wildlife trafficking in July 2013, followed by the rollout of the U.S. government’s National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking in February 2014.

President Obama backed up these initiatives by destroying the U.S. government’s ivory stockpiles, banning the commercial ivory trade in the United States, and committing millions of dollars in new funding to anti-poaching.

All of these activities and the policies addressed in our National Strategy complement the excellent work being done by USAID, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and by the Department of State, by establishing new priorities and guidelines for our engagement to work with you in eradicating the illicit wildlife trade.

The National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking is built on three central themes:

  • Strengthen Enforcement — both in the United States and abroad;
  • Reduce Demand for Illegally Traded Wildlife; and
  • Expand International Cooperation and Commitment.

During my time in Kenya, those of us at the U.S. Mission have been implementing this National Strategy.  Particularly in the last year, we have seen progress in Kenya and new levels of cooperation and engagement that give us all hope that we are making a difference in this vital fight.

Just within the last six months I have seen stronger cooperation among the Ministry, KWS, NGOs, and international partners, who are all dedicated to the same result: preserving Kenya’s wildlife, and especially rhinos and elephants.

Much has gone into building this cooperation and new momentum.  All of you have played a role. There have been significant outreach events, including the #Tweet4Elephants event which reached over 36 million Twitter accounts worldwide on the need to protect elephants.

The KWS has continued its vital work to eliminate wildlife trafficking and poaching.  It is KWS rangers who put their lives on the line and we need to remember and honor them.

And the Kenyan Government has shown renewed resolve in this fight, through its determination to engage with all stakeholders.  The Naivasha Conference in January which led to the creation of the Kenya Conservation Alliance provides us all with an opportunity for even greater NGO and donor coordination with the Government.  The February conference on elephants took a scientific approach to how we analyze the real nature of the problem.  But the big achievement was during the Wildlife Festival and on World Wildlife Day when President Uhuru Kenyatta burned 15 tons of ivory at Nairobi National Park, and committed to destroying all of Kenya’s stockpiles by the end of this year.  I commend President Kenyatta and the Government of Kenya for taking this important step.

All of this momentum brings us to the need for today’s workshop.  I’m pleased to announce that USAID/Kenya is the first of our missions to join the global IUCN/TRAFFIC partnership to advance our understanding of the scope and scale of trafficking in Kenya, and to consider Kenya’s role as a prime transit country in Africa. This assessment is focused on delivering empirical data about the problem, and it is from this scientific, objective foundation that we can start developing new solutions.  Put bluntly, we need to do more, do it better, and do it faster.

As I look around the room I see Kenya’s leading experts on wildlife conservation, world-renowned scientists, activists, and leaders in conservation, community engagement, scientific research, and in policy.

Drawing on your expertise and knowledge, this workshop will take on some tough, key questions:

  • Biological status of key species in Kenya
  • Poaching and trafficking trends in Kenya (and Kenya’s role as a transit country)
  • Role of community conservancies (community policing) in anti-poaching: case studies on northern Kenya (NRT) and Amboseli (Big Life Foundation)
  • Policy, Enforcement and Prosecution

The outcome of this discussion and assessment, of which this workshop is a critical piece, will fundamentally shape new initiatives and programming to combat the illegal wildlife trade.  So, thank you for coming together to have a say in what you think should be done.  You are critical to ending wildlife trafficking.  We are committed to working hand in hand with all of you as close partners.

As you go about your work, this much is clear: we must act.  While we have heard that poaching statistics in Kenya have either stabilized or gone down, the scale of wildlife trafficking broadly continues to grow at an alarming rate.  The Save the Elephants study published earlier this year estimated that 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers between 2010 and 2012 in Africa.  In 2014 the continent’s death rate was more than 30,000 elephants.  This equals to one elephant every twenty minutes.

We must do all we can to save these magnificent creatures.  I am here not just because it is my government’s policy to save elephants, but I am here because I believe these animals must be saved.  Elephants are extraordinary.  I don’t need to tell anyone in this room just how special they are.  But I will say this: we have an absolute obligation as humans to save the elephants.  Failure would be a catastrophe.

Thank you to IUCN/Traffic for the hard work that they have put into this assessment, thank you to the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Natural Resources and to KWS for your commitment to this cause and for your participation today, and thank you to USAID for its role in this important workshop.

I look forward to hearing the results of this workshop and to reading the assessment.

And, I look forward to being able to visit the elephants across this great country for many years to come.

Pamoja tusonge mbele.