Kenya ‘Tames’ Elephant Poaching, Sees Elephant Numbers Double in Past 3 Decades

August 19, 2020 Updated: August 19, 2020

Kenya is welcoming an increasing elephant population after a concerted effort by the government, and nonprofits, to put an end to illegal poaching. Not only does the number of elephants poached in 2020 so far pale in comparison to the previous year, but the elephant population at large has more than doubled in the past three decades.

“In the last couple of years, we have managed to tame poaching in this country,” Tourism Minister Najib Balala asserted during a visit to the Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya, reports the BBC.

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Elephants photographed near a water source during a trial run for an aerial census at the Amboseli National Park, southern Kenya, on June 21, 2018 (TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Owing to extensive poaching for ivory, Kenya’s elephant population dipped to a devastating low of 16,000 in 1989. Africa at large was home to 1.3 million elephants in the 1970s; as of 2020, only half a million remain, but that number is rising.

The hunting and poaching of elephants is already illegal; in order to deter poachers further, the Kenyan government has recently imposed longer jail sentences and heftier fines for infractions of the law.

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Elephant keeper Naomi watches over Kone, a one-and-a-half-year-old orphaned elephant, at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, central Kenya, on Feb. 26, 2020. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Eighty recorded Kenyan elephant deaths at the hands of poachers—who largely sell ivory for use in traditional Asian medicines—occurred in 2018, said Balala. Thirty-four elephants were killed for their ivory tusks in 2019, and seven unlawful elephant deaths have been recorded in 2020 so far.

As a result, the previously catastrophic hit to Africa’s native elephant population is starting to subside. The absence of so many active poachers—”tamed” by the Kenyan government, as well as deterred by the global pandemic—has made space for an elephant population increase in Kenya to upward of 34,000 as of 2018.

In particular, Kenya’s Amboseli National Park at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro is experiencing a veritable baby boom.

On Aug. 14, NPR reported that the park had welcomed 170 calf births since January. While crediting surplus rains for the population rebound, Tal Manor, project manager for Amboseli Trust For Elephants, shared, “Overall in Kenya, anti-poaching efforts are also high and elephants are generally safer, which means [fewer] get killed than in other parts of Africa.”

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Kenyan ivory poachers surround a dead elephant with its tusks removed in August 1973 (Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Some early initiatives implemented in the last few decades include the following: In 1989, the Kenya Wildlife Service was inaugurated, making the anti-poaching movement visible to the masses; in January 1990, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) imposed an international ban on trading ivory.

The ban, however, was quickly overwhelmed by massively increased demand for ivory in Japan and China, The Washington Post reported. Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington, lead author of a 2007 poaching study, declared the situation “right now … really much worse than before the ban.

“And unlike in the late eighties, the public has forgotten about this issue.”

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A ranger stands in front of burning ivory stacks at Nairobi National Park after a total ban on trading in tusks and horns, on April 30, 2016. (CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2016, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta reminded citizens of the perils of poaching by burning thousands of seized ivory elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns at Nairobi National Park as a symbolic warning to poachers of the illegal trade.

Kenya’s 2020 elephant numbers, however, inspire hope into a previously gloomy outlook. Both governmental and NGO anti-poachers continue to work diligently, waiting with bated breath to see what will transpire for the African elephant.

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