Africa: Elephant Poaching Sharply Escalates

by Mar 9, 2012Conservation Threats, Elephants, Ivory, Wildlife News

The year 2011 has been called the “annus horribilis” for African elephants.

The head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), John Scanlon, has expressed his deep concern over recent reports of the poaching of almost 450 elephants in a national park in Cameroon.

“This most recent incident of poaching elephants is on a massive scale but it reflects a new trend we are detecting across many range states, where well-armed poachers with sophisticated weapons decimate elephant populations, often with impunity,” Scanlon said.

The CITES program for Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) has revealed increasing levels of poaching in 2011. Scanlon explained that the spike is of grave concern not only to Cameroon, a member state to CITES, but to all 38 range states of the African elephant.

Large-scale seizures have dramatically increased. At least 13 seizures, each over 1,700 pounds, took place in 2011. In comparison, six large-scale seizures took place in 2010. According to reports, elephants have been slaughtered by hunters from Sudan and Chad in recent weeks. Poached ivory is being exchanged for weapons, cash, and ammunition to support conflicts between neighboring countries.

The most recent case consisted of 727 ivory pieces, discovered in December. The pieces were hidden inside a container at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, and headed for Asia. Most seizures of African ivory in the last year have originated in Kenyan or Tanzanian ports.

Ben Janse Van Rensburg, CITES chief enforcement support, is collaborating with partners in the World Bank, Interpol, the World Customs Organization, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), to share intelligence to help bring perpetrators to justice, to locate and to confiscate poached ivory. DNA, forensics and community-based endeavors are also being used–as well as assistance from other wildlife consortiums.

“I have contacted the ministers for forests and wildlife from Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan,” Rensburg told MediaGlobal. “We are offering support, and stand ready to assist Cameroon and other countries, within its mandate and resources, and most specially to help galvanize enforcement efforts and trans-boundary mechanisms for addressing illegal trade in ivory, and wildlife crime in general, including through the ICCWC.”

The organization TRAFFIC is a global network providing conservation assistance to government agencies and others protecting wildlife. Working closely with the CITES secretariat, TRAFFIC has provided research for the agency on poaching, and has made it a top monitoring priority.

“West Africa has long borne the brunt of elephant poaching, with many herds already decimated in the region and the latest illegal killings in Cameroon certain to deal a further blow to the already beleaguered populations still found there,” Dr. Richard Thomas, communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, told MediaGlobal.

“The killings throw into sharp relief some worrying developments,” Thomas continues. “Especially the increasingly sophisticated methods used by the ruthless criminals involved in elephant poaching and their close links to organized crime.”

Interpol and the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice have recently passed resolutions concerning the involvement of organized crime in illegal wildlife trafficking.

MIKE and ETIS (Elephant Trade Information System) have been established under the supervision of the CITES Standing Committee, which has formed a MIKE-ETIS subgroup to oversee the further development, refinement, and implementation of the programs.

Another plan, the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) Regional Action Plan for Strengthening National Wildlife Law Implementation covers the period 2012-2017 and centers on collaboration among wildlife law enforcement and prosecution authorities; investigations at key transit points, domestic markets, and border areas; deterrents and prosecutions; and awareness of illegal wildlife trade issues.

“This plan underlines the commitment of Central African governments to address the illegal wildlife trade, which remains a key threat in the region to conservation of animals such as elephants and great apes,” said Stéphane Ringuet, regional director of TRAFFIC Central Africa.

Last year’s alarming amount of ivory seizures is not even completely tabulated yet, according to TRAFFIC, which estimates 2011 was the worst year ever in terms of elephant poaching.

“The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s elephant expert. “In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data…this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures–2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants.”