National Geographic
Menu

OPINION: My Offer to Help Kenyan Authorities Catch an Ivory Kingpin Is Spurned

By Paula Kahumbu

World Elephant Day was celebrated around the world yesterday, with pageantry, song and dance, events and activities. Everyone was wearing grey.

My day could hardly be described as “fun.” I sat for nearly nine hours with my team in a government waiting room at the office of the Chief of Police, in Nairobi to deliver a letter. Inspector General David Kimaiyo had granted me an appointment at seven in the morning, and I’d left home at 5:30 to be there on time.

This was no ordinary letter. It was an offer to raise funds to help in the arrest of suspected ivory kingpin Feizal Ali Mohamed, who has been a fugitive since June 1. A warrant for his arrest had been issued in a Mombasa court in relation to his involvement in the smuggling of 2.1 tons of ivory, seized at a Mombasa warehouse on June 5.

Every hour that passed in that chilly room made me more determined. I bore the responsibility of delivering on a promise I’d made to 400 people who cosigned the letter.

Clearly David Kimaiyo was not happy about seeing me. After eight-and-a-half hours of waiting, the brusque Inspector General greeted me by saying that he couldn’t meet with me after all, since he was rushing to a press conference and was already late.

He invited us to wait yet another hour while he fulfilled that obligation. We politely declined, and instead, in the space of about three minutes, I handed him the letter and explained why this meeting was so important.

Mr. Kimaiyo glanced at the letter and assured me that nobody was more concerned about the poaching situation than the police. He said they were doing everything possible to stop it.

I had to stop him mid-sentence to tell him we weren’t there to talk about the poaching but to talk about Feizal Ali Mohamed, a notorious suspected ivory trafficker.

I reminded him that Kenya holds the dubious position of being number one in the world for transiting illegal ivory. In one long breath I told him that this involves corruption, organized crime, and transnational crime, which are all threatening our national security.

Mr Kimaiyo stared at me with a confused expression. This conversation was clearly not what he was expecting. After a moment he said, “Goodbye,” then turned on his heel and walked to the door.

For a moment I stood there bewildered that our offer to help the police crack down on organized crime had landed on deaf ears. Days earlier on the phone, Mr Kimaiyo had said he was very happy about our offer to run “WANTED” advertisements in the media and to raise funds for a reward for information leading to Feizal’s arrest. The man I’d just met—cold, harsh, and disrespectful—didn’t match the image I’d formed in that phone conversation.

I left the police headquarters shaking my head. Words fail me, and I’m not proud of the emotions that were coursing through my mind. Hundreds of responses on my Facebook timeline and on Twitter showed the anger and disappointment of fellow Kenyans, especially those who’d signed the letter.

Many people said I was wasting my time trying to get support from Mr. Kimaiyo.

But we can’t give up on him. The Inspector General of the Police is in charge of all wildlife security, and he therefore holds the key to the future of Kenya’s elephants.

That Feizal Ali Mohamed is still a fugitive two months after a warrant for his arrest was issued is ultimately Mr. Kimaiyo’s responsibility, and we must hold him to account.

I have to keep reminding myself that this is not just about elephants. Ivory trafficking is a serious international crime, and it involves organized criminal cartels. It threatens Kenya’s economy, security, and future aspirations. It’s every Kenyan’s business.

Upsetting as Elephant Day was for me, I refuse to be browbeaten. I believe that our persistence, honesty, and integrity will soften Mr. Kimaiyo’s heart.

On my list of bad guys are poachers, traffickers, corrupt government officials, and ivory buyers. I need Mr Kimaiyo to be on my list of heroes. In my next post, I hope to report on the outcome of a polite invitation from Mr. Kimaiyo for a proper conversation about how the citizens of Kenya can help save our heritage—and one of the world’s most magnificent species.

Elephants represent more than our economy, or even our environment.

Elephants are central to the identity of Kenyans. The slaughter of elephants to supply a trade in trinkets to people half a world away speaks volumes about our apathy about protecting that which is precious to us.

Dr. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of WildlifeDirect and heads the HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS campaign—an award-winning campaign with the support of Africans to take responsibility for saving elephants. She graduated from Princeton University where she studied ecology with a specialty on elephants.

She’s the winner of the Whitley Award for Conservation, the Howard Buffet/ National Geographic Award for Conservation Excellence in Africa, and is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

Comments

  1. Judy Brey
    Los Angeles
    September 10, 1:44 am

    Thank you Paula for your extraordinary work to save elephants. I remember reading Richard Leakey’s book Wildlife Wars many years ago, I believe he fired hundreds (thousands?) of govt staff and basically rebuilt KWS to save elephants back then. No doubt it’s time for the same, get these corrupt officials out of there, whatever it takes before it’s too late. Time to name names. With Born Free’s Out of Africa Report, your efforts,Leakey’s knowledge, public demand, the pressure is on! These kingpins, Chinese nationals operating at every point in illegal ivory chain… The blueprint is there but this Inspector General needs to be replaced immediately for any kind of real action.

  2. Sura Mbaya
    United States
    September 7, 2:19 pm

    Paula, what you witnessed is the same thing that thousands of citizens experience every day of their lives when they interact with the police. The Police Chief seems to have something to hide or at least someone to protect and he will not be involved in your campaign lest you jeopardize his retirement plans.

    I wish you godspeed Paula. I admire your courage and your guts and no matter what happens, I hope you understand that we will always be behind you, in spirit.

  3. Subhash Suthar
    UK
    August 21, 7:55 am

    I am from Tazania, my Dad was very much involved in protecting the Elephants, reading the article remembered my Dad saying. It’s the corrupt officials that would kill these grand species. Politicians Police Game Rangers see Dollars don’t see the economic advantage of preserving nurturing this great heritage. Even the Vatican is responsible, never came out in support on banning making icons ref Phillipines. It is a disgust. The I Gs behaviour is typical

  4. Linda Wark
    Canada
    August 19, 10:58 am

    If Kenyan authorities like Inspector General David Kimaiyo have no interest in arresting Feizal Ali Mohamed or any alleged ivory kingpins like him, one has to suspect corruption. The profits made from the Ivory Trade is like a poison leaching in at every weak point. When will there be leaders who lead? with strength of character and pride for their country?

  5. Darlene Parker
    Tanzania
    August 18, 3:11 pm

    Hongera on your courage to hold the Inspector General to task for failing to bring Feizal Ali Mohamed to face trial. It is the same situation in Tanzania, as the Minister for Natural Resources was removed as he was about to reveal the names of those kingpins involved in elephant poaching. The rot starts at the president’s offices!!

  6. Nigel Goodman
    UK
    August 16, 11:50 am

    Few poachers get to Court as they are not found or they jump bail – even less get to trial as evidence goes missing. Kenya is riddled with corruption from top to bottom: In the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 Kenya is ranked 139th out of 176 countries for corruption, tied with Azerbaijan, Nepal, Nigeria, and Pakistan (least corrupt countries are at the top of the list). Is the goal to get to 176?

  7. Gavana wa Karangatha
    Nairobi
    August 15, 12:52 am

    So sad that that the IG Kimaiyo could show little or no interest to this matter. @Paula, dont give up the fight until all hands are off our elephants. You can count on our support.

  8. Zayin
    Australia
    August 14, 8:12 pm

    Thankyou you for persisting with the fight.

  9. Moronge
    Nairobi
    August 14, 4:51 pm

    Methinks the attitude of the police chief is strong evidence of the state’s complicity in this poaching menace. Kenya is on the fast lane to failed state status. Thanks Paula.

  10. Hunter Ruthrauff
    San Diego, CA
    August 14, 3:23 pm

    Thank you sir for all the work that you conduct. We need more people like you in the world. Keep up the good fight!

  11. Amanda Bennett
    England
    August 14, 3:23 pm

    I am totally behind everything you are trying to do but it is so very hard. I lived in Nairobi in the late seventies and was almost thrown out of the country for trying to speak out about what was going on and who was involved with ivory smuggling. It is heart breaking

  12. Bill Miller
    Yakima, WA
    August 14, 11:33 am

    Sorry, but with all due respect, you people are really, really, naive. “…one has to suspect corruption”, you’ve got to be joking!! Of course, I mean as a matter of course, corruption is endemic in all levels of these governments and societies. Don’t suspect it, know it as an absolute fact. Until you do, all of your efforts will be futile.

  13. Charles Warria
    Nairobi
    August 14, 8:44 am

    I watched the incident on local TV and was utterly shocked at the behaviour of the Inspector General of Police. You see, his behaviour is at the core of two important things in the fight against poaching in Kenya; that there must be high-ranking state officials who are involved in the poaching and smuggling of ivory in Kenya and that the police in Kenya may have been coopted into the illicit ring of poaching and smuggling. But the other issue is the ‘big man’ mentality and ego, that is at the fabric of any leadership position in Kenya. Mr. Kimaiyo put his big ego before everything else and did not care whether he was on TV or not. He was not just about to admit that civilians can do his job better than himself. In the meantime, elephants will continue to die daily and in their hundreds and thousands every year.

  14. JA Malone
    Toronto Canada
    August 14, 7:36 am

    Richard Leakey has said the Kenyan government and police know who and where the kingpins are. This experience underscores his point. A well known MP has been reported in Kenyan newspapers as being another, yet is never challenged. Until all of them charged we must believe involvement in poaching is at the highest levels. Dr. Kahumbu has an international reputation and to dismiss her is to dismiss world opinion.

  15. Lori Sirianni
    August 14, 6:28 am

    Thank you, Paula, for your fortitude and relentless efforts to have Feizal Ali Mohamed arrested. If Kenyan authorities like Inspector General David Kimaiyo have no interest in arresting wanted alleged ivory kingpins like him, one has to suspect corruption. And it means the elephants have no chance. Have shared your post on our Global March for Elephants and Rhinos page and we will stand with you in all your work and until Feizel Ali Mohamed is behind bars where he belongs.

    https://www.facebook.com/March4Elephants/photos/a.766722643345889.1073741828.621668134518008/857386014279551/?type=1&theater

  16. Chris Whiteman
    Nottingham, England
    August 14, 2:25 am

    We need to re-trace back up the the paper trail of the Container used for this consignment. It will lead to the people who packed it. This must be a collection centre.