“Things R Elephant”: Heated Debate in Kenya Gets to the Heart of What It Will Take to Save the Species

By Paula Kahumbu

In Kenya, when you hear that “Things are Elephant,” it means there’s a major problem. That’s why we chose this as the title for the first ever debate of its kind, organized by WildlifeDirect, on the future of elephants.

On the afternoon of April 25, in a school hall in Nairobi, two highly charged teams—who had traded emotional Tweets the days before—went head to head. The only thing they agreed on was the need to save elephants.

The need to save our elephants has never been greater: Only today, in Thailand, three tons of illegal ivory from Kenya was seized at a port in eastern Thailand. The ivory was shipped from Mombasa, but it’s not clear if it originated in Kenya or elsewhere in Africa.

Elephants are a big deal for my country, Kenya, which is renowned for it’s spectacular wildlife. Despite it’s conservation history, Kenya is listed among the world’s eight most complicit countries as a source of ivory, and it’s a major contributor to the illegal transiting of ivory out of Africa.

Something is very wrong.

As the CEO of WildlifeDirect, I lead a national campaign—Hands Off Our Elephants—to transform results in Kenya, and we’re best known for our advocacy for better law enforcement, especially in the court rooms.

Our campaign, whose patron is First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, has had major impact. For example, on March 3, President Uhuru Kenyatta set 15 tons of ivory alight and promised to destroy the rest before the end of 2015.

We patted ourselves on the back for lobbying for what was the boldest move by any African president to date.

But less than 24 hours later, a full-page article appeared in a major local newspaper by respected columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo titled, “Don’t Burn Ivory, Sell it to Pay for Conservation.”

Furious, I hounded Charles on Twitter and met —> Read More