The surge in African elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade has become increasingly worrisome. The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) is currently listed as Vulnerable on The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, with population estimates of around 500,000.
According to a recent report from IUCN and its partners, the number of elephants killed has doubled and the amount of ivory seized has tripled over the last decade. Elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade are a major concern across Africa and beyond, with serious security, economic, political and ecological ramifications.
Criminal gangs are using sophisticated military ware to kill elephants, taking advantage of high-level corruption to move the ivory across borders and out of Africa. The proceeds from these actions are used by criminal networks to undermine democratic rule in many African states and to fund armed militias and rebel groups engaged in internal and cross-border conflicts.
In Nigeria, the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State harbours a considerable population of elephants in the wild. But stakeholders are not impressed with the state of the facility, alleging that efforts by the Reserve management to curb poaching are grossly inadequate to control the extent of wildlife poaching going on there.
An environment watchdog group warns that though the situation poses a threat to all the wildlife in the reserve, its main concern is the impact on the elephant population.
“Yankari has one of the most important populations of this species in West Africa. The current poaching trend is alarming. Every day, it is possible to find meat from elephants, roan, waterbuck and buffalo in the surrounding markets and this is all emanating from Yankari.”
The body insists that protection in Yankari is non-existent as there are no active patrols, morale of game rangers is low, and there are inadequate firearms. It calls on the authorities to take immediate steps to rectify the situation.
Decree No. 11 of 1985 prohibits the killing and or trade in endangered species of wildlife, which includes elephants. Similarly, Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), implying that all trade, particularly in elephant tusks, are illegal.
Meanwhile, the Government of Botswana and IUCN are convening a high-level summit on the African Elephant, even as they call for stronger global action to halt the illegal trade and secure viable elephant populations across Africa.
Hosted by the President of the Republic of Botswana, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, the event will bring together Heads of State and representatives of all African elephant range countries, as well as high-level representatives from key transit and destination countries in the illegal African elephant ivory trade chain.
“The need for all African nations to work together to manage our continent’s natural resources is more important than ever,” says Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism in Botswana, Mr T. S. Khama. “Africa needs the world’s support to address the issues of wildlife trafficking and trade, as it is the world that is creating the demand for wildlife products which drives poaching on our continent, and so threatens the survival of species.”
The summit comes on the heels of the recently launched Clinton Global Initiative’s $80 million effort to fight illegal ivory trade. The African Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Security Council and US President, Barack Obama, who launched a new $10 million plan to combat illegal wildlife trade and related organised crime earlier this year, are also actively involved in the issue.
“It’s encouraging that the matter is receiving such high-level international attention,” says IUCN Director-General, Julia Marton-Lefèvre. “Wildlife trafficking is increasingly entrenched in networks of organized crime and addressing the elephant crisis cannot be left to environment ministries and wildlife authorities alone. Such high-level commitment is urgently needed to tackle this complex and increasingly urgent issue.”
“The summit will be a unique opportunity for governments from Africa and Asia to come together and commit to urgent actions to halt this devastating trend,” says Holly Dublin, Chair of IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group. “Finding solutions to save the African elephant will be an important way forward in saving other species that are also threatened by wildlife crime.”
“Botswana, through its 2012 full country wildlife aerial survey, estimates that there are now over 207,000 elephants within its borders, which are increasing at five percent per year,” says Minister of Environment, Mr. T. S. Khama. “We, as a nation, are proud of this fact but it does give us some unprecedented challenges. The protection of Elephants and other species is a daunting and expensive task. The problem of human wildlife conflict must also be managed so we do not lose the support of our people living in close proximity to wildlife.”
The African Elephant Summit will take place from 2 to 4 December 2013 in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone.