ivory_tusks.jpgNAIROBI, Kenya —    Standing before a pile of charred elephant ivory, Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders grasped hands praying that religion help “God’s creatures” to survive.

As conservationists warn against Asia’s high-dollar demand for ivory tusks and rhino horn powder, and charge that some wildlife agents, customs officials and government leaders are being paid off in a well-organized mafia moving animal parts, religious leaders are  being called.

Three dozen leaders from nine African countries who toured Nairobi National Park on Thursday saw rhinos, zebras, buffalo and ostriches all within site of the capital skyline.

One of the safari vans held a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Buddhist, which spawned efforts to create a wildlife-themed religious joke. During a more serious conversation, Ham-za Mutunu, a Muslim leader from Tanzania, argued for the animals.

“Taking the wildlife is part and parcel with our religion,” he said. “We have a duty from the Prophet Mohammed.”

Preetika Bhanderi, of the Hindu Council of Africa, said: “Hindu’s backbone is nonviolence toward everything that has life. That means animals, and people, of course.”

“Just as when we talk about Jesus Christ,” said Charles Odira, a Catholic priest from Kenya, “when we say that animals are part of God’s community, an impact will be made.” But he acknowledged the uphill fight that even religious leaders have.