Cites meeting in July to push for Africa solution: better coordination and DNA tracing
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The latest report on elephant poaching and ivory smuggling from Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), published 21 June, shows the highest level in a decade, with 2009-2011 as the three years with the worst numbers. The report is based on numbers supplied by governments. It will serve as the basis for discussion at a 23-27 July meeting of the governing Cites Standing Committee, to be held in Geneva.
2011 was a record year for seizures of smuggled ivory, with 24.3 tons seized,the most since record-keeping began 23 years ago. International trade in elephant ivory was banned by a Cites agreement in 1989. The organization has relaxed the ban twice, once in 1999 and the second time in 2008, to allow one-off sales of ivory stocks from Bostswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Two key solutions are better coordination among African nations where the poaching occurs and transit plus end-user countries. “At the international level, creative and innovative responses to this crisis are required,” the UN Environmental Programme (Unep) says in a statement issued jointly with Cites.
“The use of modern traceability systems, including DNA forensics in cases of wildlife trafficking has already proven to be very effective. DNA evidence has been used successfully in a number of rhinoceros-related cases in South Africa and it is routinely forming a part of numerous criminal investigations. In any case, enforcement efforts to stop wildlife crime must be coordinated. This is why the work of the recently-established International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) is essential to support and coordinate enforcement actions across international borders.”
Unep is one of four groups that compiles the data reported by governments and used in the report. “China and Thailand are the two primary destinations for illegal ivory consignments exported from Africa according to the seizure data. Seizures of large ivory consignments in Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam since 2009, were believed to be in transit to China and Thailand. Some African and Asian countries have made significant efforts to enhance enforcement. For example, China conducted earlier this year a major operation which resulted in the seizure of 1,366.3 kg of ivory and the arrest of 13 suspects.”
Organized crime is generally believed by those tracking smuggling to be behind seizures of more than 800kg of ivory. Most containers leaving Africa for Asia go from Kenya or Tanzania, but while poaching is occurring throughout Africa the area where it is thriving the most appears to be central Africa. “Poaching levels are increasing in all countries where African elephants occur, and may be leading to dramatic declines in some populations, but particularly in Central African countries, where poaching levels are highest,” says Julian Blanc, who coordinates the Mike (Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants) programme for Cites.
Blanc says the number of illegally killed African elephants “in 2011 alone could well run into the tens of thousands”, a rise in numbers brought to international attention by the killing of hundreds of elephants in Bouba Ndjida National Park in Cameroon in early 2012.
“The Mike analysis shows poaching to be highest where human livelihoods are most insecure and where governance and law enforcement are weakest.”