By Alina D. Sharon
At the moment that you’re reading this article, someone on the African continent is selling ivory or rhinoceros horns and making a fortune. Ivory, which comes from elephant tusks, is worth about $900 per pound on the black market. A typical elephant carries about 22 pounds of ivory, which comes out to nearly $20,000 for shooting one elephant. Rhinoceros horns are worth as much as $30,000 per pound.
An article in the October issue of AOPA Pilot magazine examined the ongoing efforts of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to combat animal poaching as well as the involvement of Dr. Bill Clark, an Israeli-American conservationist dedicated to wildlife protection. Clark has been working with KWS to combat poaching in Kenya for decades, and, as it turns out, he isn’t the only Israeli engaging in such collaborative efforts. The fact that Israel is dealing with Palestinian terrorism within its own borders (most recently the Nov. 18 attack on a Jerusalem synagogue that killed five Jewish worshippers), as well as monitoring regional threats like the Syrian civil war and Iran’s nuclear program, has not stopped Israeli government organizations and private companies from helping Kenya with wildlife preservation in more ways than one.
While living in Israel, Clark has led the Yotvata Hai-Bar nature preserve for several years and has worked for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. He has also been involved with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
A study published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal showed that from 2010 to 2012, poachers killed about 100,000 wild African elephants for their ivory, a population decline of 2-3 percent a year. The country of Kenya alone loses nearly 40,000 elephants a year and in 2013 lost about 59 rhinoceroses.
“The [animal\ birthrate cannot keep up with that,” Clark told JNS.org.
Poachers tend to operate through syndicates. Ivory is used to make vanity tables, signature seals, jewelry, chopsticks, and luxury items like fancy decorative carvings. The rhinoceros horn is used in Asian medicines and is believed to reduce fevers, cure cancer, and act as an aphrodisiac.
“A poacher can get for one night of dirty work in the bush more than a ranger is going to earn in a couple of years,” Clark said.
To combat poaching, KWS has about 3,000 rangers, half of which are assigned to anti-poaching and wildlife protection duties. They are divided across 18,000 square miles of protected land, which amounts to one ranger for every six square miles. Encountering poachers is a dangerous experience that can result in serious injury and even death.
AOPA Pilot described Clark’s initiative to bring two Israeli police K-9 officers to Kenya to coordinate deployment of dogs that can help stop fleeing poachers. One of Clark’s other endeavors involved purchasing several old airplanes from the Israeli Air Force for about 3 Israeli shekels per kilogram (78 cents per 2.2 pounds) and having Israeli volunteers work on their restoration, which took more than a year. Five of those airplanes were then donated to KWS, and Israeli flight instructors volunteered to travel to Kenya to train KWS pilots on how to fly the airplanes safely and proficiently.
“This is how we’d pass the weekend: pita, hummus, Coca Cola, and rebuilding an airplane,” said Clark.
KWS pilots must fly at low altitudes in order to see what is happening on the ground. But the Tsavo region’s eastern and western national parks cover more than 20,000 square kilometers (7,722 square miles).
If they see something, KWS pilots can radio for backup by providing GPS coordinates of the location and a description of the suspects. More often, however, KWS pilots find an animal carcass, allowing them to pinpoint the location of a poaching gang in the park. More....