By Pavithra Rao
An average of about 45 elephants per day were illegally killed in 2011 in every two of five protected sites holding elephant populations in Africa, thanks to the growing illegal trade in ivory, which continues to threaten the survival of elephants on the continent. A joint report by four international conservation organizations says that 17,000 elephants were killed in 2011 alone and the amount of ivory seized has tripled over the last decade.
“Organized criminal networks are cashing in on the elephant poaching crisis, trafficking ivory in unprecedented volumes and operating with relative impunity and with little fear of prosecution,” says Tom Milliken, an expert on ivory trade with TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network.
The joint report, Elephants in the Dust: The African Elephant Crisis, released this year, warns that increasing poaching levels, as well as loss of habitat, are threatening the survival of African elephant populations in Central Africa and in previously secure populations in West, Southern and Eastern Africa. The report was produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC).
The 17,000 elephants illegally killed in 2011 lived at sites monitored through the CITES-led Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants programme; these sites hold approximately 40% of the total elephant population in Africa. The report warns that initial data from 2012 show that the situation had not improved, and that the true figures may be much higher.
Long ago elephants used to roam freely in Africa, finding paradise in places like Côte d’Ivoire, which literally means “the coast of ivory.” Even the country’s national football team, Les Éléphants, derives its name from the mighty animal. The elephant population of Côte d’Ivoire has since dropped dramatically, with only about 800 remaining throughout the country. The drive to save elephants has become the latest frontier in the conflict over natural resources in Africa.
“Like blood diamonds from Sierra Leone or plundered minerals from Congo, ivory, it seems, is the latest conflict resource in Africa, dragged out of remote battle zones, easily converted into cash and now fueling conflicts across the continent,” according to Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times. More....