Kenyan elephants living in the wild are at risk of extinction in the next decade if nothing is done to stop a surge in poaching for their tusks and help stabilize the population, first lady Margaret Kenyatta said.

At least 183 elephants have been killed in the East African nation this year, leaving about 30,000 remaining, Kenyatta said, according to an e-mailed statement citing her remarks at the start of a national anti-poaching campaign called “Hands Off Our Elephants.”

“Unless this crisis is averted, in 10 years there will be no wild elephants left in Kenya,” Kenyatta said on July 26. “How can we stand by while one of the world’s most amazing species is driven to extinction?”

The amount of illicit ivory being traded has more than doubled since 2007 and African elephants are facing the most serious threat since 1989, when a ban on the commercial trade in ivory took effect, according to the United Nations. Asian economies registering high rates of economic growth including China and Thailand are fueling demand, while the prevalence of weak governance and corruption has stymied efforts to prevent the animals’ slaughter, the UN said in report released in March.

Increased demand for elephant tusks as prices soared has driven the “rapid” expansion in poaching in the past few years, according to Save the Elephants, a Nairobi, Kenya-based conservation group.

The decline in elephants may affect Kenya’s tourism industry, which employs 300,000 people, Kenyatta said. The country, home to game parks including the Maasai Mara, counts tourism as its largest foreign-exchange earner, after tea. About 1.8 million tourists visited Kenya last year, generating 96 billion shillings ($1.1 billion).

“This is a recipe for instability and poverty,” Kenyatta said.

Kenyan authorities this month seized at least two large consignments of illegal ivory including a cargo at the port of Mombasa weighing 3.3 metric tons and destined for Malaysia.

Editors: Paul Richardson and Karl Maier.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at

Photo Credit: Herd of bush elephants, in Amboseli national park, south Kenya. Benh Lieu Song / Flickr