High levels of poaching and the continuing illegal ivory trade continue to pose a threat to Africa’s elephants – although the spike in poaching has started to level out following concerted efforts to combat the phenomenon.
“There are some encouraging signs but much more remains to be done,” said John E Scanlon, the secretary-general of the UN-backed Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in a Thursday press release.
“The momentum generated over the past five years is translating into deeper and stronger efforts to fight poaching and illicit trafficking on the front-lines, where it is needed most – from the rangers in the field, to police and customs at ports of entry and exit and across illicit markets,” he added.
The two CITES monitoring programmes – the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) and the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) – will present their reports, which contain these findings, to the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of CITES, from September 24 to October 5 in Johannesburg
The reports indicate that the sharp upward trends in poaching, which started in 2006, have started to level off with continental levels of illegal killing of elephants stabilising, or slightly decreasing.
However, the levels of poaching remain far too high to allow elephant populations to recover, with some populations facing risk of local extinction, the reports say.
The ETIS report shows that in 2012 and 2013, levels of illegal ivory trade reached their highest levels since CITES agreed to ban the commercial trade in raw ivory in 1989.
The ETIS report makes some specific suggestions, including greater and more focused commitment on the investigation of large-scale ivory seizures along the entire trade chain, scaled-up forensic examinations to source the origins of the ivory, and the establishment of itemised inventory lists of the contents of seizures.
The MIKE figures show that the steady increase in levels of illegal killing of elephants since 2006, which peaked in 2011, has been halted and stabilised, but that levels remain unacceptably high overall.
The report estimates that the number of elephants illegally killed annually in Africa between 2010 and 2015 ran into the tens of thousands.
Although overall trends are moving in the right direction, elephant poaching in 2015 remained a cause for serious concern, it says.
The figures show that Southern Africa is the only sub-region that has not seen illegal killings exceed natural deaths since MIKE monitoring began in the early 2000s.
But for the first time, a spike in elephant poaching was observed in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
The elephant population in the park is not in decline, but the situation could change if current trends continue.
One theory to protect elephants stipulates that legalising the ivory trade could bring the practice under control.
However, South Africa’s Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) does not want to see the ivory trade legalised.
“The sustainable, ethical and legal use of ivory can’t be enforced in South Africa currently,” Belinda Glenn from EWT told the African News Agency (ANA).
“No country has expressed an interest in legal rhino or elephant horn import to-date,” said Glenn.
“South Africa will therefore need to identify willing, compliant, regulated and established trading partners as approved by the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora secretariat),” added Glenn.
But David Newton, the regional director for East and Southern Africa of Traffic, an international organisation which aims to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature, said there was no factual evidence to back the theory that a controlled ivory trade led to an increase in illegal poaching.
“Traffic doesn’t argue for or against a controlled trade. We look at the pros and cons of the debate and plan to come up with recommendations at the CITES conference in September,” Newton told ANA.
– African News Agency (ANA)