By Karen Graham
Maputo - The U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reported on Tuesday that nearly half of Mozambique's elephants have been killed for their ivory in the past five years.
A recent survey by the Mozambique government showed a disturbing and dramatic decline of over 48 percent in the elephant population in the country. There are an estimated 10,300 elephants left out of a population of 20,000 five years ago. Alastair Nelson, with the WCS, told the BBC that poachers have been coming over the border from Tanzania, where the elephant population is already almost zero. China is still the biggest consumer of elephant ivory, despite the announcement of a "largely symbolic" one-year suspension on imports of carved ivory goods from Africa at the end of April this year. According to Paula Kahumbu and Andrew Halliday with The Guardian, the move by China was seen as a "token action designed to head off the criticism the government expected from Prince William on his visit to China a week later." “The major issue is one of governance. The north has always been a remote and poorly governed area, with an underlying level of corruption," said Nelson. “Some district police and border guards are being paid off, some even rent out their own firearms.” The worst of the slaughter took place in the remote parts of northern Mozambique, where the Niassa national Reserve is located. In the park, aerial surveillance showed a decline of 95 percent of the population, from about 15,400 to an estimated 6,100 elephants. Across the whole of Africa, over 30,000 elephants are killed every year for their ivory, and this does not include the numbers of rhinos killed for their horns, believed to have curative powers in Asian countries. There are an estimated 470,000 elephants left in Africa, down from about several million a century ago. It wasn't until 2014, that the Mozambique government, bowing to international pressure, adopted a new biodiversity law, making it illegal to kill protected animals. Before that, poachers were usually hit with a fine for possession of an illegal weapon. On May 14, this year, police in Mozambique say they seized 1.3 tons of elephant ivory and rhino horn, the result of killing about 200 animals. It was the biggest ever find in the country of illegal animal products. The stash, with a street value of $6.3 million, was found in a house on the outskirts of the capital, Maputo, and the resident, an Asian man, was arrested.