Giants Club rhino pros offer elephants a few tips

The Giants Club Summit in Kenya brings leaders from across Africa together to share anti-poaching tactics for elephants and rhinos.

Siegfried Modola/Reuters
A wildlife ranger keeps guard over a northern white rhino, only three of its kind left in the world, in Kenya's Ol Pejeta conservancy on Thursday. The Giants Club Summit of African leaders is meeting in Kenya to discuss anti-poaching initiatives for rhinos and elephants.

The rhinoceros has agreed to give the elephant a few tips on staying alive.

On Friday, conservationists and African leaders at the Giants Club Summit in Kenya swapped strategies for two of the continent's most emblematic mammals, stepping up a multi-faceted anti-poaching campaign as ivory demand increases worldwide.

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy shared tips from its cutting-edge conservation work with rhinos, Jill Craig reported for Voice of America. In a demonstration by its rapid response team, Kenya's police reservists located a fake crime scene using a tracker dog, landed via helicopter, and went to work.

The conservancy offered training on prosecuting poachers from within the current judicial system and showed off the newest fence types and other deterrents they can use to stop elephants from grazing on crops.

They also praised what the summit represents: a unified African approach to stop the poaching that endangers the delicate but increasingly vital tourism industry of African nations, Reuters reported.

"This is a continental issue," Ian Craig, director of Kenya's Northern Rangelands Trust, told the gathering, saying Africans needed to build on successes made since a 2012 poaching peak. "As Africa, we need to coordinate our efforts."

He said a pan-African approach could build on the success of the past few years, when a vigorous anti-poaching response brought poaching numbers down in Kenya from a peak of 384 elephants in 2012 to 93 last year. 

The government of Kenya, where the summit is held, is demonstrating its commitment in some dramatic ways. On Saturday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will head the country's fourth and largest ivory burn to promote the message that Kenya puts a higher price on live elephants, not dead ones. 

Some conservationists, however, have warned that burning 100 tons of ivory – 5 percent of the world's supply – will backfire by raising prices or showing disrespect for elephants.

"Kenya is making a mistake, it's an unwise move," Mike Norton-Griffiths, a Kenyan ecologist, told Bloomberg in an interview. "Taking such a huge resource completely off the market may in turn back the drop in prices.”

Nations such as South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe oppose such destruction, preferring to sell the ivory and use the money for conservation, but Kenyan officials hope the dramatic burn will raise awareness. 

"Kenya has decided to burn ivory because the moment you burn it, you are making it beyond economic use," Kenya Wildlife Service director general Kitili Mbathi told the Star. "Trophy disposal is left for countries to decide, some opt to crush it."

Although they differ on some strategic specifics, the high-level representation from multiple African nations, including presidents from Botswana, Gabon, and Uganda, demonstrates local commitment to stopping poaching.

"We haven't seen anything on the continent dealing directly with this issue, at this level of participation," Max Graham, the founder of Space for Giants, an elephant conservation group that supports the summit and offers its consulting services to Giants Club members, told VOA. "And that's why it's worthwhile. The political will, and I'll say this again, if you have political will at the very top, everything else becomes easy."

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