Once upon a time, Africa alone was home to 26 million elephants. The giants roamed the continent knowing not what lay in store, that their habitats would dwindle and so would their majestic numbers.
From millions, they are now in their thousands, falling faster than trees – all for their ivory tusks.
Approximately 97 elephants are gunned down daily by poachers for their tusks. This means by 2030 there could be no elephants left in the wild.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the African elephant population dropped from 550,000 in 2006 to about 350,000. In East Africa, the decline is far more alarming – from 150,000 to about 100,000.
Other parts of the world have also seen a drastic decline of the elephant population. In Asia, it’s estimated less than 50,000 elephants still roam the region; more than half of them in India.
These figures are frightening – what deforestation and poaching can do.
Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times said: “Like blood diamonds from Sierra Leone or plundered minerals from Congo, ivory, it seems, is the latest conflict resource in Africa, dragged out of remote battle zones, easily converted into cash and now fueling conflicts across the continent.”
It’s hard not to notice the mammoths disappearing.
Dr. Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of WildlifeDirect, a Kenyan conservation NGO, is currently leading a campaign, Hands Off Our Elephants – civil society, corporations, government agencies as well as other conservation organizations in a unified approach towards ending the poaching crisis in Kenya.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, to an English mother and Kenyan father, Kahumbu is one of eight siblings. Being out in the wilderness as a child interacting with animals made her the committed eco-warrior she is today.
“My mother was often home alone and because we were so many, mother would literally tell us to get lost and we would do just that,” says Kahumbu.
“We’d go exploring – catching anything you can imagine; birds, mice, snakes, frogs. We’d go fishing and swimming in the rivers, make our way through to forests and swamps. We spent our entire childhoods in the wilderness.”
“We did the kind of stuff you would never allow children to do today actually but it was very safe at that time,” she continues.
Soon, these trysts led to an encounter with Richard Leakey, a Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist and politician.
“We didn’t know all that much about wildlife so we would visit our neighbor, Richard Leakey, head of the Kenya Museum Associates. He was someone who knew a lot about animals and whenever we would spend time with him he would teach us about their ecology, behavior, and the like.”
Between the 1960s and 1980s, elephant poaching was at a dramatic high, according to the Convention of International Trade and Endangered Species (CITES).
“When I finished high school, it was very difficult at that time to get into university. My parents could not afford to take us to the local university,” says Kahumbu, who then, just as she had done countless times as a girl, returned to Leakey.
She knocked on his door, which at the time was at the National Museum, and said, “I want to be a ranger”. That got her in.
“There was one particular place I wanted to go to, Kora National Park, best known for the lions and George Adamson who is famously known as Baba ya Simba, which translates to ‘father of lions’. My dream was to be his ranger. And Richard Leakey said ‘are you sure about this’? I was 17 years old and that’s all I wanted to do. I ended up in a research facility which focused on monkeys and that’s when I realized the importance of science in studying animals,” says Kahumbu.
That was the motivation for years of study. Kahumbu was the first in her family to attend university.
“My mum was not keen on the idea of a career in animal conservation… She sent me to secretarial college because she thought that the safe [career] option is to be a secretary because everyone needs a secretary. I detested it and the day I ran to Richard Leakey’s office was the day I ran away from secretarial college.”
Kahumu did a lot of field work early in her career.
“I went to some of the remote corners of the country, some really dangerous areas to study this wildlife. This left my mother very anxious.”
Her “conservative” mother always threatened: “I am going to speak to this Richard Leakey because it’s unacceptable that a young woman can live in the bush for months on end counting monkeys on her own.”
Her father, on the other hand, encouraged her. Kahumbu clearly broke boundaries.
“I remember my male colleagues were very angry with me because it was very uncommon for a woman, particularly a Kenyan woman, to be working in the forest usually by herself, so they would beg me to stop but of course I never did,” she says.
That did not deter her from her course.
“My son was actually born when I started working on my PhD and he was two-and-a-half years old when I had to spend extended periods of time in the wilderness conducting my research. I worked in a rainforest on top of a mountain with huge trees.”
Kahumbu and a small team of researchers were studying trees, a main source of nourishment for the elephants.
“We wanted to gauge how elephants living and eating in the forest was changing the landscape of the forest. My son was still so small, I would sit him on a mat, give him some toys to play with and go on measuring trees.”
“One day, the trees started moving as though they were being consumed by strong winds, it was actually a herd of elephants calmly making their way through the forest… But we were so busy we had not noticed they had moved in around us and I hadn’t really realized they were around us until I was about to measure what I thought was the trunk of a tree and then I realized it was the leg of an elephant,” she laughs.
“When I did [realize], I slowly tiptoed backwards and picked up the baby.”
Kahumbu was persuaded to study elephants after her bachelor’s degree and “was offered an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the stocktake of ivory in 1989 in Kenya”.
“I had to measure every single tusk, which is a great source of information about the sex of the elephant and age. We gathered data from about 3,000 tusks and drew a timeline as every tusk had a marker of when and where it was seized.”
What the timelines showed was alarming. The tusks got smaller and smaller. This showed poachers were going for smaller elephants, calves essentially.
“Juxtaposing the data with the demography of animals, we saw there were no adults left, the species was basically finished because there were no longer breeding individuals; poachers are going for any kind of elephant, even if it had half a kilogram of ivory.”
Following that, Kahumbu decided she was not going to study the pachyderms, not only because they were virtually extinct but also because there was the threat of her becoming a target for poachers in the area.
“So, for my master’s degree, I decided to study monkeys and even from time to time, when we were out doing research in the wilderness, we’d hear gunshots and subsequently come across dead elephants on our trail and I remember thinking, ‘thank goodness I’m not studying elephants’ because every single day, I would be heartbroken.”
For three years, she refused to study them.
After her master’s, she became a senior scientist at Kenya Wildlife Service. While there, the organization hired 30 young Kenyans to conduct research on elephants.
The ban on poaching was now in place so their task was to work out how to save the remaining elephants as well as replenish the population. This formed the thesis of Kahumbu’s PhD.
When she became CEO of WildlifeDirect, she led a campaign exposing the poaching crisis in Kenya, leading to major reforms in the laws and practices against ivory poachers and traffickers.
Poaching dropped by 80% in three years. Kenya burned her entire ivory stockpile of 105 tonnes in April 2016, an event that garnered global attention.
“The world was very surprised – how was it that a country suffering economically would forego millions of dollars’ worth of a payout to prove a point?” says Kahumbu.
It was a start, and conservation continues.
“Even after decades of working in this area, I still can’t understand the inhumanity and greed of poachers. The elephant is an extraordinary animal. They can live in any habitat except the ocean. They can climb close to the ice on Mount Kilimanjaro, they can live in deserts as they do in Namibia and northern Africa. They can live in forests and in savannahs. Elephants can also eat almost anything.
“They are a lot like humans in that way because they can easily adapt to an environment. Their brain is three to six times larger than the human brain, designed to store vast amounts of information. Further, elephant families are actually governed by females because the male leave the herd at an early age and only return to mate.”
The trade of ivory is inextricably linked to the trading of slaves. Kahumbu explains, in the late 1800s, the British could not take ivory out of Africa without the help of slaves because they did not have the means to carry it. Ivory was stolen from the homesteads of people in the Congo.
“In those days, Africans did not see the monetary value poachers saw; they would use the tusks as fence posts around their homesteads and the British would raid these villages and steal all the ivory and ship it to Zanzibar and Mombasa and then it would be taken to Europe. It was so valuable, 100 tons a year were being shipped out to be used as billiard balls.”
And then ivory found its way to America; the volume of ivory coming into one part alone gave birth to two cities on the back of ivory trade and slavery. Business boomed. Technology was developed to transform ivory into how we know it today – thin veneers used as piano keys and hair combs.
“That was a major driver. And by the end of the 1800s, there was about 1.2 million elephants – a drastic decline. In Japan, ivory was a symbol of luck, pens and stamps were made with ivory and of course this caused the trade to skyrocket in the region.”
At the moment, various species of the elephant are on the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) list of critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and threatened animals, sharing the list with another dwindling animal – the rhinoceros. The illegal rhino horn trade has decimated the world’s rhino population by more than 90% over the past 40 years.
But has the world awakened to the plight of these animals?
According to research, the common strategy adopted by many countries is to destroy stockpiles of ivory. An article in The Guardian quotes WWF: “This has been the case not only for African countries but also some developed countries that have intercepted ivory originating from Africa. The idea is to remove the ivory from the market and thus reduce the incentive for people to engage in smuggling. In Kenya, the problem of elephant poaching has spiraled out of control and destroying ivory has become the common practice in dealing with the stockpiles.”
The torching of stockpiles of ivory has not been the only way governments have tried to mitigate the poaching of elephants. Countries such as France, China, the United States, and the Philippines have destroyed ivory worth millions of dollars. However, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe oppose the destruction of illegal ivory; this according to an article published in National Geographic in 2016.
But does destroying ivory translate to less poaching? The Conservation Trust, a nongovernmental organization sites that in 2015, elephant poaching was at its highest level in more than three decades.
The ornaments made from the tusks form part of a billion-dollar industry – prevalent and as dangerous as ever.
Kahumbu’s Hands Off Our Elephants has generated unprecedented public and political awareness and support for wildlife conservation in Kenya.
According to WildlifeDirect, the most severe financial penalty for convicted poachers was $400, and fewer than 4% of convicted offenders were going to jail, a safe haven for poachers. Since then, the Kenyan government has allocated $20 million for anti-poaching activities.
In January last year, Kahumbu partnered with media and wildlife authorities to launch Kenya’s first wildlife documentary series, NTV Wild. It shines a light on issues of poaching and the very real prospect that in the near future, the world may be without elephants.
Noëlla Coursaris Musunka The Trailblazer In The Congo
The story of love, loss and triumph. The story of humanitarian, model and mother, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka.
This is a tale of generational loss. A tale about how, at the tender age of five, a child lost everything she held dear. She lost her mother, her father, familiar surroundings and was relocated from the country she’d come to know as her home. However, in losing so much, she seemed to have gained everything and insists on sharing it with others.
After the death of her father, when Noëlla Coursaris Musunka was five years old, her mother could not afford to keep her and was forced to give her only child (at the time) away in hopes that she would get better opportunities.
Musunka moved to Belgium, and later Switzerland, and was away for 13 years with very little communication with her mother back home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“It was a tough time… I received two or three letters from my mom and spoke to her only twice on the phone,” says Musunka. On her return, at 18 years, she was so struck by the abject poverty that she vowed to contribute to the education of her brothers and sisters, and would give back to her country.
And she has done so in spectacular fashion.
Musunka has since had a flourishing career as a model and has graced the pages of fashion magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire and Elle. The exposure propelled her to pursue her passion for humanitarian and philanthropic work.
When asked about what accolades, such as the one she received from the Nelson Mandela Foundation (in November 2018) and the Enhle Cares Foundation, mean to her, Musunka beams and says: “It’s very special. I’m a pan-Africanist. I love Patrick Lumumba, I love Mandela, I love Sankara. I love all these revolutionary people… who want the best for Africa… The spirit of Mandela is [his] legacy. When people remember Noëlla, I want them to remember my legacy. And my legacy and my message is to give back.”
“I’m very happy that the Mandela family contacted me and said ‘this is what our dad would want. You are a young woman investing in education and that’s the reason we want to honor you’. It’s very touching and I’m not into awards, but this one is very special.”
Since founding the non-profit organization Malaika in 2007, it has grown from a one-room school house to a world-class school that accommodates 314 students of all ages. As the school continues to operate, it plans on adding approximately 30 girls each year.
The Malaika Foundation, which is in the village of Kalebuka, in the southeastern region of the DRC, has also established a community learning center, recreational facilities, 17 water wells and farm land.
This is due to the tenacity and collaborative efforts of 31 Congolese staff members working on the ground in the DRC, and support from a team of 30 volunteers working in the US, Europe, the DRC and other locations.
In Kalebuka, the community plays an integral role in the daily running of the school.
“We have 30 parents a day who come to maintain the school. The whole community is driven. The village takes care of the program and protects it. The community center is good because it’s also important to teach the parents. We have the youth and the parents who come to the community center to learn to read, write, sew, and we have key messages. We also distribute malaria nets.
“So, we have 5,000 people who go there and all programs are free. The school is for free. The staff [members] give of their time, their skills and their money. We have a pro-bono lawyer, pro-bono auditing … [and] we teach the mothers to make the uniforms. We give the girls underwear, socks and shoes.”
The colloquail term ‘say it with your chest’, means to say something with determination, self-assurance and without fear. During her interview with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA at the Da Vinci Hotel in Sandton in Johannesburg in November, Musunka was wearing a t-shirt with the word ‘Revolution’ across it. The education revolution has swept the village of Kalebuka, in the form for Musunka and her team.
WATCH | The Making Of The New Wealth Creators Cover
The New Wealth Creators is the first of its kind list by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. Herein is a collection of female entrepreneurs on the African continent running businesses and social enterprises that are new, offbeat and radical.
These 20 women have been selected because they have created significant impact in their respective sectors by transforming a market or company, or innovating a product or service, and are pioneering their organization(s) in generating new untapped streams of income.
VIEW THE FULL LIST|Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent
These women come from across the continent, from the villages and the suburbs, and are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. They have all adopted sustainable development initiatives in one way or another to help solve Africa’s problems.
They may be wealth creators but their businesses, ironically, did not stem from a need to make money, but rather from the need to solve Africa’s persisting socio-economic challenges.
Economically empowering women has shown to boost productivity. It increases economic diversification and income equality, in addition to other positive developmental outcomes.
Simply put, when more women work, economies are likely to grow.
FORBES WOMAN AFRICA put in months of rigorous research, searching near and far for these inspirational entrepreneurs.
We took into account their business model, new ideas, potential, struggles, social impact, growth, influence, resilience and most importantly, their innovation.
Speaking to FORBES WOMAN AFRICA last year at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, said: “Innovation [is] becoming the cornerstone for our economy going forward.”
As Africa’s population is reported to increase by 53% by 2100, according to the United Nations, new solutions must be created in order for us to keep up.
One question remains: can Africa translate its significant population growth into economic development, and invest this wealth to improve the quality of life?
Entrepreneurship could very well be the answer, or at least, one of the answers.
Last year, the Founder and Chair of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma paid Africa a visit to discuss tangible investment and technology development.
He encouraged African entrepreneurs to take giant leaps in solving the challenges facing the continent and to take advantage of the digital economy.
He said that opportunities lie where people complain.
And these women, through their businesses, have identified just that.
Vijay Tirathrai, director of the Techstars Dubai Accelerator, shared the same sentiments with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
“The new wealth creators, for me, are entrepreneurs who are very conscious about finding solutions in the market place, but from a lens of having social impact or having impacted the environment,” he says.
Tirathrai believes that while servicing consumers, new wealth creators are also “making a safer and a greener planet in the process, eliminating diseases, improving health conditions and advocating for equality for women”.
Women on the African continent have been making headway as drivers of change, and in many ways, they embody new wealth.
They are the true wealth.
As FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, we seek to celebrate such women.
Through this list, money is no longer the central indicator of new wealth creation.
It is about job creation, contributing to healthy societies, recycling waste, giving agency to those who are financially excluded and developing solutions for some of the socio-economic problems we grapple with.
IN PICTURES | Leading Women Summit 2019
These women may all come from different places but they are bound together by one common thread, and that is the thread of new wealth creation.
This compilation is innovative, exciting, inspiring and shows what businesses of the future may look like.
Meet the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA New Wealth Creators of 2019.
IN PICTURES | Leading Women Summit 2019
The FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit which was hosted the by KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government took place on International Women’s Day (Friday, 08 March) at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.
Full list of winners | Leading Women Summit award winners
READ MORE about the New Wealth Creators | Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent
The 2019 Leading Women Summit was a full-day event, with an audience of over 500 women.
The goal was to bring together leading, influential women to share their ideas that are idea-focused, and on a wide range of subjects, to foster learning, inspiration and wonder – and provoke conversations that matter. The 2019 theme for the event was the “New Wealth Creators”.
The New Wealth Creators list, which is the first of its kind, was unveiled at the Summit. It is collection of female entrepreneurs on the African continent running businesses and social enterprises that are new, offbeat and radical.
The Summit celebrated a host of female trailblazers, game-changers and pioneers in African business and society.
Supermodel, philanthropist and cultural innovator, Naomi Campbell was the headline speaker among other global influencers in business, sport, science, entertainment and leadership.
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