There are two big things on my mind as we move into another year. The first is hugely positive: the announcement of a timeline by China for complete closure of its domestic ivory trade. Many people have put years of work into pushing for this, and China also deserves great thanks for taking this monumental step. In Kenya, our growing informer network is still picking up ivory and dealers are being arrested, but we hope to see less of this in the future.
Unfortunately, we have barely had chance to celebrate China’s announcement, because December was another month of tragedies in Amboseli, all the result of the ongoing human-wildlife conflict in the ecosystem. Two people were killed by elephants, and three elephants were killed in retaliation as a result. The backlash from the communities concerned has been understandably ugly, with innocent elephants being killed or injured. We have been doing what we can to defuse the tension in these difficult situations, and it has required all hands on deck.
We are also doing what we can to help alleviate the pain caused by the loss of human life. We are working to find employment opportunities for members of the families of the deceased, as well as looking for educational bursaries for the sons and daughters of those who died. We wish we could do more as we wait for the Kenyan government to make good on its pledge to pay $50,000 in compensation to the families, but sadly, these payouts have yet to happen.
The 45 km fence we are building to try and stop elephant crop raiding is now about half way completed, and we hope that this will go a long way to reducing the huge economic losses suffered by local farmers. However, this fence will only lead to more pressure on other farming areas, highlighting the desperate need to secure, and fence, a hard line between agriculture and wildlife across the entire ecosystem.
On a positive note, despite the high number of livestock killed by predators (an average of more than 11 animals each day), we have seen very few attempts by livestock owners to kill the offending predators. The Big Life predator compensation program, now running for 14 years, is playing a central role in this, as is the colourful addition to Big Life’s predator protection efforts, the Maasai Olympics. The third biennial event took place this December and turned into a nail-biter.
There is nothing to suggest that 2017 is going to be any calmer than 2016, and I believe that Big Life’s work is more important than ever. Thank you, as always, for your generous support.
Director of Operations, Big Life Kenya
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