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Update: Murder of Conservationist Esmond Bradley Martin

Update to my The Daily Beast story Who Killed This Man Who Saved So Many Rhinos and Elephants?

On February 4th, 76 year-old wildlife conservationist Esmond Bradley Martin was found slaughtered in his mansion in Langata, a posh residential enclave in Nairobi.

The “knife” that police and media had described as the murder weapon was more likely a panga, the Swahili word for a machete.

A source close to the investigation later told The Daily Beast that Martin had been “tortured and brutally murdered”. The source added that of all the motives land was strongest. At the time Martin had been involved in a dispute over several acres near his estate.

One acre lots in Langata are on the market for upwards of $500,000. Martin owned over 20 acres. A neighbor said he was trying to buy more “as a buffer”.

Langata residents, including Martin, were strenuously opposed the construction of a church on a lot beside Martin’s property. A Stop Order from Karen Langata District Association (KLDA) was sent on February 6th to Internal Security and Coordination Cabinet Secretary Fred Okengo Matiang’i Matiang’i and former Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea. The politicians are registered as owners of the one-acre land L.R No 11914/72 along Mukoma Rd.

While those mentioned in the stop order are not the main focus of the murder investigation, according to my source, “their involvement cannot be ruled out”.

Entrance to Esmond Bradley Martin’s estate

Church construction site next to Martin’s estate

A Stop [Construction] Order from Karen Langata District Association (KLDA) was sent on February 6th to Internal Security and Coordination Cabinet Secretary Fred Okengo Matiang’i Matiang’i and former Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea. The politicians are registered as owners of the one-acre land L.R No 11914/72 along Mukoma Rd

Who Killed This Man Who Saved So Many Rhinos and Elephants?

UNHAPPY VALLEY

Who Killed This Man Who Saved So Many Rhinos and Elephants?

MARGOT KISER

02.11.18 1:55 PM ET

NAIROBI, Kenya—Esmond Bradley Martin was found dead on February 4, a stab wound in his neck and the floor of his home covered with blood. The famous white-haired American wildlife activist and expert on the illegal ivory trade had been murdered within the confines of his estate in Langata, a posh suburb of his adopted country’s capital.

So far Kenya’s police have pursued two lines of investigation: a robbery gone wrong; a planned murder linked to Martin’s efforts to circumvent the illegal trade in wildlife.

Now a third possibility—that Martin was killed as a tactic in an attempted land grab—has come to the attention of The Daily Beast.

On that quiet Sunday afternoon, the 76-year-old veteran of East Africa’s “wildlife wars” and his wife, Chryssee, had just shared a curry lunch with friends at Nairobi’s National Park. They returned home around 2:00 p.m. Chryssee went for a stroll in the wooded forests of their 20-acre, park-like property. When she returned to the house, she discovered the body of her husband on the second floor, a deep stab wound to his neck.

While foreigners don’t die by violence here in Kenya as often as media coverage can make it seem, their murders are prominent and so get a big share of attention.

Martin joins the ranks of prominent activists and researchers who have met violent ends while defending or observing Africa’s wildlife in Kenya and elsewhere on the continent. Particularly well-known cases are the murders of gorilla researcher Diane Fossey, and of Joan Root, an activist who died trying to save the ecosystem of Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. One thing these murders have in common is that they remain unsolved, the killers never brought to book.

Other cases include the killings of Julie Ward, a British tourist murdered in the Maasai Mara in 1988, and Tonio Trzebinski, an artist killed in 2001.

While Kenya’s police force has struggled to overcome its reputation for corruption and ineptitude, the list of unsolved murders remains long.

The Kenya government’s promise to investigate the murder of Chris Msando, the Independent Electoral Boundaries  Commission’s acting information and communications advisor, has so far been unfulfilled. And the list of instantly cold cases, with the killing of Martin, may have just grown.

A specifically relevant precedent was the murder in August 2017 of 51-year-old Wayne Lotter, head of a wildlife conservation NGO. He was shot dead in Tanzania as he drove to a hotel from Dar es Salaam’s airport. Lotter’s foundation reportedly funded an elite Tanzanian anti-poaching unit, responsible for the arrest of major ivory traffickers including China’s Yang Feng Glan, known as “the Queen of Ivory,” and a slew of inglorious elephant poachers. The only item the unknown assailants took was Lotter’s laptop.

Because of Martin’s work, which often involved going undercover in remote locations around the world, the media were quick to link his murder to his activism and investigations. But others think that it was unrelated to his career. They argue that Martin was not the kind of target to draw such brutal intervention by traffickers of ivory and rhino horn.

Doubters say, sure, Martin knew who all the kingpins were. He knew how the networks operated. But he never named names. And he was 76 years old! Why would he be killed now?

Furthermore, his recent work showed the contraband trade has been shrinking. His “Decline in the Legal Ivory Trade in China in Anticipation of a Ban” (PDF) was published by conservation group Save The Elephants just last year. The report was co-authored by consultant Lucy Vigne, and showed that 130 licensed outlets in China had been reducing the quantity of ivory items on display for sale, and cutting prices to improve sales.

Police say the killing looks like no more than a botched robbery.  Yet close friends and neighbors point out that little or nothing appears to have been stolen. One, who visited the scene and asked to remain anonymous, said there appeared to be no struggle on the house’s ground floor where Martin kept his office. The considerable presence of blood on the floor above, along with the presence there of the body, indicate that that is where the murder took place.

It was in the ground floor office of his house that Martin spent many hours writing reports about the ivory and rhino horn trade. Sources say the office appeared not to have been touched at any time during the attack, as if the records of his investigations were not of interest.

So, does Martin’s murder fit the profile of other apparent assassinations?

One security expert who declined to speak for attribution told The Daily Beast no. “Bumping off [Martin] with a knife in his house on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t sound like a hit.” This Kenyan investigator—with over 30 years’ experience in wildlife management security and aviation—adds, “The traditional hit in Kenya is performed with a gun, far from home or the office.” Furthermore, “Esmond was an academic. His work did not involve direct law enforcement.”

While Martin’s work led him to strange and remote places, from Lagos to Laos, it remained abstract and probably irrelevant for most wildlife criminals.

Esmond Bradley Martin hailed from the monied class of the U.S. East Coast establishment. He was the great grandson of Henry Phipps, the Pittsburgh steel magnate and partner of Andrew Carnegie. Martin and Chryssee first arrived in Kenya in 1967, and built the home where he was murdered.

His talent for detail was evident soon after he arrived in Kenya. In his first book, The History of Malindi, published in 1974 (PDF) he traced the rise and fall of retail and service industries such as tourism and fishing. As one reviewer noted with more than a hint of sarcasm, “It is no trouble to Dr. Martin to measure the diameter and length of mangrove poles used for various purposes … more studies with such valuable minutiae are needed.”

Friends say his interest in the wildlife trade began as he learned about the various items being ferried on dhows from Mombasa to the Middle East, one of these items being rhino horn from Kenya bound for Yemen, where the then plentiful horn was used for dagger handles.

Martin was famous for his mop of hair, which was as white in the ‘90s when I first met him as it was when I last saw him a few years ago. Both times we discussed—over tea—the ebb and flow of the illegal wildlife trade.

He and his colleague Vigne often investigated as a pair. They’d go to remote places posing as buyers, one of them chatting up a shopkeeper while the other took inventory of wildlife products out for sale. His views and prowess were sought in the House of Commons, and by the most prestigious wildlife charities. The U.N. made him its special envoy on rhino conservation.

Dan Stiles, a Kenya-based American consultant for wildlife trade related NGOs knew Esmond and Chryssee for almost 40 years and carried out several ivory market investigations with him.

“It could have been more than a botched robbery, but unlikely it was carried out by angry ivory traffickers,” Stiles told The Daily Beast, adding,  “Esmond was a dearly loved and respected member of the conservation community and he will be greatly missed.”

If a botched burglary doesn’t seem to add up to a motive for murder, and if this killing wasn’t related to Martin’s work, what else could it have been related to? The third possibility is land—a highly charged, emotional issue in Kenya.

This country is changing fast. Wilderness has disappeared, wildlife has declined as livestock has increased, and grassland rapidly turns into dust. The changing climate has made droughts deeper and more frequent. These chronic factors are exploited by politicians and others to escalate tribal and economic rivalries (sometimes disguised as Islamic terrorism) and to incite violence.

In the months leading up to Kenya’s recent presidential election, violent land-related incidents increased, especially in Laikipia to the north, where several large wildlife conservation ranches are located. Such properties—potentially useful for grazing and other profitable forms of development—are the focus of those who’ll go great lengths to accomplish land acquisition. The attacks on noted conservationist, Kuki Gallman, on her 98,000 acre ranch last summer is one such instance.

While it may seem strange to deem Martin’s 20 acres in Langata such a parcel, the property’s proximity to Nairobi magnifies its per-acre value. The nearby district of Karen, looking out on the Ngong Hills, was home to Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) author of Out of Africa. Langata, which has as its stellar denizens the likes of photographer Peter Beard, was once considered Kenya’s Wild West. These days, churches and strip malls line the main arteries coming out from the city.

In the days following Martin’s death, I stopped in front of his driveway. He’d been known for keeping this property’s gate unlocked. Now, access was blocked by that massive, ornate metal gate, an “M” perched at the top. But no such barrier could stop the ear-splitting sounds of jackhammers that seemed to be emanating from within, or very near to, the Martin property. When I drove toward the other side, a section of what appeared to be pristine forest had been sealed off. It was closed for construction.

A Langata resident provided The Daily Beast with a copy of an injunction to stop “the proposed construction [beside Martin’s property] of a church and associated facilities for religious purposes.” The petition resulting in this order, was filed by the Karen Langata District Association (KLDA). Bradley Martin was a member of the KLDA and an opponent of the church construction. Numerous residents pointed out multiple irregularities and violations in the building porject.

The cease-and-desist order was issued two days after Bradley Martin’s death, but seems to have had no effect.

A known member of the congregation of this proposed church, which is Seventh-Day Adventist, is Kenya’s current Minister of Internal Security, Fred Okengo Matiang’i. His name appears as one of two parties being told to halt construction. The other name is that of Zablon A. Mabea, the former Commissioner for Lands. So, despite the injunction, the construction continues.

Martin helped fund the effort to block the church’s installation. One Karen resident who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity said that Martin was especially vocal in his opposition to the construction.

Very little was stolen by whoever it was who killed Martin. His phone was still on him. His safe was cracked, but gold and gems were still in it, according to the neighbor, who theorized someone organized the attack to make it look like a botched burglary. According to the London Times the only things taken were cash and property deeds.

Many critics of the government argue that close ties between the security apparatus and politicians account for the country’s high incidence of unsolved murders. “This puts us in a conundrum. You’ve got a stop order and you’re supposed to use the police to enforce the stop order—but the head of the police is involved with this church,” as one opponent of the construction put it.

Rumors and speculation continue to swirl. More than one neighbor of Martin’s reported that he’d received ongoing threats over the years relating to his land. Several years ago his night watchman was murdered.

“Esmond’s heart was like an unlocked gate,” said longtime friend and lion conservator Tony Fitzjohn.

Neighbors and their watchmen agreed on one point, Esmond should have kept his real, iron gate locked.

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Trip to South Sudan 2015

March, 2015

I’d been on the hunt for former U.S. security firm Blackwater owner, Erik Prince, for Newsweek. At the time Prince’s Malta-based logistics company, Frontier Services Group, was sending supplies and repairing oil production facilities. Contrary to some reports, sources said he’d also been training police and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army – SPLA – to fight rebel leader Riek Machar and to protect Chinese-owned oil fields. The U.N. spokesman at the time was not keen to host me  apparently because a Newsweek had published an article three months previously that reflected poorly on the U.N.. They seemed to try just about everything to dissuade me from heading to the Upper Nile state, the only region producing oil at the time. I stubbornly persisted and they eventually relented. UNMISS turned out to be particularly accommodating.

Erik Prince has since pulled out of South Sudan.

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Armed civilian

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DEFENSE MINISTRY P1170887-2
South Sudan’s Ministry of Defense

 

Op enduring towel
“Enduring towel” that a gentleman stationed at a South Sudan military base loaned me for two nights.

 

Juba
View from an expensive Juba hotel – a microcosm of the divide between Africa’s elite and impoverished accelerated by international intergovernmental organizations.  Beyond the corrugated tin squalor is the leafy compound of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.

 

Juba's Hummers

 

Paloich
Chinese State-owned oil production facility.

 

POISON WATERS P1170673-4
Acres of oil tailing ponds containing toxic waters spill into the Nile River each rainy season, killing wildlife. Though workers with Chinese state-owned companies claim to deliver potable water to residents frequently, illnesses from drinking contaminated river water are still reported.

 

Dink IDP camp
Dinka IDP camp, where there are schools. UNHCR provides health care, women whose husbands were killed during the 2013 civil workshops are taught quilt and bead making  by Kenyans.
A Nuer IDP camp I visited was cramped and lacking in proper health care as compared with a Dinka camp. Dozens live in a small compound in open spaces. Intimacy is more or less impossible.
A Nuer IDP camp I visited near an oil production facility was cramped and lacking in proper health care. Dozens live in a small compound in open spaces, lacking privacy. Intimacy is nearly impossible and child birth is made public.

A Nuer IDP camp I visited was cramped and lacking in proper health care as compared with a Dinka camp. Dozens live in a small compound in open spaces. Intimacy is more or less impossible.

WILDLIFE SOUTH SUDAN
Flying over Bandingilo National Park with directors of Wildlife Conservation Society. Check out my feature for The Daily Beast about wildlife and charcoal poaching by South Sudan’s military.
Sad about Cecil? These Animals are being Slaughtered by the Thousands

 

 

Ivory Smuggler faces ruling under Kenya’s new Wildlife Act

NAIROBI, Kenya – A ruling is expected tomorrow in the case of a suspected ivory smuggler who today pleaded guilty to ivory-related charges.  

According to the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) Tang Yong Jian was arrested on January 18 at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for attempting to smuggle 3.4 kg of raw ivory that officials say he had stashed in his suitcase while in transit from Mozambique to Guangzhou, a major transport hub on mainland China.

A joint security team of officials from the Kenya Airports Police Unit, Customs, Kenya Airways and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) arrested and booked the 40 year-old Chinese national at the airport’s Police Station.

Tang Yong Jian pleaded guilty today to “ivory-related charges”.

 Under Kenya’s new Wildlife Act of 2013 – effective only since January 10, 2014 – the 40 year-old Chinese national faces a fine of up to Ksh20million (US$230,000) or a sentence of life in a Kenyan prison. Until three weeks ago Kenya’s antiquated wildlife laws (first enacted in 1979) poachers and smugglers had only to pay a fine of a few hundred dollars and little if any jail time. 

African elephant populations are now critically low mainly due to Asia’s demand for the creature’s ivory tusks used for medicine and carving. 

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An old “tusker” holds forth at a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya, 2011

 

 

The Economics of Extinction | Margot Kiser | Newsweek

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In Newsweek Magazine

The Economics of Extinction: Africa’s Elephants and Rhinos in Danger | Margot Kiser

Jan 29, 2013 12:00 AM EST

How long before Africa’s rhinos and elephants are wiped out in the wild?

You wouldn’t think a room as big as a warehouse could feel this airless — not even a maximum-security warehouse, like this one. At the same time, the place seems odorless. Which also seems strange, with so much evidence of death shelved in wire-mesh bins and stacked up like firewood on all sides. But the overwhelming impression is utter soundlessness, except for the tread of armed paramilitary escorts’ boots.

Poaching
In Kenya, this anti-poaching team protects a northern white rhino. (Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty)

Few other outsiders have ever seen the inside of the Tanzanian government’s notoriously secretive Ivory Room. Whenever the country’s law enforcers catch ivory poachers or smugglers, or find an elephant dead of natural causes, the tusks are supposed to be sent to this repository in the African nation’s largest city, Dar es Salaam. At present the government-owned stockpile holds more than 137 tons of ivory. Its retail value on the ground in Hong Kong would be more than a quarter of a billion dollars—if only the worldwide ban on ivory trade didn’t prohibit such sales.

For now, however, the ivory continues to pile up. And the worst of it is that what arrives in this government warehouse represents only a fraction of the total kill in Tanzania alone, never mind the rest of the continent. Today, all of Africa is suffering one of the bloodiest wildlife slaughters in history—of not only the elephant, but the rhinoceros as well. Asia’s booming economies have spawned an insatiable market for contraband luxuries and traditional “medicine.” (The truth is that, contrary to persistent myth, rhino horn has no more medical value than your fingernails, which consist of the exact same substance: keratin.)

Having effectively destroyed its own wildlife supply (the Javan rhino was declared extinct on the mainland in 2011), Asia has turned to Africa’s comparatively well-stocked populations. Conservationists warn that, at current rates, only drastic action will save the elephant or the rhino.

And yet no one seems able to say just what kind of action would be drastic enough to succeed. Coldblooded Asian moneymen are said to be snatching up ivory and rhino horn as investments against times of even greater scarcity. Prices have already reached unprecedented heights, with ivory commanding more than $1,000 per kilogram in Beijing, while rhino horn fetches more than 20 times that figure—far more precious than gold or cocaine.

Lured by these riches, seasoned killers are elbowing the old-style amateurs and subsistence hunters out of the poaching business. These days the illicit ivory market is fed by some of the continent’s most vicious and heavily armed militant groups, including the Janjaweed of Sudan, Somalia’s Al-Shabab, and the Lord’s Resistance Army originally from Uganda. Meanwhile, the dwindling populations of rhinoceros have come under attack by a new order of professional criminals who mount commando assaults using helicopters, night-vision goggles, high-powered rifles, and RPGs.

Thanks to such rapacity, the continent’s elephant population has fallen to the middle six figures—roughly half of what it was in the late 1970s. In Tanzania alone, poachers eliminate about 10,000 of the beasts annually—up to 9 percent of the country’s total herd—according to recent testimony by James Lembeli, chairman of Tanzania’s Parliamentary Committee on Land, Natural Resources, and Environment.

In other words, the country’s poachers are making off with roughly double the contents of the Ivory Room every year. The threat to the rhinoceros is even direr. Across the continent, barely 26,000 remain: 21,150 of the white-rhino species, mostly in South Africa, and 4,200 of the critically endangered eastern black species, mostly in Kenya. The western black subspecies was declared extinct in November 2011. And only seven specimens of the northern white rhino subspecies survive, four of them at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Painstaking management, diligent security, and imported stock have enabled Tanzania to rebuild its embattled black-rhino population to around 100 animals, but the killers are at work there as well. The fruits of the poaching frenzy are hawked shamelessly at Dar es Salaam’s Mwenge market. Just step inside any of these ramshackle shops and make your way past the dusty carved-ebony giraffes and hippos to the back room. There’s always a back room. “You looking for underground business?” the visibly intoxicated shopkeeper slurs. “We have pembe”—Swahili for rhino horn.

Poaching
Elephants in Kenya. Ivory can fetch up to $1,000 per kilogram in Beijing. (Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty)

His assistant immediately produces a foot-long tusk from a bag beneath a table and begins shaving off a small pile of flaked ivory. It looks like shredded Parmesan—or perhaps toenail clippings. “Will cure anything,” the shopkeeper promises. He says he finds plenty of customers among the 100,000 Chinese nationals who live and work in the Tanzanian capital. His asking price for powdered ivory is $93 a gram—about twice the going rate for that much gold dust. For that amount he says he’ll toss in a brand-new elephant-hair bracelet. He wants $900 for the whole tusk. Or for $3,000 you can have one the size of a man’s arm. He doesn’t happen to have any rhino horn in the shop just now, but come back in a few days, he says. He’s sure he can find what you need. Rats skitter along the rafters.

Although poachers in Africa can only dream of prices like that for their kills, they do all right by local standards. In Tanzania they’re likely to take home $450 per kilogram of tusk—not bad money in a country where per capita income is under $600 a year, according to the latest U.N. statistics. Across the border in Kenya, middlemen typically pay $3,500 per kilogram for rhino horn. Around Laikipia and Nakuru, the upcountry areas of Kenya where most of the poaching takes place, locals generally subsist on $300 or less a year.

Such desperate poverty inevitably encourages poaching, but conservationists also blame the region’s toothless wildlife-protection laws. In fact, most Africans regard the big animals as menaces far worse than the poachers who prey on them. Subsistence farmers in the countryside live in fear that their crops will be trampled by elephants, and if a man with a gun can keep their families from going hungry, he’s their friend and hero, not a criminal.

In the long run, however, poaching poses a grave threat even to those Kenyans, Tanzanians, and other Africans. The fact is that elephants, rhinos, and other “charismatic megafauna” are essential to sub-Saharan Africa’s vital tourism industries. And yet poachers just laugh at the criminal sanctions they face in countries like Kenya and Tanzania.

Claus Mortensen remembers how his hopes for the rhino soared at the start of the new century. As longtime manager of Mugie Ranch, a 49,000-acre livestock operation and private wildlife refuge in central Kenya, he had dreamed of bringing the long-vanished black rhinoceros back to its former home ground among the lions, giraffes, and elephants of the acacia-dotted Laikipia plateau. At last it seemed possible: the hunting and poaching frenzy of the 1970s and early 1980s had become a distant memory, thanks to a shoot-to-kill directive, a concerted anti-ivory consumer-education campaign in the West, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Mortensen’s two dozen transplanted rhinos quickly made themselves at home in the half of the ranch that was set aside for them. “The first years were bliss,” he recalls. But starting in 2008, his dream fell apart. Rhino-horn prices jumped in Asia, and poachers in Africa went on a rampage to fill the demand. Wildlife experts blame a viral Internet rumor about a nameless Vietnamese official who supposedly experienced a miraculous cure from cancer thanks to powdered rhino horn. In the years since, Western journalists have never managed to find him or her. Conservationists suspect that he or she may have been a fictitious character invented by an unscrupulous Asian marketer.

Poaching
This ivory is being impounded by the Kenyan Wildlife Service. It’s unknown who killed this elephant or why. (Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty)

The ranch lost six of its rhinos in just three years. Kenya Wildlife Service investigators finally tracked down a local middleman and arrested him (and others) for organizing the killings, and Mortensen attended the trial. The accused killers—Kenyan Somalis, as it happened—lounged in the hallway outside the courtroom and taunted Mortensen as he passed. “Kifaru bado kufa?” they asked him in Swahili: are your rhino dead yet? When he went home to the ranch that night, he learned that still another rhino had been killed in his absence. Mortensen says the middleman was found guilty and fined $470. Just one of the horns he got would have been worth at least $200,000 in Vietnam.

The California-based owners of Mugie Ranch agonized over what to do. In the end, they decided they couldn’t leave the surviving rhinos at risk of being killed, and efforts to protect them had become cost-prohibitive. With the help of the Kenya Wildlife Service the owners sent their 23 remaining animals to the relative safety of Ruma National Park, on the distant shores of Lake Victoria.

I was at the ranch a year ago to witness the departure of Mugie’s last rhino, a young female the ranch staff had named Parri. She ran across the savanna as a helicopter drifted overhead. A KWS sharpshooter aimed his rifle, fired, and scored a bull’s-eye. A tranquilizer dart’s fluorescent-pink shuttlecock bobbed briefly on her rump before she staggered and collapsed. Rangers on the ground scrambled to amputate most of her two horns (they regenerate) and implant radio transponders in the stubs for future tracking purposes. Then a stimulant injection jolted her awake again. She lurched to her feet and bolted straight into a big crate that had been placed right in front of her. Parri was on her way.

Unfortunately most of Africa’s poaching problems defy such tidy solutions, and the senseless slaughter continues. Ian Craig is the owner of Lewa Downs, a private sanctuary that is home to one of the largest black-rhino populations on the entire continent. (Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton here at the foot of Mount Kenya in 2010.) The place is famous for its tight security, but in two days this past December, poachers killed four of his animals—two females and two immature males. Three of the animals were killed for nothing. “They got one horn,” says Craig. Mortensen says in despair: “If the poachers can get into Lewa—one of the most heavily guarded ranches in Kenya—there may be no hope.”

Hopeless or not, the entire continent’s situation seems grim at best. Over the years, South Africa has won wide praise for its efforts to save the rhino, but the country lost a record 668 of the animals to poachers in 2012—fully 220 more than were killed in 2011. And massive seizures of ivory in Asia and elsewhere suggest that far more is getting through undetected. The awful truth is that the forces conspiring to kill the elephant and the rhino are more organized, better equipped, and more efficient than the agencies that are trying to keep them alive. “It’s not just an environmental issue anymore,” says Ian James Saunders, cofounder of the Tsavo Trust. “It’s an internal security issue.”

Saunders, in his mid-40s, is a former British Army and intelligence officer and a veteran of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These days he’s based in a remote corner of Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park, where he’s setting up what he calls “a new law-enforcement infrastructure” in an area where poaching is particularly rampant. The rise of organized crime, in the form of ivory and rhino-horn syndicates, is a threat to the whole country, he warns. Just look at the resources America devotes to fighting organized crime, he says, “and it’s still a losing battle. Imagine how much more difficult it is in Tanzania and Kenya.”

Poaching
This rhino skull in South Africa has been shorn of its horn. The animal was killed by poachers. (Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty)

The killings get more and more vicious—and more brazen. Earlier this month in Tsavo East, a heavily armed group of poachers massacred an entire family of 11 elephants, including a 2-month-old baby. The killers gunned down the youngest ones first, evidently knowing that this would cause the adults to gather into a tight group to defend the little ones rather than scatter. Poachers have used the same tactic with similar results in southern Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve.

Nevertheless, a lack of funds makes it practically impossible for either country to fight the poachers. This past October, Tanzania’s minister for tourism and natural resources, Khamis Kagasheki, applied for special dispensation from CITES to sell 110 tons of ivory from the warehouse. (He only wishes he could sell it all, but CITES forbids the sale of confiscated ivory.) The hope was that the proceeds would fund new efforts to stop poaching. Besides, says Kagasheki, a Fordham-educated economist who was appointed to the job thanks to his flawless reputation for integrity, maintaining security at the warehouse costs money, and he has no cash to spare.

But before CITES could meet to consider the application, authorities in Hong Kong seized two shipments of smuggled Tanzanian ivory worth more than $1 million each. Embarrassed and frustrated, Kagasheki withdrew the application.

Wildlife experts propose a whole range of ideas to deter the killers if not stop them. Daphne Sheldrick urges tougher penalties for poachers. In a lifetime of working with animals in Kenya, she has raised more than 130 orphaned elephants and more than a dozen orphaned black rhino. “You can get life imprisonment for killing a man,” she says, her blue eyes glittering, “but only nine months for killing an elephant. Killing an elephant is equally serious in my view. There are so few left.”

Others say it’s useless to go after the triggermen. “Blaming or shooting the poachers is just stomping out fires,” says Richard Ruggiero, a biologist and old Africa hand with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We need to take out the syndicates. Rhino traffickers are the most hard-core criminals that exist today. They are the same people who trade in humans, drugs, arms, and blood diamonds.”

But the higher you go in the syndicates, the harder it becomes to identify the crooks, never mind prosecute them. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, says there’s only one solution: “involve the Chinese.” He’s confident that when Beijing finally decides it’s time for Chinese consumers to stop buying ivory and rhino horn, they’ll stop in short order. Never mind people who say the old traditions are too powerful to reverse, he says: “How do you stop binding women’s feet? The Communist Party stopped it dead overnight.”

The environmental-protection organization WildAid is urging consumers across Asia to avoid rhino horn and ivory, and the group claims to have had success in the past in discouraging Chinese diners from eating shark-fin soup. The group says many Chinese mistakenly believe that rhinos shed their horns every year, the way deer drop their antlers to grow new ones.

In any case, the traffic in horns and tusks shows few signs of slowing. Although Nigeria has only 100 wild elephants of its own, it has become the continent’s largest center for retail ivory, according to field studies by the Kenya-based wildlife-trade authority Esmond Bradley Martin, who estimates that 98 percent of the buyers are Chinese. In the past decade the number of Chinese living and working in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, has soared—and in the city’s Lekki market, he found a vast assortment of carved ivory goods at only a fraction of the prices they would fetch in China. Chopsticks that would cost $455 in Guangzhou were a steal in Lagos at $63. An ivory necklace that might go for nearly $600 in China was priced at $57.

The toll from such baubles and trinkets adds up to a bloodbath. During his study of the Lekki market, Bradley Martin counted a total of 14,000 ivory items, all from elephants freshly killed in neighboring Benin, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and as far away as Kenya and Tanzania.

Gazing across the savanna at Lewa Downs, Craig can only wonder if anything can stop the poaching in time to save the wild rhino. “The endgame is that in 30 years, the rhino will be a zoo animal, protected in little isolated pockets,” he says. “And rhinos don’t breed well in zoos. Then what do you do?” At the same time, Douglas-Hamilton refuses to despair—for the elephant, at least. “We have been through one holocaust before,” he says, grimly recalling the wholesale slaughter of the 1970s and early ’80s. “We can get through the second.”

Win or lose, it’s a painful business. Mortensen is up at dawn every morning on game patrol. The ranch still has elephants, cheetahs, and other animals to keep track of, even if the rhinos are gone. And yet as the mist clears each morning, he automatically looks for the old, familiar three-toed tracks. The rhinos of Mugie Ranch used to cross the red-dirt road at the same spot every night to browse a favorite area.

That was part of the problem. Rhinos’ clockwork habits make them wide-open targets for poachers. “I miss the rhino,” says Mortensen. The worry and the heartbreak just became too much. “I don’t miss waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of gunshots, or the sound of the [VHF] radio going on,” he says. “Your heart stops.” The big beasts are hundreds of miles away now, but they’re all safe and sound—as far as he knows.

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Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering piracy, geopolitics, and wildlife conservation in East Africa. She is currently at work on a memoir of her life as a safari wife in post-socialist Tanzania, where she established a wildlife-conservation area at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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