Elephant population declining in Africa
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Across Africa elephants are being driven into decline due to poaching for their tusks, according to a report issued under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
Data from the report shows increased poaching across the entire range of the African elephant, but the highest rates are in Central Africa.
â€œThe rise in levels of illegal killing and the dynamics surrounding it are worrying, not only for small and fragmented elephant populations that could face extirpation, but also for previously secure large populations,â€ the report says.
Last year is cited as having the highest poaching rates ever documented, exceeding record rates witnessed in 2010.
It is estimated that tens of thousands of elephants are being killed each year for their tusks, which are in demand in Asia. East Africa is identified in the report as the centre of illicit ivory transport to Asia, with an escalating number of illegal consignments exiting seaports there.
â€œAlarmingly, 2011 recorded the highest number of large-scale seizures ever,â€ said Lamine Sebogo, WWFâ€™s African elephant programme manager.
â€œSuch seizures indicate the involvement of organised criminal networks, but very few cases have been followed up with proper investigations, arrests, prosecutions or the imposition of credible penalties.â€ China and Thailand are identified in the findings as the two biggest raw ivory consuming countries in the world. Data indicates that poaching trends can be correlated with increasing affluence in China, and that raw ivory prices doubled there between 2004 and 2010.
â€œIn the last two years we have seen open flouting of Chinaâ€™s internal ivory trade laws,â€ said Dr Colman Oâ€™Criodain, WWFâ€™s wildlife trade policy analyst.
â€œMany visitors, including foreign government representatives attending Cites-related meetings in China, have reported seeing ivory openly on sale without the required certification cards that prove legality of origin.â€
Oâ€™Criodain adds: â€œIn Thailand there is no regulation of ivory trade. Visitors can see ivory openly on sale, the vast bulk of it apparently of African origin.
â€œIt is a crime to bring ivory home from another country, even if shopkeepers tell you otherwise.
â€œIt is imperative that Cites member states take remedial actions to shut down unregulated or poorly regulated domestic ivory markets, especially the worldâ€™s largest markets in China and Thailand.â€
One hopeful sign in the fight to save elephants is the recent adoption by some African countries of an action plan to combat wildlife crimes including elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade.
Meanwhile, Interpol this past week announced that its â€œOperation Worthyâ€ had resulted in the seizure of nearly two tonnes of elephant ivory.
The operation involved 14 African countries.
Operation Worthy is part of Interpolâ€™s Project Wisdom, an initiative against elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn poaching.
The three-month long operation also led to the arrests of over 200 suspects, the global police organisation said in a statement.
More than 20kg of rhino horn; lion, leopard and cheetah pelts; crocodile and python skins; and various protected species destined to be trafficked illegally were also recovered, Xinhua reported.
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