Elephant hunting in Kenya

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An African elephant in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.

Elephant hunting, which used to be an accepted activity in Kenya, was banned in 1973, as was the ivory trade. Illegal hunting continues, as there is still an international demand for elephant tusks. Kenya pioneered the destruction of ivory as a way to combat this black market. Elephant poaching continues to pose a threat to the population.

Indigenous hunting[edit]

Colonial Kenya[edit]

During colonial times, elephant hunting in Kenya was seen as a sport for noblemen and was exploited by the colonial governors.[1] British East Africa was not unique in this: big-game hunting was popular in many parts of the Empire. Among the white hunters, the bull elephant was said to be the most exhilarating target. Small-bore rifles appeared to be the preferred option and aiming at the brain instead of the heart was another preference. The motive was not always monetary. However, many hunters were indiscriminate in their choice of elephants to kill – young, old, male or female, it did not matter, as the primary purpose was ivory to sell and elephant meat to feed their hunting party.[2]

The East African Professional Hunter's Association was formed to regulate the industry and restrict its excesses. The Association, which came into being at the Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi, stemmed from a desire to regulate hunting in the wake of technological developments like the safari vehicle, which had made accessing remote hunting areas much easier. During its existence it was able to accomplish much to conserve East African wildlife and become perhaps one of the most respected societies in the world of its kind.[3]

One of the most prolific of the white hunters was the Scottish adventurer W. D. M. Bell, who is reported to have killed over a thousand elephants, spread across several African countries. [4] See the first of his memoirs, The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter (1923), for more information. Some of the madness of the desire to shoot an elephant (albeit not in Kenya) is shown in White Hunter Black Heart, a fictionalised version of what happened during the filming of the Hollywood classic African Queen.

In 1963, the first year of independence, the Kenyan government issued 393 permits (hunting licenses) for elephants.[5]

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Kenyan poacher received approximately Shs. 3-4/lb ($.79–1.05/kg); by the 1970s, it was Shs. 100/kg ($12.74/kg), increasing the black market value for the primary producer from about one-fifth to one-third of the real value.[6]

The ban, and ivory smuggling[edit]

According to the American hunter Craig Boddington, elephant hunting was made illegal in Kenya in 1973 and all animal hunting without a permit in 1977.[7]

By the late 1970s, the elephant population was estimated around 275,000, dropping to 20,000 in 1989.[8] Between 1970 and 1977, Kenya lost more than half of its elephants.[9]

In the 1970s, Ngina Kenyatta (Mama Ngina), wife of then-President Jomo Kenyatta, and other high-level government officials were allegedly involved in an ivory-smuggling ring that transported tusks out of the country in the state private aeroplane.[10][11][12][13][14] New Scientist claimed that there was now documentary proof that at least one member of "Kenya's royal family" (the Kenyatta) had shipped over six tons of ivory to China.[10]

In the 1970s, 1900 elephants were killed in Kenya for their ivory tusks, increasing to 8300 elephants in the 1980s.[15]

The worldwide ban on ivory trade[edit]

In 1989, as a dramatic gesture to persuade the world to halt the ivory trade, President Daniel arap Moi ignited twelve tons of elephant tusks.[16]

In the 1990s the widespread ban on commercial ivory trading reduced the industry to a fraction of what it had been and elephant populations have stabilised.[13] But illegal poaching and sale on the black market still poses a serious threat, as does government bribery. The largest poaching incident in Kenya since the ivory trade ban occurred in March 2002, when a family of ten elephants was killed.[8]

Illegal elephant deaths decreased between 1990, when the CITES ban was issued, and 1997, when only 34 were illegally killed.[15] Ivory seizures rose dramatically since 2006 with many illegal exports going to Asia.[17] Poaching spiked seven-fold between 2007 and 2010.[18]

Large scale tourism promotion picked up in Kenya following the imposed hunting ban in Kenya since 1977. It has been noted that "photographic tourism", or non-consumptive wildlife use, is contributing 12% of Kenya’s GDP. Hence, some groups have recommended that tourism be promoted rather than any kind of hunting or consumptive wildlife use, as it could divert the attention of the government of Kenya from the policy goal of wildlife preservation.[19][20]

The current situation, including safari tourism[edit]

An elephant skull with tusk removed by poachers near Voi, Taita-Taveta District.

Though elephant hunting has been banned for a 40-year period in Kenya, poaching has not reduced. Given the poverty of many of the people, and the high value of elephant tusks, they are shipped overseas and sold on the black market. Although Kenya has many national parks and reserves protecting wildlife, elephant populations are still at risk, a problem which is made worse by corruption and some officials supplementing their income with permitting poaching.[21] The Kenyan government has attempted to crack down on elephant poaching with the aid of multi-nationals but has often been too late in preventing the poaching of many elephants whose tusks have been seized en masse in cases at Nairobi Airport and in Bangkok Airport where Kenyan tusks have often been imported.

Arrests continue at Nairobi's international airport, where 92 kilos[clarification needed] of raw ivory were seized in 2010, and 96 kilos[clarification needed] in 2011.[22]

An individual case that received publicity in 2014 was the death of Satao, one of the world's largest elephants, in the Tsavo Trust. Despite Kenya Wildlife Service guards, poachers managed to shoot the bull with a poisoned arrows and cut off his tusks.

Possible trophy hunting in the future[edit]

Trophy hunting, purely as sport and as a conservation action, is now being considered for adoption in Kenya, as such a programme appears to have yielded positive results in Namibia and South Africa under a programme titled "Community -Based Natural Resource Management" (CBNRM). Under this programme, while cash was offered as an incentive for sport hunting, the basic aim was wildlife control on the communal land, providing benefits to the community as a whole.[23] It is believed[by whom?] that trophy hunting might attract elephant poachers into moving into legal hunting and leaving elephant trading.

The Food and Agricultural Organization's (FAO) report states: "Trophy hunting is generally self-regulating because low off-take is required to ensure high trophy quality and marketability in future seasons. Trophy hunting creates crucial financial incentives for the development and/or retention of wildlife as a land use over large areas in Africa, including in areas where ecotourism is not viable. Hunting plays an important role in the rehabilitation of degraded wildlife areas by enabling the income generation from wildlife without affecting population growth of trophy species."[24]

The policy of trophy hunting has been adopted in 23 sub-Saharan African countries. The income generated in total in Africa is quoted to be USD 201 million/year, derived from about 18,500 international hunting clients covering an area of 1.4 million km².[24] Since there is a lack of consensus among the clients about the efficacy of this method of biodiversity conservation in Africa, a study carried out by the Africa Wildlife Conservation Fund indicates that if Kenya makes trophy hunting legal again, nearly 90% of the clients would be interested to pursue this activity in that country. In this context, the importance of effective regulation of hunting operators and clients has also been highlighted.[25]

One of the disadvantages of trophy hunting is the possible publicity backlash, such as Zimbabwe experienced with the killing of Cecil the lion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ American Museum of Natural History (1915). The American Museum journal. American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  2. ^ Steinhart, Edward I. (2006). Black poachers, white hunters: a social history of hunting in colonial Kenya. James Currey. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-85255-960-4. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  3. ^ Herne, Brian (1999). White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. p. 167. 
  4. ^ Barclay, Edgar N. "Chapter One - correspondence with WDM Bell and author". Big Game Shooting Records 1931. HF&G Witherby. 
  5. ^ McNickle, Dan (19 March 2004). Teaching and Hunting in East Africa. Trafford Publishing. p. 275. ISBN 978-1-4120-1935-4. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Douglas-Hamilton, p. 77
  7. ^ "Africa's elephant explosion". Sportsafield. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Elephants on the High Street" (PDF). International Fund for Animal Welfare. March 2004. p. 18. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  9. ^ "AFRICAN ELEPHANT IVORY TRADE STUDY FINAL REPORT" (PDF). savetheelephants.org. August 1979. p. 19. Retrieved 9 May 2011.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  10. ^ a b New Scientist. Reed Business Information. 22 May 1975. p. 452. ISSN 0262-4079. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Bonner, Raymond (1993). At the hand of man: peril and hope for Africa's wildlife. Knopf. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-679-40008-0. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  12. ^ Animal kingdom. New York Zoological Society. 1980. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Wieland, Terry (25 March 2004). A view from a tall hill: Robert Ruark in Africa. Down East Enterprise Inc. p. 411. ISBN 978-0-89272-650-9. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  14. ^ Munger, Edwin S. (1983). Touched by Africa. Castle Press. ISBN 978-0-934912-00-6. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  15. ^ a b "ICE Case Studies - CASE NUMBER: 33 - CASE MNEMONIC: POACH - CASE NAME: Ivory Poaching". American University. December 1997. Retrieved 9 May 2011.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  16. ^ Perlez, Jane (July 19, 1989). "KENYA, IN GESTURE, BURNS IVORY TUSKS". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "Kenya finds Illegal ivory in boxes disguised as diplomatic baggage". CNN. May 6, 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  18. ^ Straziuso, Jason; Michael Casey; William Foreman (2010-05-15). "Ivory trade threatens African elephant". Associated Press. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  19. ^ "Shooting animals for 'sport'". Bornfree.org. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  20. ^ Arkell-Hardwick, Alfred (1903). An ivory trader in North Kenia. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  21. ^ Anderson, David; Grove, Richard H. (25 May 1990). Conservation in Africa: Peoples, Policies and Practice. Cambridge University Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-521-34990-1. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  22. ^ "Kenya Seizes Traveler Carrying Elephant Ivory". Voice of America News. April 29, 2010. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  23. ^ "Elephant Hunting". Conservation Finance. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  24. ^ a b [fttp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/aj114e/aj114e09.pdf "Trophy Hunting In Sub Saharan Africa: Economic Scale and Conservation Significance"] (pdf). fao.org. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  25. ^ "Potential of trophy hunting to create incentives for wildlife conservation in Africa where alternative wildlife-based land uses may not be viable" (pdf). Africa Wildlife Conservation Fund. pp. 283, 286–287, 289. Retrieved 8 May 2011.