Giants Club fights back

Giants Club fights back

After recent years have seen the worst poaching in the last two decades, tougher laws are being introduced

There is an elephant-poaching crisis in Africa. In Kenya alone, the country lost more elephants in 2012 and 2013 than at any time in the past two decades. Similar losses have been experienced across much of the continent.

But the tide is beginning to turn. The countries affected have begun to coordinate their reaction to this crisis. Tougher wildlife laws have been enacted. The international community has started to help, for example through the conservation efforts of the United Nations Development Programme.

Africa’s elephants may be among the continent’s most iconic animals but they are now under threat from poaching to supply Asia’s demand for ivory. Hundred pounders – so called because of the weight of their tusks – like this one in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park are particularly prized by poachers. The Giants Club is a new initiative established to unite Africa’s political leaders, philanthropists and conservationists to stop this deadly trade.

When poachers kill elephants they do so in the most brutal manner, using machetes or even chainsaws to extract the ivory. More than 100,000 elephants have been killed over a three year period.

To stop this slaughter, the Giants Club – through its implementation charity Space for Giants – equips, trains and finances teams of rangers. This unit in central Kenya can spend weeks on end on patrol, travelling in 4×4 vehicles and sleeping in the bush.

The initiative also works with local communities for them to see local elephant populations as a resource that brings jobs and foreign exchange, and to utilise their native skills and knowledge of the local area for the conservation cause.

Dog units like this one are an important anti-poaching resource. Not only can they help track and stop poachers but they can also be trained to sniff out ivory, thereby preventing it being smuggled.

Knowing elephants’ migration movements helps keep them away from poachers and can prevent conflict with local farmers. Here a vet is tranquilising an elephant so a GPS collar can be fitted and its movements then tracked remotely.

The Giants Club recently had its inaugural summit at the Fairview Mount Kenya Safari Club in the foothills of Mt Kenya where its supporters met to expand these programmes and develop new ways to combat the poaching crisis, as well as to protect the habitats elephants depend on.

The presidents of Gabon, Kenya and Uganda (left to right) were among those attending. The Summit also had high-level diplomatic missions from Botswana, Ethiopia and Tanzania present. The US Deputy Secretary of State arrived and read out a message of support from President Obama.

Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the Evening Standard newspaper and independent.co.uk, is the patron of the Giants Club. Here he is with (from left) President Museveni of Uganda, President Kenyatta of Kenya and President Bongo of Gabon.

A unit from one of the dog teams supported by Space for Giants in Kenya waits to demonstrate their operational skills to the attending delegates.  More than 150 delegates attended in total and were shown a range of conservation activities and approaches by experts.

The attending presidents were among those who talked with the conservation experts. Here President Bongo (left) and President Museveni (beside him) are being shown different kinds of protective fencing.

In the evening a gala dinner was held. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, of Save the Elephants, was among those who attended with Mr Lebedev.

Lee White, the Director of the Gabonese National Parks Service, headed the Gabonese tam of conservation experts who contributed to the Summit.

The event was supported by an international social media campaign conceived with the Kenyan Wildlife Service. Here Mr Lebedev is joined by Najib Balala, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, to help promote its messages at the Summit.

Following the Giants Club summit, the Kenyan government demonstrated its commitment to ending the illegal wildlife trade by burning its entre stock of seized ivory. Some 120 tonnes was burnt in five huge pyres, sending a powerful message to the world that ivory should has no value and that, today, elephants are worth more alive than dead.

The fate of the rhino serves as a warning of what may befall Africa’s elephants if initiatives such as the Giants Club fail.

Here is ‘Sudan’, the very last northern white rhino male, who has had to be housed in a secure compound near where the summit was hosted after its species was hunted to the brink of extinction.

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