By Cynthia Walley
The President of the Republic of Chad, His Excellency Idriss Déby Itno, has announced the imminent destruction of his country’s ivory stockpile, amongst a range of elephant protection measures to be implemented as Chad takes the lead in the fight to protect Central Africa’s savannah elephants.
Next week President Déby Itno will lead his cabinet to Zakouma National Park for the burning of over 1.2 tons of ivory that have been stockpiled in Chad over the past five years. The ivory burn signifies Chad’s firm commitment to combatting the elephant poaching that has decimated the region’s once thriving elephant population. Fifty years ago the Republic of Chad was teeming with 50 000 elephants; today the population is estimated to be around 1 500.
President Déby yesterday pledged support for a new Elephant Protection Initiative at the UK Government’s London Summit on the Illegal Wildlife Trade and confirmed a range of measures aimed at protecting his country’s elephants. Heads of State from Chad, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania all pledged support for the Elephant Protection Initiative, which means they will refrain from any trade in ivory products for a minimum of ten years. The NGO Stop Ivory announced it will make an initial $2 million available to support this pledge.
President Déby said Chad had initiated a National Elephant Protection Plan, which included the destruction of ivory stockpiles and the establishment of a National Elephant Monitoring Centre to track and respond to threats to the country’s elephants. The monitoring centre has already been established and is being managed by African Parks under the auspices of the Chadian Ministry of Environment. African Parks has managed the country’s flagship protected area, Zakouma National Park, since late 2010 and is helping to develop Chad’s elephant protection plan. African Parks successfully halted the killing of elephants in Zakouma after a poaching onslaught between 2006 and 2010 slashed elephant numbers in the park from 4000 to just 450. Not a single elephant has been lost to poaching in Zakouma over the past two years.
The Chadian Government requested African Parks to undertake a survey of Chad’s remaining elephant populations in 2013 and eight free ranging populations were identified outside of Zakouma. Individuals in each of the eight herds have been satellite collared and the signals relayed real-time to the national control centre, which is manned 24 hours a day. A national unit of 350 guards is currently being trained and will be deployed to counteract specific threats to the country’s elephants. A national toll-free number has been set up to enable communities to report threats to elephants, even in remote rural areas.
The burning of Chad’s ivory stockpile on 21 February will form part of Zakouma National Park’s 50th anniversary event, which will include a commemoration and the unveiling of a monument to the 23 guards slain on duty at Zakouma since 1998. This includes the six game guards who were massacred by Sudanese poachers in September 2012.