NAIROBI, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's First Lady Margaret Kenyatta on Saturday launched an anti-poaching campaign to save elephants from poaching which has been rampant in the East African nation.
The East Africa Grass-Root Elephant Education Campaign Walk dubbed, Ivory Belongs to Elephant, seeks to raise awareness on the importance of wildlife in particular elephants and rhinos.
"I look forward to witnessing the policy changes that emanate from this campaign. I hope that just as you have inspired us here today, you will inspire the entire East African Community towards collaboration that allows the region to more effectively address the urgent issue of elephant poaching and ivory trade," Margaret said in Nairobi.
The campaign brought together various stakeholders who participated in the walk to raise awareness on the value of elephants and rhinos, mitigate human-elephant conflicts and promote anti-poaching activities.
Margaret applauded the increasing support for activities geared towards protecting elephants. She said it is encouraging that ordinary individuals were now spearheading wildlife conservation efforts.
She praised Jim Nyamu, the Executive Director of Elephant Neighbours Centre, who is leading the new initiative to protect elephants and rhinos.
According to conservationists, elephant population in 1970 was at 167,000. The numbers stand at 26,400 elephants in Kenya today.
They warned that if this trend continues the national elephant population may decline given that mortality rate was 4 percent compared to a growth rate of 2 percent in 2011.
Over 80 percent of Kenya's elephants are found outside protected areas and the rest in National Parks and Reserves.
Poaching is an emerging challenge and if not managed now, it will lead to decline of elephant numbers and negatively impact the economy (GDP).
Margaret observed that engaging communities at the grassroots level to foster a spirit of harmony and peaceful co-existence between people and the ecosystems was one of the best ways to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts.
"I have been to a lot of events and a lot of meetings aimed at addressing the issue of poaching and ivory trade, but I can tell you I have never been to an event quite like this one! It is so encouraging to be here," she said.
Margaret expressed optimism that through individual and collective efforts, elephant poaching will be eradicated.
"Just one year ago, Jim began walking to save elephants and I understand that since then you have walked over 5,000 kilometres; which is simply astounding," she said.
The team led by Nyamu will take 135 days to cover about 3,247 km starting from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam (Moshi, Morongoro, Bukoba) to Kampala (Queens Elizabeth National Park, Jinja) and back to Nairobi through (Busia, Kakamega, Nakuru) in the three East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
The First Lady expressed hope that through efforts such as Nyamu's, the entire East African Community will be pulled towards addressing the issue of elephant poaching and ivory trade.
Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Professor Judi Wakhungu said Nyamu's passion for conservation of wildlife showcases what Kenyans have been doing to address the poaching menace.
Nyamu challenged Kenyans to come out in large numbers to help in wildlife conservation.