March 3 marks World Wildlife Day—a celebration called for by the United Nations in December 2013, which enshrines the adoption of the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild flora and fauna, (by acronym CITES, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This year 2016, the focus is on elephants in Africa and Asia, emblematic species of wildlife crime.
The figures speak for themselves: some 25,000 to 30,000 elephants are killed each year on our continent, and it is noted that between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 elephants were killed. In other words, more elephants are dying than are being born (gestation lasts 20 to 22 months). And if nothing is done, there will be no more elephants in Africa within two decades at most, according to many experts. East African, Kenya, and Tanzania are those areas that show the strongest decline of the species. In Tanzania, the elephant population has dropped 63% in five years, according to official figures released in 2015. Last year, more than 20% of the elephants that inhabit central Mali were killed, according to the UN and NGOs.
The savannah and forests of Africa contains two sub-species of elephants: the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana, in Latin), which is the largest land animal in the world, and the forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), which differs in the size and shape of their tusks, their skull, and their skeleton. Today, forest elephants are concentrated in dense tropical forests of Central Africa and West Africa and are increasingly rare and isolated. Savannah elephants, meanwhile, live in southern Africa and the East. Botswana concentrates the largest population, along with South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Zambia. In 2013, there were 470,000 individuals in the wild, according to figures presented at the conference in Kasane, Botswana, held in March 2015. They were 1.2 million in 1980 and 20 million in the early twentieth century.
Ivory, the White Gold So Expensive
At the heart of this crime of decimating elephant populations in Africa is the international ivory trade—banned since 1989, but the ban was partially lifted in 1997—which generates huge revenues and intensive poaching. The price of ivory per kilo, more expensive than gold, has tripled between 2010 and 2014 in the Asian markets, according to the NGO Save the Elephants. Indeed, ivory is highly prized in Asia, where demand sharpens illegal trade. Carved tusks are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
Sounding the Alarm
Even before the proclamation of the international day on March 3 to raise awareness and create a mobilization of the fight against crime related to wildlife —a transnational crime that weakens states, favors mafia networks, and crosses borders to swarm around the world—the ADB has taken hold of the problem. Partnering with WWF, launched in May 2013, during its annual meetings, the Marrakech Declaration, an action plan in ten points that calls for governments, organizations, and citizens to urgently mobilize to “fight against trafficking illicit fauna and flora” and thus preserve biodiversity in Africa.
In fact, an entire ecosystem and the very foundations of African states are threatened, with poaching and illegal trade fueling corruption and criminal networks, trafficking in weapons and drugs, and financing terrorist organizations and conflict.
States, international organizations, NGOs, and various sectors of civil society are asked to mobilize. Some states destroy the seized ivory stocks. This Kenya did in early March 2015, burning 15 tons, worth about 30 million US dollars. Or in Ethiopia, whose authorities have burned more than six tons of ivory, equivalent to 12 million US dollars, at the end of March of that same year.
From January to October 2015, a vast operation of Interpol called Worthy II mobilized the police services in eleven African countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia—resulting in over 200 arrests and the seizure of nearly two tons of contraband ivory.
At Kasane in 2015, Gabon, Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, and Tanzania have requested a moratorium of “at least ten years on all sales of ivory, time to stabilize our elephant populations.”