opinionBy Salisha Chandra and John Mbaria
Last Tuesday, hundreds of Kenyans took to the streets of Mombasa to protest against the on-going massive killing of elephants and rhinos in the country. The same happened on January 22 when Nairobians chanted anti-poaching slogans and called upon President Kibaki to declare poaching a national disaster.
They reminded fellow citizens that wildlife is part of their national heritage.
Coming at a time when hundreds of animals have been slaughtered, the two events' newsworthiness was enhanced by the fact that this kind of activism--a demonstration for wildlife by Kenyans-- is extremely rare in a country where majority have always regarded wildlife conservation as a white-man's pastime, if not a burden.
The rampant, barbaric, wanton and senseless slaughter of elephants and rhinos over the last few years has, in a way, nurtured this change of attitude. Furthermore, the official attempt to downplay the extent of the crisis has left conservationists with no choice but to shout out their concern on the streets of Nairobi and Mombasa hoping to create national and international attention to the issue.
Officially, Kenya lost 384 elephants and 19 rhinos in 2012; the tally could be much higher since not a month goes by without local news channels reporting on discoveries or seizures of hundreds of pieces of ivory at Kenya's main international port or in far-off lands-- Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and China.
The numbers just don't add up. Kenyan authorities claim that this ivory is coming from neighbouring countries. However, the proof they offer that the ivory is found in gunny bags with Rwandese or Tanzanian labels does not seem to hold much water.
Having said that, one elephant or rhino killed for its tusks or horns is simply one too many. Kenya's wildlife heritage is being plundered and this must be stopped once and for all. In this regard, the demonstrators also called upon the US government to utilise its international goodwill and clout to make the world ban the international trade of ivory and rhino horn.
They drew inspiration from Robert Godec, US Ambassador to Kenya, who had early last month issued a press statement confirming US government's support to the African Elephant Rangeland States, besides strongly condemning the runaway poaching taking place there.
Equally important, Kenyans have appealed to the people and governments of China and Thailand to support a complete ban on ivory trade at the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting and to join hands in a crackdown on the illegal trade of ivory and rhino horn that lands within their territory. The message appeared to have been 'delivered' by Chinese press that featured the walk including the official English language daily, China Daily News.
At the end of the walk in Nairobi, demonstrators were taken around a photo exhibition like no other. The images portrayed the sheer barbarism visited on these hapless creatures -- elephants with their entire faces sawed off, rhinos with blood still oozing from where their horns were unscrupulously removed.
Unsolicited tears and audible gasps were heard as those who attended made their way round this gruesome exhibit. With each step, most wondered how any human being could possibly commit such heinous acts.
Many wondered how a person could saw through an elephant skull for hours as blood spurted everywhere without flinching or turning away. The grotesque photos were a grim reminder that it is not just about the murder of these sentient beings, it is about the way they are defiled even as they are in the throes of death.
The event ended with several speeches by local dignitaries who all acknowledged the crisis and the immediate need to act. Most asked Kenyans and the rest of humanity, to take destiny in our hands if they were to save this global heritage.
Being the first Kenyan-led anti-poaching demonstration, the event will be indelibly etched in many a memory. Not only did Kenyans walk 7kms and chant slogans in unity, many felt the pain of the elephant and the rhino as they viewed the indescribably gory photographs of the slain animals.
But even as government officials promised to confront the challenge and stop this national disaster, there was a realisation that much is still to be done.
Please join us in our fight to save the national heritage of Kenya, Africa and ultimately the World.
Salisha Chandra is a Volunteer with Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), a Kenyan-based not-for-profit organization that promotes the welfare of animals for the benefit of local people. John Mbaria is an Environment Journalist.