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Man walks over 2,200km in campaign against ivory trade

By By MOSES MICHIRA | August 14th 2013
FROM LEFT: Environment Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu and Elephant Neighbours Centre Executive Director Jim Nyamu during a walk from Nyeri to Nairobi.  [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]


Jim Nyamu has walked more than 2,200km in a campaign targeted at stopping ivory trade. But his life now seems to be confined to the road, almost literally.

Next month, Mr Nyamu hits the road again on a walk that will take him from Boston to Washington DC in the US, an estimated 900km.

But he won’t stop there. Next year, he plans what could be the longest walk - starting from Uganda’s capital Kampala to Tsavo National Park in Kenya, via Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. That walk is projected to take several weeks and will cover more than 1,800km.

“Community education is the only way we can stop poaching; it is not about laws,” says Nyamu, the executive director of Elephant Neighbours Centre.

He also plans to attend an international conference scheduled to be held in the US capital of Washington DC.

Nyamu’s biggest concern is the rate at which Kenya is losing its elephant population, which is projected to be extinct in the next ten years if nothing is done to check the growing poaching menace.

Poisoned arrows

Nearly 200 jumbos have been killed by poachers using poisoned arrows or machine guns this year alone. Kenya has an elephant  population of less than 30,000.

The Asian economies of China and Malaysia have been accused of fanning the killing of elephants for their tusks. Ivory is used to make pricey ornaments and decorations.

Nyamu hopes that the walks and interactions with communities will provide a platform to educate would-be poachers on the importance of conserving elephants.

“I am fighting ignorance,” he told The Standard yesterday on the eve of his departure to the US.

Nyamu says tough and punitive measures against ivory trade would not necessarily stop poachers, who are most likely to be illiterate villagers, from killing the elephants.

The target of his walks, he says, is the people who interact with the elephants and are likely to be used by cartels to kill the animals - for an attractive fee.

His efforts have been acknowledged by the State, and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta joined him on the last phase of his walk from Nyeri to Nairobi.

A nationwide anti-poaching campaign dubbed Hands Off Our Elephants has since been launched by Mrs Kenyatta.

On his last walk, which started at the Maasai Mara reserve through northern Kenya to Nairobi, Nyamu met with reformed poachers who revealed that buyers of the illegal ivory paid about Sh5,000 for a single tusk.

It is estimated that the ivory from a single mature elephant fetches millions of shillings, meaning that the actual poachers earn almost zero compared to the smugglers and the eventual traders in Asia.

Rising demand for ivory has driven the price from $200 per kilo in 2005 to more than $700 per kilo this year, according to conservationist groups.

Despite an international ban on ivory trade, the precious commodity is openly traded in several Asian cities, including the biggest market for ivory - China, according to international media reports.

At least 20 tons of ivory were smuggled into African and Asian countries this year by poachers, almost doubling the amount seized compared to previous years.

These large amounts are worrying to anti-poaching experts struggling to protect the African elephant from virtual extinction.

Allen Crawford, who tracks ivory poaching for the wildlife monitoring group Traffic, told American radio station NPR that large busts were more common last year than in his previous years of tracking.

To complement the community-based education that Nyamu is pursuing, his other plans include asking legislators to introduce tougher laws that would mete out harsher penalties for poachers and smugglers.

The current laws are too soft, he says, citing that the maximum fine of Sh30,000 should be raised to Sh3 million in addition to 15 years’ imprisonment for offenders.

Revenues from tourism stand at Sh120 billion annually.

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