Kenya, elephants & ivory

In all my years of running around Africa, I haven’t yet made it to Kenya, the country that so many people associate Africa with (think Karen Blixen and “Out of Africa”)…  I’m very excited to say that the time has finally come!

Copyright Nick Brandt

Next week I’m heading to the Chyulu Hills, where the anti-poaching organisation Big Life is based, to spend some time with Richard Bonham and the guys fighting the war against elephant poachers.  Co-founded in 2010 by photographer Nick Brandt and conservationist Richard Bonham, the Big Life Foundation employs 280 rangers across 2 million acres of African wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo region of Kenya.  I’m on a special mission this time, but it’s all a bit hush-hush so further details will come next month…  I can say that it’s linked to the connection between Africa and Asia in relation to the ivory trade and also to my upcoming book, “Planet Elephant”, due for release in Australia in August.

Copyright Nick Brandt

Why Kenya?  Well, their elephants are being hit really hard by poachers.  The latest update by the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group on the status of African elephants shows disturbing trends.  Southern Africa still holds most of Africa’s elephant population (56%), but while populations in Central Africa have been most at risk, the report shows that now Eastern and Southern African populations are facing an increasing threat from poaching for their ivory.

Another report launched at CITES points out that large scale seizures of illegal ivory from Africa to Asia have more than doubled since 2009 and global ivory trade is now three times larger than it was in 1998.  The worldwide ivory ban that came into effect in 1989 is no longer enough to stop the killing of Africa’s elephants as demand for ivory has escalated massively across Asia, especially in China but also Thailand, the latter being the world’s most unregulated ivory market.  The killing won’t stop until the demand stops, but governments in demand countries can also be doing a lot more to clamp down on the trade.

Copyright Nick Brandt

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s promising announcement at CITES last month that she would ensure that the legislation loopholes that allow illegal ivory from Africa to be sold freely in Thailand (read more in my blog about my trip to Bangkok on this) hasn’t appeared to result in any action… yet.  No timeline was given as to when the Thai government would start the process of tightening the legislation and enforcing it, so it really isn’t time for elephant-lovers to pop the champagne yet.  Let’s hope we see some positive signs on this front soon, as Thai people love elephants too, and elephants are key to the country’s national heritage and spirituality.

While in Kenya I’ll also be checking out Daphne Sheldrick’s famous elephant and rhino orphanage (the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust), somewhere I have always wanted to visit.  I’m really looking forward to some quality time with elephants.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick with an orphaned elephant

If you’ve been to Kenya and you’ve got any tips for me, leave a comment below as I’d love to hear from you!

About the Author
Dr Tammie Matson is a zoologist, author and director of Matson & Ridley Safaris.
  1. Tammie

    Hi Leonard – thanks a lot and I hope to take a group to Kenya to visit the Big Life team at Ol Donyo next year 🙂

  2. leonard kaamaika

    Hi Tammie. its my pleasure to welcome to the slopes of mount kilimanjaro where the community takes the bigg lif4e for granted. chyulu hills where conservationist rrichard bonham hail and decided to come a resscue to the life of the animals that have been put to danger due to the trade in ivory….. trhis animal are being killed along the tsavo amboseli ecosystem due to human enc rouchment to the land…. bon ham team has done a commendable work though there is still alot to be done… your most welcome to maasai land

  3. Karen Paolillo

    Hi Tam to prove I read your updates. Please give Daphne my love and I hope that your wanderings are successful. Love Karen and the hippos xx

  4. Tammie

    Hi Mirinda, Good to hear you’re heading back to Africa again soon too! And with your lovely mum, all the better. This trip is largely elephant focused and a little bit rhinos, so thanks for the contacts but will have to take you up on them next time. Looking forward to seeing how different the East is to the South!

  5. Mirinda Thorpe

    Hi Tammie, Thats great you are heading to Kenya! I am heading back there in July myself, with my Mum and with a group of volunteers! I was just wondering… the project you referred to here, is the anti-poaching focussed on other species also? As I have a friend in South Africa who has started a Lion Conservation project and is looking at expanding into Kenya also…
    Thanks and regards,
    P.S If you plan on heading out West to Lake Victoria I can get you in touch with my Kenyan family who would be happy to put you up 🙂 They live in Mbita (can google map it).

  6. Tammie

    Thanks Catherine!

  7. catherine

    So excited for you Tammie, and a little jealous too, wish i could be comming along to assist in saving wildlife in Africa especially elephants, wish you all the best and all the success on your mission.


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