Taking on ivory poachng

At the Elephant Summit held in Botswana in early December urgent measures were adopted to halt illegal ivory trade. But some conservationists are asking if these will be enough.

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Statistics released at the summit indicate that 22 000 elephants were poached in 2012, while elephant deaths are expected to reach 40 000 in 2013.

The summit was attended by officials from African elephant range states, including Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia, ivory transit states, such as Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand. However, only six of the countries sigh the ensuing agreement; the other representatives requiring higher approval.

Of the 14 measures adopted, the most important involves classifying wildlife trafficking as a ‘serious crime’ – a move that will unlock international law enforcement co-operation provided for under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. This includes mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime.

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Other measures include involving communities living with elephants in their conservation, strengthening national laws to secure maximum wildlife crime sentences, mobilising financial and technical resources to combat wildlife crime and reducing demand for illegal ivory.

Is this enough? The three drivers of the ivory trade are demand, governance and poverty. While Africa is making great strides towards improving governance and reducing poverty, if demand is not addressed, poaching will continue.

“Despite several NGOs campaigning to reduce demand in consumer countries the push needs to be led by those countries’ governments to be effective,” said Jason Bell, program director and elephants regional director, South Africa, for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “Unfortunately there is no apparent effort on the part of the Chinese government in this area.”