Elephants in Crisis

As a devastating wave of elephant poaching sweeps across Africa, the Born Free Foundation is today calling upon the UK Government to lead its EU counterparts in strongly denouncing any measures that could lead to further trade in ivory and any more elephant deaths.

Some experts are warning that Africa is losing as much as 8% (36,000) of its elephants each year due to poaching for ivory.  Zakouma National Park in Chad, Central Africa, is a prime example.  In 2006, Zakouma’s elephant population stood at 3,880.  Today, just four years later, that number has been reduced to 617 and falling.  

“We cannot sit back and let this slaughter continue.” warned Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation. “Whole families of elephants are having their faces hacked off by organised criminal syndicates, in order for their tusks to be transformed into trinkets or chopsticks, predominantly to satisfy markets in the Far East.  This has to end, and it has to end now – before it is too late.”

The situation may be desperate now but many fear it could get a whole lot worse if applications by Tanzania and Zambia to trade in more than 110 tonnes of ivory (equivalent to 17,000 dead elephants) are approved at a United Nations CITES* meeting taking place this March in Doha, Qatar.   After months of repeated questioning by organisations such as the Born Free Foundation, The Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has at last announced that the UK will oppose these bids to trade in ivory. This is good news, but alone, this pronouncement is meaningless.  So far, the UK Government has refused to also rule out supporting the damaging elephant downlistings** being proposed by Tanzania and Zambia.

Many are predicting that if Tanzania and Zambia are successful in their endeavours, the elephant slaughter will increase, spelling certain disaster for elephant populations across Africa.   

However, Tanzania and Zambia’s proposals are not going unchallenged.  The Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, members of a 23-government strong African Elephant Coalition, are asking the international community to uphold a moratorium (or ‘resting period) on ivory trade discussions, in a bid to protect Africa’s most fragile elephant populations.  This moratorium was first approved by CITES in 2007, but a loophole in the final wording has left the door open for exploitation – which is exactly what Tanzania and Zambia are now doing.

A ‘Panel of Experts’ has been dispatched by CITES in order to try and verify the situation on the ground in Tanzania and Zambia.  The UK, and EU, state they are waiting for the Panel of Experts’ report before making a decision on the downlistings.  

“The Panel of Experts’ report is already woefully late, in contravention of CITES regulations, and in my view, there is no need to wait.” continued Will Travers.  “We already have enough evidence, and it is crystal clear – both Tanzania and Zambia have been identified (by a monitoring system which the UK itself provides funding to, called ETIS***), as being linked to large-scale illicit seizures of ivory, indicating involvement of highly organised criminal activity.  More than 11 tonnes of ivory were illegally exported from Tanzania in 2009 alone.  Clearly Tanzania and Zambia do not have this situation under control - what more evidence does one need?”  

For Sierra Leone, one of the seven countries proposing the moratorium on trade, it may already be too late.  In December 2009, they announced that the last of their elephants had been poached for their ivory just a few short weeks after Tanzania and Zambia’s proposals were submitted.   

Will Travers concluded: “The Born Free Foundation is calling upon the UK and EU governments to make their position very clear – that they will not support downlisting, ivory trade, or any measures that will continue to put the lives of elephants at further risk.  We are also calling on the UK to demand that the EU meets its responsibilities and obligations to support the ivory trade moratorium. These are the only options available that will give wild elephants a fighting chance at survival. Anything less will be condemned by the British public and by European citizens as a complete betrayal.”

Help Africa’s elephants by registering your opposition to ivory trade.

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