By Mwala Kalaluka
Tourism minister Sylvia Masebo has told the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade that Zambia currently has an ivory stockpile of 10,031 pieces due to a surge in illegal trade and poaching of elephants, particularly in the Luangwa Valley.
And the second in line to the British throne Prince Charles, when opening the conference, urged governments to attack demand for illegal wildlife products and follow the money to seize gotten gains from organised gangs threatening annihilation of endangered species.
In her submission to the conference held at Lancaster House in London from February 12 to 13, Masebo said Zambia had also been affected by the surge of illegal trade and poaching, and that the elephant population had dwindled from an estimation of over 200,000 head of elephant in the 1970s and 80s to about 26,382 according to the 2008 survey.
"Current figures indicate that Zambia lost a total of 135 elephants to poaching in 2013 as compared to 124 elephants in 2012 and 96 elephants in 2011, respectively. This has been a stable but steady increase in poaching levels countrywide, with increases particularly in the Luangwa Valley, which recorded the highest number of elephants poached as compared to the Kafue ecosystem and Lower Zambezi, which has showed a significant reduction in poaching," she said. "The steady increase in elephant poaching in Zambia is relatively low as compared to other neighbouring countries that have seen unprecedented high levels of poaching."
Masebo pointed out that the hunting ban on the big cats and elephants, and increased funding to the Zambia Wildlife Authority to help it effectively manage and protect wildlife were some of the various measures the government was putting in place to protect and conserve the wildlife estate.
She further touched on the issue of human-animal conflict, which she said was another challenge the government was tackling through education and sensitisation programmes.
Masebo said improving the agriculture sector was critical in enhancing the livelihoods of people living alongside wildlife areas and ultimately transform poachers into protectors.
"There can be no effective measures to protect wildlife without involving the communities in the strategies and ensuring benefit to the affected communities," said Masebo, who also committed Zambia to all the conventions on wildlife, including the resolutions from the London Declaration 2014.
And Prince Charles warned that the poaching crisis had reached unimaginable levels and hoped that it would be possible to convene a meeting to encourage banks, accounting firms, security agencies and others to make greater use of financial tools to tackle organised crime.
British foreign secretary William Hague said he believes the unprecedented high-level event in London would turn out to be a historic conference and a turning point in the fight against illegal trade, which is worth up to £12 billion pounds a year and is rated as the fourth most valuable to crime after human trafficking, the arms trade and drugs.
The high-level meeting was attended by the Prince of Wales and his sons Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, Presidents of Botswana, Tanzania, Gabon and Chad, Ministers from 46 countries and other heads of international organisations, including United Nations Environmental Policy, INTERPOL, European Union, World Bank, Global Environment Fund, Africa Development Bank, World Customs Organisation, International Union for Conservation of Nature, UNODC, CITES.
The purpose of the meeting was to inject a new level of political commitment into efforts to tackle three related aspects of the problems: Improving Law Enforcement and the role of the criminal justice system; reducing demand for wildlife products; and supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by the illegal wildlife trade.
The conference concluded with a 13-page declaration dubbed 'London Declaration 2014', which was unanimously adopted by all participating countries.
The declaration brings out actions to address corruption, adopting legislation for tougher penalties against poachers and recruiting more law enforcement officers.
"Successfully tackling the illegal wildlife trade and its impacts will need concerted political leadership, community engagement, and international cooperation over a sustained period," the declaration read in part. "To support these efforts further research is needed into the scale of the environmental, political, social and economic implications of the trade, as well as an improved understanding of the illegal trade itself and the impact."
Botswana offered to host the next high-level meeting in the first quarter of 2015 to review the effect of the new measures agreed during the London meeting.