Doom of the African elephant
Gaborone – Over the last two decades, wildlife crime has developed into a multi-billion-dollar industry; by some estimates now among the largest international criminal activities along with narcotics, counterfeiting, illicit trafficking of humans and oil.
As with narcotics, wildlife crime has become increasingly well organised and linked to violence and civil insecurity, posing a new level of threat to those responsible for managing and protecting wildlife.
And one of the main targets of this international criminal activity is the African elephant, a species of considerable economic, ecological, cultural and aesthetic value to millions of people in Africa and worldwide.
The future for these gentle giants is very bleak as African elephants face a multitude of very serious threats, including poaching which threaten their existence.
This treat was more severe in the last two years (2011 and 2012), and unless urgent practical measures are taken to halt the killing of elephants for their ivory, the elephant populations in Africa will be completely decimated in few years’ time.
The latest analysis of poaching data estimates that in 2012 some 15 000 elephants were illegally killed at 42 sites across 27 African countries participating in Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), a programme of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
According to MIKE analysis, this amounts to an estimated 22 000 elephants illegally killed continent-wide in 2012, a slight reduction on the estimated 25 000 elephants poached in 2011.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates the African Elephant population is around 500 000.
As delegates who gathered in Botswana for the African Elephant Summit from December 2-4, have raised concerns that if poaching rates are sustained at current levels, Africa is likely to lose a fifth of its elephants in the next 10 years.
CITES Secretary-General John E. Scanlon said current elephant poaching in Africa remains far too high, and could soon lead to local extinctions if the present killing rates continue.
He added that the situation is particularly acute in Central Africa where the estimated poaching rate is twice the continental average
The summit comes at a time when elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade are a major concern across Africa and beyond, with serious security, economic; political and ecological ramifications as these crimes increase in frequency and severity and expand into previously secure elephant populations.
The elephant summit was convened to agree on policies to end the illegal ivory trade and secure viable elephant populations across Africa, including strengthening national laws to tackle wildlife crime and enhancing cooperation between countries.
In September 2012, the IUCN World Conservation Congress called for a high-level meeting on African elephants, in response to the changing dynamics around elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade, noting that the situation warranted high-level government commitment and multi-sectoral action not limited to only wildlife/environmental sectors.
In September 2013, cyanide was used to kill hundreds of elephants in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park in the “worst single massacre in southern Africa for 25 years.
Elephants in Central Africa are bearing the brunt of the poaching, although high poaching levels in all sub-regions mean that even the large elephant populations in southern and eastern Africa are at risk unless the trend is reversed, said the IUCN said in statement.
The data from CITES says criminal gangs and militias are using sophisticated military equipment to kill elephants and take advantage of high-level of corruption to move ivory across borders and off the continent. In some cases, the proceeds from illegal killing of elephants and the illegal ivory trade are used by criminal networks to undermine democratic rule in some African states and to fund armed militias and rebel groups engaged in internal and cross border conflicts.
CITES states that Governments at all points along the illegal ivory value chain, including African elephant range States, ivory transit States, and the States that are the major consumers of ivory, have expressed willingness to cooperate to address the current situation for African elephants.
A press statement from the Botswana’ Ministry of Tourism states that the government and IUCN are working to ensure synergies with a variety of meetings and initiatives on wildlife crime and illegal wildlife trade, and expect that a focus on African elephants will benefit broader efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade.
“While the government and IUCN are aware that other initiatives are aiming to addressing various aspects of the illegal trade in ivory, including the African Elephant Action Plan, Decisions and Resolutions of the CITES and national strategies, amongst others, we are convinced that, given the magnitude of the problem, and the fact that illegal trade is increasingly entrenched in organised crime networks, the African elephant crisis cannot be adequately addressed by the actions of environment ministries and wildlife authorities alone,” said the statement.
“Rather, government commitment at the highest level is required to secure viable elephant populations across the continent and to halt the illegal ivory trade at all points in the illegal ivory value chain.”