By Rumbidzai Mashayahanya
African nations where elephants are poached or their ivory is illegally shipped or sold, Friday agreed on urgent measures to halt the illegal trade and secure the survival of African elephants under the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Commission for Africa.
According to the Commission for Africa chairman Walter Mzembi, if poaching continues at current levels, Africa is likely to lose a fifth of its elephants in the next 10 years.
African governments have agreed to apply a zero tolerance approach and sentence those convicted to maximum and deterrent penalties to combat an upsurge in poaching and smuggling of elephant ivory.
“We will use a combination of existing laws and strengthened regulatory frameworks for investigation, arrest, seizure and prosecution of suspected wildlife criminals.
“Laws covering wildlife, corruption, organized crime, firearms and biodiversity terrorism may be employed for this purpose,” Mzembi told a meeting on zero tolerance on poaching in Africa in Harare yesterday.
The agreement was reached in 2009 by over 100 international ministers of tourism. The chairman also revealed that at the 56th Commission of Africa in Angola to be held this month a board of eminent African personalities would be appointed after a team is selected in the coming two weeks in China.
The board is the first of its kind focusing on the dynamics of the entire ivory value chain.
Endorsing the vision of the commission Malawian ambassador to Zimbabwe Jane Kambalame said now was the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed biodiversity.
“Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our
unwillingness to act,” said Kambalame.
With an estimated 22 000 African elephants illegally killed in 2012, the continent continues to face a critical situation. Current elephant poaching in Africa remains high, and could soon lead to local extinctions if the present killing rates continue.
The fact that illegal trade is increasingly entrenched in organized crime networks, the African elephant crisis cannot be adequately addressed by the actions of environment ministries and wildlife authorities alone.