Thursday 4 September 2014

Richard Leakey - Hero of the First Elephant War - returns to the Maasai Mara

Richard Leakey, former Director of KWS, has returned to the Maasai Mara.
Leakey is back saving elephants and other endangered species threatened by poachers. 69 year old Leakey has made this trip with his protégé, Dr Paula Kahumbu, who now heads up Wildlife Direct, the activist organisation he founded in 2006. This Despite a liver transplant last September and two previous Kidney transplants.

Leakey and Kahumbu have used the power of social media, to engaged their fellow Kenyans in citizen conservation. Kahumbu says there is now an unprecedented groundswell of “citizen concern”, a significant shift in public engagement. The slogan “My elephants, my heritage” is constantly re­tweeted because “elephants are part of our heritage,” she says. Kenyans are beginning to realize that their heritage is being stolen and are no longer prepared to put up with it.

Most recently, Leakey and Kahumba made waves by accusing the Kenyan government of protecting international poaching networks. Leakey levelled these accusations after one of Kenya’s last big tuskers, the magnificent 45 year old Satao, was found dead in Tsavo National Park with its enormous tusks hacked off and presumably already smuggled out of the country. He said there was “no question that there’s very high level protection of individuals who engage in the illegal export of elephant ivory and rhino horn.”

Associates of a well known Kenyan businessman, Feisal Mohamed Ali, were arrested in June in Mombasa with some 228 tusks and 74 ivory pieces weighing some 2 100kg. Although a warrant was issued for Feisal’s arrest, he remains free. Leakey and Kahumbu refer to this as an example of highlevel protection and Kahumbu says, “There are probably another 10 Feisels operating in Kenya right now.”

Such accusations of corruption directed at African administrations and their business connections frequently invite serious trouble, as Leakey knows from his previous experience.  He lost both legs in an Aeroplane crash in 1993 which he firmly believes was an attempt to kill him because of his previous anti poaching efforts, in what I term the First Elephant War, in the 1980s.

Leakey cites recent evidence of corruption within the KWS – six senior deputy directors were recently suspended and more than 30 KWS rangers have also been suspended – as reason to radically reform the organisation. He has also made a formal request to President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare a state of national emergency on wildlife poaching.

At the time of writing the president has not responded.

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