Ian Parker Collection of East African Wildlife Conservation: The Ivory Trade


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Ian Parker Collection of East African Wildlife Conservation: The Ivory Trade
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Parker, Ian.S.C.
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P.O. Box 30678,


In July 1974 1 was asked to prepare a report on the East African ivory
trade and its political implications. I agreed to do so on a professional basis.
The sponsors requested that their names be kept secret.

The report was completed in October 1974. Its salient features were:

1. Current and past policy toward ivory lacked appreciation of its role as
a currency, availability and the situation of the majority of people who
exploited it. Summarised the position is that irrespective of the needs
and lusts of men, if elephants are born, in time they will die. In dying
they leave freely available ivory. Potentially this is the largest source
of tusks in Africa. It is unreal to expect people living in poverty and in
proximity to elephant populations not to take advantage of such wealth.
In the circumstances no law is likely to succeed in preventing its use.
Natural elephant mortality therefore provides an irremovable basis for
an ivory trade for as long as elephants exist. Any law making trade in
ivory illegal merely drives the business underground. This intrinsic
aspect of the ivory trade has consistently been ignored.

Conservationist argument against free-trading is that while collection
of ivory from natural mortality is acceptable or even desirable, it would
provide impenetrable cover for illicit elephant hunting. This is true.
However, an intransigent ban on trading does not remove either the
availability or attraction of ivory and if anything, increases the poverty
of those who collect it in the first instance. While the conservationists'
problem is clear, action taken does not seem suitable. More realistic
laws are required and until they are enacted, an illegal ivory trade will
exist regardless of Governments and ideologies.

2. Oa the basis of comparisons between Customs records of East African
ivory exports, and those of imports by the 'consuming' countries, it is
apparent that a substantial illegal trade was taking place long before
East African independence. From the records alone, it is difficult to
conceive of this taking place without the connivance and participation of
some senior British civil servants. Evidence involving former Game
Wardens and Police officers in illicit ivory was presented.

3. Asian influence in the illicit trade was allied to their political fortunes
in East Africa. The records suggest clearly that as soon as it became
apparent that they were not an acceptable element in independent East
Africa, Asians set about exporting capital. Ivory was a substantial
vehicle for such transference. However in recent times Asian influence
appears to have diminished and been replaced by African involvement.


4. Concurrent with the African take-over of ivory trading the volume of
ivory exported has risen very sharply over the 3 years 1971, '72 and
'73, increases in volume over the preceding year were between 78% and
86% annually. This is based on the East African records which are shown
to be grossly under-recorded (e.g. in 1973 Kenya's stated exports to
Hong Kong were claimed as c. 146 tons, Hong Kong acknowledged imports
of well over 200 tons). Convincing evidence of the minimal monetary
losses to East Africa for 1973 indicate that $19, 000, 000.00 were banked
outside the 3 territories. Of the 3 countries, Kenya was by far the most
important in the ivory trade recently.

5. Evidence was presented that many influential Kenyans were involved in
ivory dealing. This included the President himself. The Chief Game
Warden was obviously pivotal to all recorded ivory exports.

6. It was pointed out that the same level of "corruption" that pertained to
ivory, also applied very widely in many walks of life in Kenya. In the
circumstances it was considered pointless to single out ivory in the hope
that as a small facet the 'rackets' might be stopped.

7. It was pointed out that the internal and international potential of the
material in the report was considerable and dangerous. It could be used
in a variety of ways to rend Kenya's political and social fabric. In
astute hands the material could be used to embarrass aid-giving
Governments before their own -electorates, if their disregard for obvious
corruption in recipient countries could be demonstrated. The
information could badly damage Kenya's future ability to benefit from
international charity. Internally it could be used potently by the current
Government's opponents.

8. It was concluded that if the report's sponsors wished to correct the
ivory trade, they had no option other than to involve themselves in
Kenyan affairs to a degree hitherto uncontemplated. This point was
made starkly to get t over. However it was NOT recommended
the sponsors should so involve themselves.

Copies of the report were given to the British High Commission and the
American Embassy, and they were asked to make comment. Both returned
the report with the statement that it was too "hot".

The report was then debated among the sponsors. Unanimously it was
agreed that it should be put to no destructive use. It was felt that if merely
divulged to the world public, nothing would be gained except embarrassment.
For all the corruption evident in it, it was accepted that the Kenya Government
was maintaining an unparalleled level of civilisation in Africa. If the
information in the report could be passed on to those in power in Kenya and
thereby stimulate them to consider the consequences of current trends, no


better use could be made of it. The form in which the information should
be presented and to whom were never decided. In the interim someone
leaked the existence of the report, its contents, author and the name of one
of the sponsors to the Government.

The Director of Intelligence, Special Branc, Kenya Police, made a
demand for the report. He claimed direct Presidential instructions to obtain
it immediately and guaranteed freedom from prosecution, deportation or any
other unpleasantness for sponsors and author. Great urgency seemed
apparent as requests included waking me at midnight.

The Presidential demand was debated by the sponsors. The report
could bring severe retribution on all having had anything to do with its
production. It was felt that it might easily produce a violent reaction from
the President, assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. To offset any
such happening, copies of the report were lodged in London with instructions
that the information was to be released to the widest possible publicity in the
event of any of the people connected with the report being troubled by the
Kenyan authorities.

Having taken the foregoing precaution it was decided to give a copy of the
report to President Kenyatta, subject to the condition that it remained
confidential and that he would discuss it with the author and the one sponsor
known J. Block. The reasoning behind this decision was that if received
constructively it could lead to action to reduce the considerable social tensions
that are building up in Kenya, and which threaten its stability. If on the other
hand it was merely shelved it would reveal a disregard for these tensions that
would have considerable bearing on the motivation for current policies in all
fields of Kenya's life. Either course would be of value to the sponsors.

During the frequent contacts that preceded and followed the handing over
of the report (on 2nd February 1975) to the Director of Intelligence, he was
warned that the international Press were aware that something was in the wind.
If they sought the information given in Customs records, they would have much
of the basic material contained in the report and would publish it without
reference to anyone in Kenya. It was in their own interests to put the report
to quick use to avoid destructive criticism. He made it abundantly clear that
the President wished to avoid publicity at all costs and was certain that
immediate action would follow his reading the report.

Naturally I have done my best to locate the leaker who informed the
Government that the report existed. Sources inside the Kenya Police Special
Branch state categorically that it derived from either the U. S. Embassy or
the British High Commission. The weight of opinion favours the latter, though
this admission might well be a fabrication. Several people knew of the
preparation of the report, if not its content in detail, and have been spreading
its existence around (e.g. John Eames has set at least two journalists from



international papers onto asking J. Block and myself for copies).

A further bulletin will be sent you in due course. In the interim you are
asked to file this letter confidentially.

15th February, 1975

Ian Parker