By Jean Liou
African ministers and experts meet next week in Botswana to chart ways to stamp out a spike in elephant killings fuelled by a growing demand for ivory in Asia.
"Poaching of elephants and associated ivory trafficking remain of grave concern," said Richard Thomas, spokesman for the animal conservation group Traffic.
The three-day meeting opening on Monday in Gaborone has been organised by the Botswana government and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years and the illegal ivory trade has tripled since 1998, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009 and reached an all-time high in 2011.
The meeting expects to adopt a pact that will commit signatories, including the biggest ivory markets such as China, to demonstrate political will at the highest level in the fight against poaching and ivory trafficking.
IUCN said increasing poaching levels and loss of habitat are threatening the survival of elephants in central Africa as well as in previously secure havens in west, southern and east Africa.
There are less than half a million elephants left in Africa compared with 1.2 million in 1980 and 10 million in 1900.
Poachers are becoming more sophisticated using helicopters and automatic weapons as the price of ivory on the black market shot up tenfold in the past decade to more than $2,000 per kilogramme.
The tusk of an adult 30-year-old elephant can weigh around 20 kilogrammes (44 pounds), according to experts. More....